Mike Nelson

02.11.13

Mike Nelson, M6 (detail), 2013, tires, dimensions variable.


Mike Nelson is a London-based artist well known for his labyrinthine architectural installations that produce unique but impermanent spaces. He represented Britain in the 2011 Venice Biennale and has been nominated for the Turner Prize twice. His fourth exhibition at London’s Matt’s Gallery is on view from February 13—April 14. Here he speaks about the show as well as a new commission, M6, which is on view at Eastside Projects in Birmingham, England, until March 9.

LINEAR NARRATIVE HAS NOT always been important to me, but illustrating the sense of meaning and space beyond what is actually presented in a show is. As a child I was taught that if we want to see a figure moving in the distance as darkness falls, we should look to the side of him to see the movement more clearly. This idea resonates with the way I work: I try to draw the viewer in to focus on one thing in order to understand another. I hope that this way of working is becoming more pertinent in relation to our media-saturated lives. The constant mediation through technology that we face everyday leaves very little time or space for the unknown––no time to imagine or wonder what might be or have been. So few people have the desire or the patience any more to engage with work in this way.

When I was a student at Reading University I was very interested in the experience of eastern cultures, in particular those of the Islamic world. I made work retracing the lineage of designs, such as those from the Arts and Crafts movement, back to their eastern influences. I often found a rebounding dialogue between them. This was the beginning of my interest in the construction of identity and “otherness”, as well as an understanding of my position in that—not only as a European, but also more specifically as a British person.

To a degree all of my works are ritualistic and votive. Even M6, which I just completed at the beginning of January, conjures these terms. The structure and materials for that work were both minimal and the process was quite mechanical, but it invoked a sense of human ritual and devotion. Arranged upon a cast concrete slab, the detritus of the blown out tires from an M6 were arranged in such a way as to invoke the rituals that led to their alchemy reminiscent of tribal objects or anthropological in nature. The work at Matt’s Gallery will be far more eclectic, both in terms of material and imagery––the structures I’ve been known for building are architecturally absent in this show. This is not the first time I’ve worked in this manner, but it’s unusual in terms of my history at Matt’s Gallery. The work is experimental––flipping it’s emphasis from absence to presence on a basic level, and focusing on the creation of objects of a figurative nature from an array of different materials––many from the remnants of past construction. The overall sense is a tomb-like chamber in chaos, out of which emerges effigies––half-built like the gods of a deranged ego, their suggested forms animating the piles of material around them while attempting to evoke the histories of sculptures past.

Years ago, budgetary limitations enabled me to realize a work such 2000’s The Coral Reef: The first in a series of works consisting of many rooms and adjoining corridors that attempted to equate spatial structure to literary narrative or structure. That work invited you to become lost in the substrata of society and their belief systems, among a series of receptacles that only led to one another. The financial restraints required me to fully utilize all of the time and spatial access given to me by Matt’s—something no other institution would have supported for an artist of my age. I’m reversing that situation now, because it seems absurd to try and raise a budget that could be provided by a museum at this time economically. I’m using the budgetary restraint as a positive and generative force to make a show that works within that criteria and experiment.

— As told to Sherman Sam