Mat Collishaw’s The End Of Innocence was not produced for Dilston Grove (the work, in some form or another, has been on show for several years), but its setting there is apropos; a former Protestant mission church, it lends the work a heavy air, the Godly kind of gravitas that a milquetoast gallery space might lack. Collishaw's most famous work, a detail of a gunshot wound, had the prosaic title of Bullet Hole, though this work's title of innocence lost would suit that vision just fine, too (the viewer, staring into its crater, felt more or less immediately ruined). In contrast to that early image, whose first impression is of revulsion (the wound -- blown through a human skull -- is sloppy, violent, rufous-wet), this installation has a luminous quality, a quiet, unexpected bombast. Bacon's original screaming Pope -- itself an answer to Velasquez -- is a frightening, ugly and primal portrait, and in spite of its scale -- its pomp, its Pope -- the work feels less than pietistic (in fact, with its screaming Papal maw, its aspect borders on satanic, the way in which an inverted cross becomes a symbol of occult evil): Collishaw’s re-imagining has something more transcendent about it, a kind of celestial, Northern-Lights aura which soaks the space in flickering light.
This work is appropriated, yes, but speaks of appropriation, as well – the artist plays with the stolen image in ways as literal as can be imagined, the Pope reassembling and disassembling before us -- forever and ever, Amen. The image, to the art consumer, is infinitely familiar, a canonical work of contemporary art; at times, the thing is fragmented and abstracted, but we can guess at its iconic form even after its parts have been disarrayed, dissolved into glitchy, digital rain. This blizzard of colour, at intervals, is little more than a lambent jumble: an algorithm, or something downloaded -- a vision of great and coded meaning streamed down from a higher, more rarified place.
A title which references innocence lost, in connection with such broad-stroked Vatican horror, will more or less always infer paedophilia; this doesn’t feel like its primary purpose – the work is too lovely, too bright and ephemeral – but may also be a point of concern (its makeup of so many swarming pixels feels tilted towards an online aesthetic; the crimes of the clergy, in obvious jokes, so often take place on an internet page).
In contrast to Bacon’s seditionary painting, The End… feels almost lofty, pious; witnessing its cycling moods, one might feel a sudden lift of the spirit – a Holy spirit, if one's so inclined, or else something more bathetic in nature. This installation is far holier than a Pope with the screaming abdabs should be: perhaps it's the strange, post-modern idea of religion in a post-internet age, or perhaps it's simply because the space and the artwork itself are in perfect alignment, invoking a quasi-mystical air of worship and wonder, and thurible incense. Bacon’s Pope – or one of its cousins – now sits in hallowed context, too: as part of the Vatican’s art collection.
One can’t help but wonder which of the two artworks is closer to Godliness; certainly, one seems to show us religion, the other a genuine kind of divinity.
(All images: Mat Collishaw, Video projection with computer hard drive, 15' x 20'; Courtesy of the artist and CGP London)