Mat Collishaw at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal


Project Info


  • Mat Collishaw


  • National Trust

The pictorial beauty of the canals, ponds and cascades at World Heritage Site, Studley Royal Water Garden, belies their practical function as an important hydraulic balancing system and release for the River Skell. This elegant yet hidden design for the 18th century pleasure garden underpinned the two works created by Mat Collishaw for Fountains Relief. As reflections on the Banqueting House and the Temple of Piety, both works illustrated a form of release and explosion of tension: themes that drew upon the follies’ history as places of pleasure and piety.

In the Temple of Piety, the Pineal Eye was an optical illusion achieved through the simple geometry of parabolic mirrors. Their circular forms echoed the ponds outside which, like an actual pineal eye, registered and reflected the light from the heavens above. An ethereal mirage of the Roman depiction of Piety, mirrored the relief on the Temple wall, which portrays the Grecian daughter who feeds her imprisoned father from her breast.

The Banqueting House featured a Rabelaisian orgy of consumption, indulgence and escape from worldly pressures. Seria Ludo was a glowing, strobe-lit chandelier zoetrope, covered with 186 carousing Lilliputian figures. The title of this work was a term taken from the Dilettanti Society, an elite 18th century drinking club whose members shared an interest in Roman and Greek Art. Unlike the Pineal Eye’s simple geometry, Seria Ludo utilised design opulently; electrical and mechanical engineering were harnessed to conjure a scene of excitement and debauchery – a whirling dervish of dissolute behaviour.

“The Banqueting House should be totally compelling and engage you in a way that you can’t really do anything about, you’re just lost in front of this thing and you’re immediately entranced by it and become whipped up with this frenzied orgy of debauchery going on. And then in the Temple of Piety, your relationship to it is a lot calmer, more cerebral, detached and thoughtful.” – Mat Collishaw

Folly! was shown from April 23–October 30th 2016. Click here to watch a film about the installation.

For centuries people have been drawn to this inspiring place, where you can now enjoy its ancient abbey ruins and an awe-inspiring water garden. From humble beginnings the magnificent abbey was established by devout monks seeking a simpler existence. The atmospheric ruins that remain are a window into a way of life which shaped the medieval world.

When the socially ambitious John Aislabie inherited Studley Royal, he set about creating an elegant water garden of mirror-like ponds, statues and follies, incorporating the romantic ruins into his design.

The site is recognised as a World Heritage Site.

The Artist

Mat Collishaw (b. 1966) is a key figure in the important generation of British artists who emerged from Goldsmiths’ College in the late 1980s. He participated in Freeze (1988) and since his first solo exhibition in 1990 has exhibited widely internationally.