Mike Nelson’s creepy installations deftly avoid the pitfalls of Britart. He’s a great choice to represent Britain at this year’s Venice Biennaleby Ben Lewis / April 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Magazin by Mike Nelson: the artist’s installations place viewers in the role of the voyeur
A new chapter in British art history is beginning. Mike Nelson, the artist chosen to represent the nation at this year’s Venice Biennale in June, is the first in a decade who is not from or closely linked to the Britart movement of the 1990s. The 43-year-old Nelson is a member of the disparate, low-key generation of British artists whose work has been in demand from public institutions since the turn of the millennium. Twice nominated for the Turner prize, the Loughborough-born Nelson is represented by Matt’s Gallery, a non-profit space in the East End which has been a crucible for this remarkable new wave of artists, among them the filmmaker Lindsay Seers. For once, Britain could be the star of the show in Venice.
Nelson’s installations—creepy, rundown rooms full of sinister objects and crumpled bits of paper—create a morbid scenography of social outcasts, conspiracy theorists, extremists, survivalists and terrorists. It sounds like obvious stuff: Hannibal Lecter meets Osama bin Laden meets Fred West. But his work exudes the excitement and seduction of action movies and police shows. It is voyeuristic, but also collaborative; the viewer is an investigator, or detective stepping into a crime scene.
You can see what Nelson does at Tate Britain, where they are showing his breakthrough piece, The Coral Reef. Originally made in 1999-2000 for Matt’s Gallery, it was bought by the Tate in 2008 and rebuilt in 2010. It is a small labyrinth of tiny rooms, each of which seems to be home to a different extremist persuasion. One room has a US flag, a framed poster of a B-2 bomber and a fan in the shape of an American football. Another looks like a minicab office managed by Islamists, with posters of Koranic texts on the walls. A third seems to belong to Hell’s Angels. There are old copies of Playboy magazine, bins full of carefully arranged soft drink cans and yellow foam burger boxes, fans whirring away, old mobile phones, a CCTV screen and a machine gun. “You are invited to become lost in this lost world of lost people,” Nelson said of this work, which he sees as a typology of outsiders set against society.
All this sounds far too on the nose to make great art, but Nelson overcomes this hurdle by deploying the palette…