“I’m not really a tech person at all,” says artist Mat Collishaw, creator of a giant 3D-printed zoetrope and a virtual-reality recreation of the world’s first major photography exhibition. “I’m fumbling my way through in the dark, so I need a lot of advice.” Collishaw, 51, whose breakthrough piece, Bullet Hole, appeared in Damien Hirst’s seminal Freeze show in 1988, explains his distrust of technology often creates a tension in his work. “I like the fact that I’m not just making a protest with a charcoal drawing,” he says. “It’s good to use a medium I’m suspicious of.”
One of those works is Centrifugal Soul, a room-sized zoetrope covered in 3D-printed birds and flowers, currently on display at Blain|Southern in London until August 20. The one-second loop, cut into 18 frames, spins at 60rpm with strobe lights flashing at just the right time to create the illusion of movement. “The only way of getting that animation millimetre-accurate is to 3D print it,” he says.
Just as 3D printing reaches further levels of finesse, Collishaw is hopeful virtual reality might be on the brink of a similar breakthrough moment in art. “I’d been looking for a virtual-reality project for years,” he says. “But I couldn’t find anything that worked.” Then, Collishaw’s mind fell upon the year 1839 and the world’s first major photography exhibition, William Fox Talbot’s 1839 show at King Edward’s School, Birmingham. “That was the moment everything changed.” Thresholds, his debut work in VR, will recreate that moment in remarkable detail. Visitors will see an opulent room filled with glass vitrines of the earliest examples of photography. In reality, they’ll be walking through a whitewashed room filled with carefully-placed props. Fellow visitors will appear as ghostly avatars to avoid people bumping into one another.