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July 25, 2006

'Amnesiac Shrine or Double coop displacement'


That's the title of installation artist Mike Nelson's current show (above and below) at Matt's Gallery in London (England).

You better hurry: it closes July 30, this coming Sunday.

Sorry about the short notice (it's been up since June 7 but I just learned of it in the July 21 Financial Times (FT) via Gabriel Coxhead's review).

Coxhead described the exhibition as "a kind of occult monument to oblivion."

Kind of fits bookofjoe, now that I think about it.

Best not to go there.


Nelson was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2001.

Here's the FT piece.

    The presence of absence

    Mike Nelson's previous exhibition at Matt's Galley, in the East End of London, took place in 2000. It was an important show in his career, garnering widespread critical acclaim and establishing him at the forefront of a new generation of installation artists. Since then, Nelson has been nominated for the Turner Prize, and has exhibited in major venues in Britain and internationally, including the Venice Biennale.

    Nelson's oeuvre consists of building rooms. Usually, he converts gallery spaces, although some installations are site-specific. The environments he stages are low-rent, dilapidated, or abandoned spaces - old cinema foyers, seedy biker bars and taxi offices, arcade parlours, grimy hallways, low-fi spaceship interiors. They are typically filled with a profusion of junk objects and bric-à-brac: weathered stacks of pulp books and magazines,trophy animal-heads and fright masks, broken toys, rusting oil-cans and funky objets d'art.

    With nods towards occultism, orientalism, science fiction, and crazy conspiracy theories, Nelson's installations are liminal spaces - suggestive of journeys, escapes into other realms. The idea is that viewers are able to create their own narrative and imaginative associations.

    But his current return exhibition at Matt's Gallery is different. Entitled Amnesiac Shrine or Double coop displacement, it's much more austere, even barren, than anything he's done before.


    Again, there's a room, of sorts: a vast, square cage, built from chicken-wire and wood, harshly lit by vertical strips of white fluorescent tubing. Inside this cage there's another square cage, and inside that a third one, in the shape of a pentagram, itself subdivided into yet smaller units. A maze-like series of inconspicuous doors leads through different levels of the structure, creating a deepening sense of claustrophobia and entrapment.

    Nestling in various corners of the installation are five large, bulbous, crudely shaped pods. Made from lumpy plaster-of-Paris, their organic forms, bulging through the wire mesh, seem vaguely disquieting, alien in this otherwise sterile environment. They're hollow, with gaping holes implying mouths or wombs. But inside they're empty - just a twig latticework frame, and the wet smell of stretched muslin. The only other objects in the cage are three piles of charred sticks, like abandoned campfires.

    The overriding sense is of absence, a sudden and terrible emptiness.

    It is an inversion of and comment on Nelson's other pieces, with their material abundance - as if all of Nelson's usual knick-knacks have, here, been magicked away. Whereas in earlier works some of the assorted curios would always end up being stolen by viewers, here the temptation is to leave some kind of object behind - perhaps secreted in one of the hollow pods - as a sort of offering, an attempt to dam up the yawning void of nothingness.

    In fact, the current installation directly stems from an earlier piece: "The Amnesiacs" (1997) were a mythical biker-gang, a metaphor for Nelson's practice of nomadic scavenging for discarded cultural detritus. The piece itself consisted simply of a vast repository of found objects inside wire-mesh cages.

    In "Amnesiac Shrine", the premise is that the gang have returned. Instead of redeeming material ephemera, they've built a kind of occult monument to oblivion, an invocation of entropy.

    The work's second title, "Double Coop Displacement", is a reference to a piece by another artist - Bruce Nauman's "Double Steel Cage Piece" (1974) - also a cage-within-a-cage. Similarly, the fluorescent strip-lighting recalls Dan Flavin's brand of minimalism. But where Nauman's and Flavin's work was about inducing in the viewer a moment of self-reflexive consciousness, a recognition of spatial and temporal specifics, Nelson's installation destabilises such certainties, creating a space that's both actual and mystical, where the presence of absence can be felt.

    Or perhaps the point of such artistic references is that art itself - as opposed to pop- or sub-cultural paraphernalia - is less tenuous and more mythically enduring.

    Inside one of the globular pods there's a solitary red light-bulb, casting a faint circular glow on the floor. It echoes other works by Nelson, where red lighting was used to suggest a darkroom, or to conjure up an atmosphere of seamy menace. Here the red light is less prominent, almost unnoticeable. But, as a kind of signature motif, it becomes a subtle statement of lingering creative presence.



Matt's Gallery is at 42-44 Copperfield Road, London E3 4RR; Hours: Wednesday—Sunday 12—6 p.m.; tel: +44 20 8983 1771.

July 25, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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