Mat Collishaw's Petrichor explores the intersection of art, nature & technology at Kew Gardens. - FAD Magazine

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Mat Collishaw’s Petrichor explores the intersection of art, nature & technology at Kew Gardens.

A new exhibition of work from celebrated contemporary artist Mat Collishaw opened at Kew Gardens in October. Running in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Petrichor showcases new commissions alongside existing works, drawing on an array of evocative imagery from the natural world.

Mat Collishaw Petrichor exhibition RBG Kew

Petrichor encompasses sculptural installations, using a variety of pioneering techniques to explore the relationship between the natural world, art history, and how representations of nature in art can impact the way in which we see the world around us. 

I’m delighted to be bringing this exhibition to Kew Gardens, a place that’s not only steeped in history and natural beauty, but also provides the perfect setting for my work to be experienced in a new way. The natural world and its astonishing biodiversity are an abundant source of inspiration and provide seemingly endless opportunities for creation. I’ve always been interested in how nature is depicted through art, and how this in turn helps us understand the world around us. With its rich horticultural heritage and ongoing commitment to environmental conservation, Kew Gardens is the ideal location for me to explore the intersection of art, nature, and technology with this exhibition.

Mat Collishaw


Collishaw’s Alluvion series draws inspiration from 17th-century still-life paintings of flowers. On closer inspection, paintings that at first glance appear to contain flowers are layered with several species of insect, illustrating a natural phenomenon known as Pouyannian mimicry, where a flower mimics a female mate for a pollinating insect. This is most common in orchids, where several species mimic female bees and wasps. Generated using carefully moderated AI, these innovative paintings reverse the insect/flower relationship in a potent visual metaphor for human interaction with 21st-century technology. 

Even to the End

Mat Collishaw Petrichor exhibition RBG Kew

Large-scale projected work Even to the End takes over Gallery 2 and uses pioneering technology to immerse viewers in a 9-minute sequence inspired by the innovation of the Wardian Case and the transportation of plant specimens around the globe. The video is accompanied by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a composition which draws inspiration from Virgil’s Georgics, a poem about agriculture, propagation, and growth, and how humanity’s efforts to cultivate the land are constantly under threat from destructive powers. Even to the End has been created in collaboration with video artists based in Ukraine and presents a poignant journey through the natural world.  

The Centrifugal Soul

Mat Collishaw Petrichor exhibition RBG Kew

Also featured in the exhibition is The Centrifugal Soul, a zoetrope which creates a stunning illusion of motion. Revisiting a Victorian innovation that was the precursor of modern filmmaking, The Centrifugal Soul depicts an animated scene of bowerbirds and birds of paradise as they perform elaborate courtship displays against an ornate backdrop of flowers in perpetual bloom. The Centrifugal Soul explores how aesthetic diversity has evolved through the natural instincts of courtship and evolution and reflects on humanity’s seemingly never-ending search for aesthetic appeal. 


Mat Collishaw Petrichor exhibition RBG Kew

Heterosis is a collection of dynamic NFT’s which combine genetic algorithms with blockchain technology to facilitate the hybridisation of mutable digital flowers. The project is inspired by the tulip mania of the 17th century, a period during the Dutch Golden Age that saw prices for tulip bulbs reach extraordinarily high levels, in what is now believed to be the first recorded speculative bubble in history. This unprecedented hybridisation experience allows participants to cultivate their own bespoke animated flowers, either as breeders or collaborative artists creating increasingly exotic and elaborate blooms for pleasure or as a means towards predicting future value.


Mat Collishaw Petrichor exhibition RBG Kew
Mat Collishaw Petrichor exhibition RBG Kew

Taking the form of an intricate 19th-century ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ illusion, this large-scale piece depicts the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, which is estimated to have been standing for over 800 years. It is one of the largest oak trees in the country, with a mythical connection to Robin Hood. This slow-rotating, almost life-sized animation has been captured using a laser scanner, creating the eerie spectre of a tree suspended somewhere between life and death. This artwork was created at the time of the European referendum and its title, Albion, refers to the ancient oak tree as an emblem of England, a ghost-like apparition supported by chains and crutches.  

Other works

Other works featured in the exhibition include Columbine and Whispering Weeds, animated versions of Albrecht Dürer’s watercolour paintings Columbine and The Great Piece of Turf. Widely regarded as early masterpieces in the field of botanical art, Dürer’s paintings are brought to life using animation, bringing these pioneering depictions of the natural world into the 21st century. Also on display is The Venal Muse, a series of sculptural pieces that draw inspiration from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil), poetry which explores decadence, eroticism, and lost innocence. 

Bringing Mat Collishaw’s innovative work to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is hugely exciting, and Petrichor promises to be an evocative and wonderfully unique experience, unlike anything we’ve seen in the gallery before. Drawing inspiration from the natural world and the tradition of botanical art, Mat’s use of cutting-edge technology alongside the innovations of the past makes this exhibition a tantalising prospect for visitors to Kew this autumn.

Maria Devaney, Galleries and Exhibition Leader at RBG Kew

Mat Collishaw, Petrichor – Sunday 7th April 2024, Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art,
Kew Gardens 

An accompanying book, with text by James Parry, will be published by Kew Publishing. 

Young Botanical Artists  Alongside Mat Collishaw’s work, Gallery 6 will showcase the winning entries from the Young Botanical Artist Competition, with finalists selected by leading botanical artists including Dr Shirley Sherwood OBE. Open to artists aged 16-25, this inaugural Young Botanical Artist competition has invited entrants to submit a 2D botanical artwork on the subject of Trees. All 40 shortlisted artworks will be on display. 

About the artist

Mat Collishaw (b. 1966) is a key figure in an important generation of contemporary British artists who emerged from Goldsmiths’ College in the late 1980s. He began his career exhibiting the acclaimed work Bullet Hole at the legendary show Freeze in 1988. His broad practice includes sculpture, photography, film and installation, and his work has been exhibited in numerous solo shows around the world, including: The Mask of Youth, Royal Museums Greenwich, London, UK (2018); Standing Water, Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, CZ (2018); Thresholds, Somerset House, London, UK and touring (2017-2018); Mat Collishaw, New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, UK (2015); Black Mirror, Galleria Borghese, Rome, IT (2014); Mat Collishaw: Afterimage, Arter, Istanbul, TR (2013); Mat Collishaw, Bass Museum of Art, Florida, US (2013); Retrospectre, BFI Southbank, London, UK (2010); Hysteria, Freud Museum, London, UK (2009).

Collishaw’s work is in numerous public and private collections including; Tate and British Council Collections, both London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Arter Foundation, Istanbul; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Old and New Art, New South Wales and Olbricht Collection, Berlin. The artist lives and works in London.



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