Petrichor by Mat Collishaw is a Vanitas made not real. An exhibition that endeavours to make falsehoods to forge a blossoming relationship between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and nature. The supposed brethren of AI and nature converse over a multitude of diverse and engaging mediums, from video to installation, simulation, NFTs, and sculpture.
We are first brought to light with the 3D simulations of Albrecht Dűrer’s botanical drawings. Dűrer, a German 16th-century artist was a true radical of his time, and who invariably took great pride in the humble documentation of Botanics. Albrecht Dűrer was daring in a time when eyes were drawn to the majestic portraits of curated opulence and new exoticisms, with his sincere interest being geared towards the most supposedly insignificant plants.
Collishaw’s subtle 3D simulation attempts to give the breath of viable life to Durer’s drawings. Columbine  and Whispering Weeds  sway gently in the breeze on LCD screens as digital works. Single-minded these once humbly drawn plants are given their dues for their persistent presence despite their lack of cultivation. AI is the beholden here, as nature’s best transcriber, yet no final wonder is sought or deemed found, – after all, none of it is alive.
A growth upon a hunk of mistreated soil grows a muse. The petals seem fleshy and obtuse, with scars and unmistakable tears on their skin. These sculpture works are petalled muses encased in glass as if to prevent the escape of a potentially visceral odour. The Venal Muse  does not go amiss in the decay process being explored. Going beyond the wilt of the rose, the sentimental pull of the flora is eradicated in favour of pistil and stamen. The vanitas tradition is roped in to take centre stage in the performance of the flora, corpulent and almost mid-metamorphosis. These so-called muses are stuck in the staggered still of their new transformation. Will they ever be able to break glass and thereby their destined form?
A castaway mediation on nature, and our self-destructive relationship with our World: Even to the End , is a nine-minute film, journeying through our planet’s current relationship with its ecology. This fabricated nature is under Collishaw’s hand and draws from dawn to dusk, as we voyage from the glass box germinal set upon a vast ocean to the sprawling jungle, where we are laid out to lavish, all the way to the destination of the end of the landscape. This desolate landscape transversed is unsalvageable and unliveable for all and any life forms. An invariable wasteland, – we are left with an empty expression of the current natural world, a message that feels somewhat ambivalent about what is to come.
Hybridisation aims to find new ground with Alluvion  for pulling magic realism and AI together. That Incomprehensible Clarification,  is an oil painting and is one part of the Alluvion series, and like the other parts is made from still-life paintings and images of insects and butterflies being fed into an AI application. What is then regurgitated and digested out is returned to familiar ground, by the resulting stretched-out flora evolution painted in a Dutch Masters-styled font. An emboldened replica made the shoe fit for the contemporary audience.
This magic realism and AI continue to stay pulled together, with the parallels of the NFT boom in 2021 with the Tulip fever of 1667, cementing the backdrop of the work Heterosis . This hybrid tulip collection is a series of non-fungible tokens [NFTs] which use genetic algorithms and blockchain technology, to the desired effect of varying bloom patterns scaling in exoticisms and personal intrigue. The collection of NFTs is user-dispensed by dealers, collectors, or collaborating artists depending on your chosen definition, each with its own apparent catered algorithm and genetic code. We the audience decide when we become masters in the style of our craft.
In this exhibition, we are directed to move swiftly on to a new exposure. Here there is no fallen tree as Albion , is a forever oak tree. A growth never gone asunder, light assumes no darkness here, as this apparent tree of life casts no shadows. Peaking on almost life-size, this giant oak illusion and animation finds itself copy-rendered in a reflection pool. A trick on the gaze, a fevered game on actualisation, this full-body scanned oak tree disappears when confronted at the side profile. This imposing oak of Sherwood Forest rigged up with scaffolding is held up in perpetuity as a seeming reminder, – a ghost-like spirit of a supposed past Robin Hood England lost forever and only to be reminisced upon in old English folk tales.
A seething flicker prevails, The Centrifugal Soul  is the final vision we are met with in Petrichor. This contemporary zoetrope, [a Victorian precursor to modern film-making] transpires the story of an ecological courtship, as these birds of paradise perform their mating rituals in an apparent evolutionarily-driven eternity. Boundless, these down bad paramours swirl and flutter viciously, utterly inescapable from our notice. A self-promotion in forever bloom.
This exhibition thoroughly reckons with itself, not to dare even to be alive. You may wish Petrichor would leave the frames of the hard drive but it becomes increasingly apparent as you linger that Petrichor is but a Vanitas not made real.
This flickering bounty of this exhibition, Petrichor is on display for your dared-upon viewership until the 7th of April 2024.
More information Mat Collishaw: Petrichor | Kew
Featured Image: Albion-by-Mat-Collishaw.-c-RBG-Kew
Review by Devika Pararasasinghe
Devika lives and works in London, by trade as an artist and snake oil salesperson. Devika graduated last September with a research MFA at Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford.
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