29 May 2017 | 20.5 °C

This Exhibition Is Full Of Optical Illusions In The Dark

Mat Collishaw, Blain|Southern ★★★★☆

This Exhibition Is Full Of Optical Illusions In The Dark Mat Collishaw, Blain|Southern 4

We step into a darkened room with a circular sculpture of birds and flowers. Suddenly the lights dim and start flickering. The sculpture is now transformed, as hummingbirds flap their wings and extract nectar from flowers which open and close, while bower birds conduct a courtship dance in a style akin to a stop motion film.

A close up of the hummingbirds. Courtesy the artist and Blain|Southern, Photo Rémi Chauvin

In another room, a ghostly white tree is projected on to a screen, moving ever so slightly. But walk round to get a closer look and the tree disappears — and there's no screen where there should be one.

These are the works of artist Mat Collishaw, who creates grand illusions using modern technology that has primitive roots.

The giant disappearing tree. Courtesy the artist and Blain|Southern, Photo Peter Mallet

Zoetropes pre-date film — perhaps you even created a rudimentary version at school, by placing a light bulb inside a disc of spinning images? Collishaw has taken this technology to a grander, more sophisticated scale.

The smaller works surrounding the tree projection are paintings of birds which use colourful plumage to attract a mate. The brighter plumage signifies a healthier mate. Similarly, the bower birds in the adjacent room build elaborate nests, often using depth perception illusions to make their nests look bigger and more inviting for females.

The zoetrope in motion. Courtesy the artist and Blain|Southern, Photo Peter Mallet

This show uses birds to highlight certain aspects of human behaviour — particularly the way people use fancy clothes or purchases as a means to appeal to potential partners. Social media has added to this behaviour, where people are keen to be seen at certain venues and to be the first of their peer group to be there. Ironically, we imagine many people were exhibiting this very behaviour at the opening of this exhibition.

The title of the exhibition, The Centrifugal Soul, touches on the darker aspects of this behaviour. As we're so busy making sure everyone pays attention to the exterior, what's on the inside gets pushed out so that we all become what we think others want us to be and completely lose touch with our 'soul'. Feels like some of us may already be there.

Mat Collishaw: The Centrifugal Soul at Blain|Southern, 4 Hanover Square, W1S 1BP. The exhibition runs until 27 May. It's open Monday-Saturday and entrance is free.

Last Updated 20 April 2017