AN ANIMATRONICS expert responsible for creating monsters for Star Wars and Doctor Who has brought a new art installation to life in the North-East.

Adam Keenan worked with acclaimed artist Mat Collishaw on a spectacular life-sized robotic eagle which has gone on show at Ushaw, near Durham.


Adam’s career highlights include producing creative effects in the Star Wars movies and making scary creatures for Doctor Who, notably the Minotaur in The God Complex.

London-based Mat Collishaw is a key figure in the important generation of British artists who emerged from Goldsmiths’ College in the late 1980s.

He began collaborating with Adam last year, with an animatronic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, called “The Mask of Youth” at Queen’s House in Greenwich.

The animatronic eagle, entitled The Nerve Rack, will be on display outside St Cuthbert’s Chapel at Ushaw until November 2.

The artwork was inspired by one of the treasures of Ushaw, a lectern topped with a bronze sculpture of an eagle, designed by Augustus Pugin, and exhibited in the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851.

Mat designed a skeletal animatronic eagle to confront Pugin’s sculpture inside a large barrier, symbolizing the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Elizabethan times.

He was also influenced after reading The Sincere and Modest Defence of English Catholics (1584), which was annotated by the Elizabethans’ chief priest hunter and torturer Richard Topcliffe.

The name “The Nerve Rack” combines the ancient instrument of torture with the test of faith faced by those persecuted for their religious beliefs.

“I wanted to show the church as a machine trying to fulfil a function, alongside the brutality, torture and suffering between two religions,” said Mat.

“Topcliffe was a sadist who took pleasure in the pain of others, so the eagle is laid bare to show its inner workings, stripped of heraldic power yet still sinister. It’s taken nine months to complete but I’m thrilled to see it in such a stunning place with so much history.”

Adam added: “It’s been a long, complicated project because the creatures I normally make have the animatronics covered by skin or feathers. This time, everything is open to view, which makes it trickier.”

Lucy Jenkins, Heritage and Curatorial Manager at Ushaw, said: “This is our third public art installation at Ushaw but the first new commission of a site-specific work created for the space. To have an artist of Mat’s calibre involved in hugely exciting for us and we’re all looking forward to experiencing this new work, created in response to our history, collections and architecture.”