Mat Collishaw at Ushaw Historic House, Chapel and Gardens


Project Info


  • Mat Collishaw

Exploring themes of martyrdom and treason, worship and heresy, artist Mat Collishaw was inspired by the grand scale of the Ushaw college and chapels, as well as the extensive archive. The Nerve Rack was installed in the ornate ante-chapel of the Chapel of St Cuthbert, provoking thoughts of two opposing viewpoints of Christianity: Protestant and Catholic, martyr and heretic.

The work, an animatronic bird, “faces off” with one of the treasures of Ushaw, a lectern topped with a bronze sculpture of an eagle designed by Augustus Welby Pugin.

“We had been making the eagle in the workshop for months and it was looking interesting, but it’s only really when you bring it here [Ushaw] that it has the power brought to it by this backdrop, this kind of crucible of religious belief, and you witness it against these highly ornate and very richly embellished surfaces, that it takes on different meaning, it adopts this kind of mantle of the sacred, and there’s something about that that gives the work a charge.” – Mat Collishaw

Click here to watch a film about the installation.

The Nerve Rack is an unsettling metaphor for the evil presence that lurks at the heart of any faith, be it religious or political or ethno-nationalist. There is no comfort here; intolerance isn’t just lurking in the past.” – Mike Golding, reviewing The Nerve Rack for Corridor8, read here

Arts&Heritage was a curatorial advisor to Ushaw Historic House.

The Nerve Rack showed at Ushaw from 5 July – 3 November 2019.

Ushaw College, near Durham, was founded in 1808 by scholars from the English College at Douai, who had fled France after the French Revolution. It traces its origins to Cardinal Allen’s Douai Seminary in the Spanish Netherlands in 1568. Formerly the largest Roman Catholic seminary in the north of England, by 2011 falling student numbers and rising costs forced the College’s closure. It remained derelict for some years, but in 2015 it reopened as a visitor attraction.

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.