Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mythologies at Haunch of Venison
Mat Collishaw 'Insectisides' 2009

The Haunch Of Venison has moved to the old Museum of Mankind building and fittingly the opening show references ethnographic collections. Over 16 years ago my ex-husband took me on our second or third date to see an extraordinary and unforgettable exhibition here on the
Mexican Day of the Dead. As the current exhibition heavily alludes to it I am won over despite some bizarre exhibits and unexpected and disappointing artist pairings. Mythologies explores the stories we tell about the world in order to understand it. It addresses a set of themes which were the subject of exhibitions at the Museum of Mankind: beginnings and endings, rites and ritual, religion, magic and material culture.

The image above is of an exploding butterfly
by Matt Collishaw. His images of exploding insects are impossible to eradicate from my mind because they are fascinating in their shocking beauty. His juxtaposition of cruelty and beauty creates a visual experience that tests the viewer's resolve and sensibility. I am seduced but equally repulsed by the hyper-realistic large scale images of such alluring beauty. Mat writes of his work: "I'm interested in the way imagery hits me subliminally... Whether I like it or not, there are mechanisms within us that are primed to respond to all kinds of visual material, leaving us with no real say over what we happen to find stimulating".

Video is not my preferred form of art but Bill Viola is the exception to this rule. His 2008 video piece 'Incarnations' is one of my favourites.

The video evokes Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is a cyclical progession of Adam & Eve walking towards and discovering paradise only to realise that it is not all that it is set out to be and hastily retreating. It points also to the intersection between life and death and between awareness and unconsiousness. The grainy monotone hue of the footage is hypnotic and contrasted with the clarity of the moment when Adam & Eve pass through the wall of water in full glorious saturated colour and detail.

Burlington Gardens is a large exhibition space and I find myself racing through some of the galleries, not in an attempt to get round it but because some of the galleries are impenetrable. I particularly loath Damien Hirst's crystal skull which appears here as a gigantic double painting spanning one whole wall of a gallery. Fittingly, a gaggle of Chinese tourists snap each other in front of the paintings. A move on smugly to encounter Christian Boltanski's theatre of quivering shadows which dance menacingly on the walls and remind me of my visit to the Mexican Day of the Dead show many years ago. His work also makes me wonder why I bother with photography at all when a light projector, the object itself and a shadow can say far more than a flat 2-dimensional fixed surface ever can.

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