Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Mike Nelson in Venice

One of the things I was really looking forward to at The Venice Biennale was the opportunity to see the work made for The British Pavilion by installation artist, Mike Nelson,  I, Impostor. I queued for an hour and a half as only a few people are allowed in at a time, luckily it was well worth the wait. Nelson has gone to work on the classic interior of the pavilion with incredible attention to detail to alter the building beyond recognition. 

Nelson has taken as his starting point a piece of work he undertook in 2003 for the Istanbul Biennale, The current work re-imagines the former piece and reconstructs it using salvaged materials from the original site and from Venice. He makes parallels between the history and trade function of the two locations. 

It took him and a small team three months to construct the installation. He has created a dark and sleazy interior, a backstreet workshop in a Turkish city. He sets up the space with claustrophobic rooms, stairs and corridors. The first room suggests a workshop perhaps repairing crystal chandeliers...this could just be a front though; as you venture further it starts to feel less legitimate. Dingy, dirty...someone lives here or at least sleeps here. Upstairs there is a workshop strewn with tools, a portable TV hisses white noise, detuned. Corners are stacked with junk machinery and salvaged scrap. 

A darkroom glows red, a forest of developed photographs hang on washing lines drying in the roof. You can smell the chemicals -it feels obsessive...why all these images, why so many? What is being sought or being recorded? Who is the imposter ofthe work's title? This is at the core of Nelson's work - he sets us up with a living, breathing space and invites us to imagine what has happened or what might happen there, we create our own story. His meticulous attention to detail right down to the fixtures and fittings helps us suspend our disbelief. He makes copious reference to films and books to help us recognise the language of suspense and the building narrative.

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