The derelict bar of a ship, a weather-torn desert bunker, the artist’s studio and a pre-9/11 travel agent office are just some of the sites visited in Mike Nelson: Extinction Beckons at the Hayward Gallery, London. In the first major survey of British artist Mike Nelson’s (b. 1967) body of work, immersive installations and large-scale sculptures created over a period of more than 20 years are reassembled, in some cases for the first time since they were originally presented. “Mike Nelson’s installations are ‘interactive’ in the very best sense: through potent arrangements of culturally and psychologically charged props and architectural structure,” says Ralph Rugoff, Director of the gallery. “They prompt each viewer to imagine a story that makes sense of the scene before them.” In the show, dark histories, dystopian futures and science fiction jarringly coexist. The viewer is welcomed by The Deliverance and The Patience (2001), a structure steeped in an eerie nostalgia, comprising a labyrinth of dilapidated corridors and rooms. Each area exists in insolation, rendering the appearance and atmosphere of disparate times and places with an unsettling disjointedness.
Elsewhere, a similarly unnerving impression arises in with Studio apparatus for Kunsthalle Münster (2014), where human heads of poured concrete are sporadically suspended within a lattice structure of steel rods. Below, fallen stone faces lie in mounds of rubble. Nelson plays with fiction and truth. The artist constructs a disorienting narrative of distorted and uncanny realities, whilst interweaving icons of lost religions, countercultures and failed political movements. Every aspect of the world is reflected in the work, down to the materials scavenged from auctions, flea markets, junk shops and salvage yards. The exhibition is an expansive, varied and claustrophobic meditation on society. Past, present and future merge in these dystopian realities. It is as confronting as it is ambiguous and leaves a lingering sense that all is not well.
Hayward Gallery, London 22 February – 7 May
Words: Francesca Anderson
1. ike Nelson, MAGAZIN: Büyük Valide Han, (2003). Installation view, Büyük Valide Han, 8th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, (2003). Photo credit: Mike Nelson, Courtesy the artist and 303 Gallery, New York; Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Matt’s Gallery, London; and neugerriemschneider, Berlin.
2. Installation view of Mike Nelson, I, IMPOSTOR, 2011. Various materials. Photo: Matt Greenwood. Courtesy the artist and the Hayward Gallery.