Mike Nelson’s Evocative Venice Biennale Installation

Mike Nelson

Mike Nelson the Artist chosen to represent Britain at this years Venice Biennale is noted for his innovative installation work. He is the first British artist to exhibit in this catagory of fine art and a seasoned contributor to these type of international shows, having contributed to  Sydney (2002), Istanbul (2003) and São Paulo (2004). This is his biggest challenge yet,the filling of this 3,000 square foot space with his work. The project’s larger historical agenda is to remind viewers of Venice and Istanbul’s intertwined histories and create a bridge between western liberal capitalism and the Islamic world.

Nelson usually creates installations that are claustrophic and disorienting. His most noted work The Coral Reef (2000), is currently on display at Tate Britain. It consists of a maze of corridors and smaller sub-chambers similar to the “reception area” in an office or gallery. The work is packed with memorabilia from the Kennedy era to a various scattering of militaria. There is a drug room as well as the office of an Islamic mini cab company. The sprawling work was first shown in 2001 at Matt’s Gallery in London, and is now part of Tate’s collection.

I, Impostor, his latest work allows Nelson to experiment with the installation vanishing within the pavilion. Permission was granted to change the physical structure of the building to accommodate this work. The skylight is now gone, and the effect of leaving  the installation’s intimate spaces into the natural light of the courtyard is blinding. It’s not just the building that has been opened up. I, Impostor notes a shift in Nelson’s style of working. The darkness of The Coral Reef and other works from the past is now circumvented. The work feels light, sad and provocative. Although it still reflects his earlier piece. Nelson now creates a doomed space, sparsely punctuated by dirt covering a clump of weaving machinery, the effect is absorbing and not gloomy. Two almost identical chapel like rooms, lit by skylights covered in a greenish paint. This evokes the sense of the spacial awareness of cities representing a multicultural experience. In another room two ghost chandeliers hang above a pile of dirty chandelier spare parts. At first glance it looks like fragmented glass but then you realise it is all part of the larger picture. Two points of light highlight power, a trade off which is beautiful in its dignity. The installation also contains objects with writing on it such as packages and posters. This reinforces a Turkish identity of the project, while architectural details and metalwork evoke Venice. Nelson’s installation brings you hard up against an old, dilapidated locked door, taking you sideways down a dark corridor and into a low-ceilinged room. The room is not depressing and the overall look is exquisite. The scene created hints at activities of reclaiming and repair. You then emerge into the stark sunlight of an afternoon in Venice. Time for some Grappa! It’s a poetic project reminding us of a half-imagined place explored through the props selected and on show.