A new installation by Mat Collishaw challenges ingrained concepts and practices linked to faith and examines religion as part of the human condition.
The Nerve Rack is on display at Ushaw, a Catholic seminary near Durham, England, until 3 November. The work references the treasures held at Ushaw while ruminating over themes central to Catholicism and religion more broadly; martyrdom and treason, worship and heresy. Installed in the ante-chapel of the Chapel of St Cuthbert, the piece confronts a bronze eagle designed by Pugin with an animatronic eagle which in turn torments a mechanical mouse. Pugin’s eagle’s immobile regality is challenged by a creature which is moving but not alive, which has far greater capacity for varied articulation but which is more fragile, a collection of intricate parts face-to-face with a solid piece of metal.
The relationship between the two eagles communicates historic tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as the often oppositional relationship between religion and technology. Pugin’s eagle was shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851 as an example of the forefront of skill and artistry; Collishaw’s animatronic eagle represents the forefront of technical and artistic achievement today.
Through the installation Collishaw expresses his own ambiguity over religion - he grew up as part of the Christadelphian faith before becoming disillusioned with it. His relationship to religion and faith is one he continues to digest:
‘I believe in the aspiration towards God, [...] I don’t know whether I believe in it, but there’s definitely an aspiration towards something more than is concrete and then a strong moral agenda.’ - Mat Collishaw, Artlyst
The Nerve Rack is at Ushaw College, Co. Durham, DH7 9RH until 3 November.