Nathaniel Mellors at New Museum

Artist: Nathaniel Mellors

Exhibition title: Progressive Rocks

Curated by: Margot Norton

Venue: New Museum, New York, US

Date: February 6 – April 15, 2018

Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and New Museum, New York

The fantastical and wryly comical videos, animatronic sculptures, and installations by Los Angeles– and Amsterdam-based artist Nathaniel Mellors (b. 1974, Doncaster, UK) employ absurdist satire to incisively critique morality, national identity, religion, and power structures in contemporary society. Conflating cinematic tropes and methods from television sitcoms, theater, science fiction, mythology, and anthropology, Mellors writes the scripts for each of his projects, which he also directs, edits, and produces. “Progressive Rocks,” Mellors’s first solo presentation in New York, includes four films alongside related paintings and sculptures, all of which feature recurring characters and story lines that intertwine and unfold throughout the exhibition.

Using the Upper Paleolithic period as a lens through which to view the present, Mellors’s recent works typically feature the Neanderthal, a species of early human that was until recently considered inferior to “modern” Homo sapiens—and incapable of making art, a marker of human intelligence. The Sophisticated Neanderthal Interview (2014) focuses on an interview between a naive contemporary man and a Neanderthal artist. As the interview progresses, the power dynamic between the two shifts as it becomes clear that, despite his presumed primitivism, the Neanderthal is in control. Neanderthal Container (2014) similarly flattens linear time, featuring a Neanderthal figure in perpetual free-fall over California’s San Joaquin Valley, trapped in an eternal feedback loop.

Ourhouse Episode -1: Time (2015–16), the latest in Mellors’s dramatic sci-fi series Ourhouse (2010–ongoing), is projected alongside an animatronic sculpture of The Object, a book-eating creature who literally digests a family’s library and controls what they see and experience. In the film, The Object consumes The Eternal Present, a book covering 35,000 years of European cave art, as the family travels across time to ultimately find themselves in a permanent present, dislocated from history. A new animatronic sculpture and multichannel video installation of The Aalto Natives (2017, in collaboration with Erkka Nissinen), originally conceived for the Finnish Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, is in the center of the exhibition. In this work, two messianic beings—in the form of a cardboard box and a giant egg—attempt to make sense of a culture they created a million years prior, which suffers from xenophobia and polarizing populism. The title of the exhibition, like many of Mellors’s projects, plays with linguistic elasticity, conjuring multiple meanings that range from a music subgenre to a forward-thinking mineral mass to a crisis in liberal culture. His raucous works stage a breakdown of form, in which free associations, puns, and fragmented dialogue abstract meaning, causing narrative structures to collapse and a sense of the surreal to take hold.

“Nathaniel Mellors: Progressive Rocks” 2018. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

“Nathaniel Mellors: Progressive Rocks” 2018. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

“Nathaniel Mellors: Progressive Rocks” 2018. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

“Nathaniel Mellors: Progressive Rocks” 2018. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

“Nathaniel Mellors: Progressive Rocks” 2018. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, The Aalto Natives (Floored Version), 2017–18, Animatronic sculpture: steel, wood, and silicone, Three-channel HD video, sound, color; 53:34 min, The Aalto Natives was originally commissioned by Frame Finland for the 2017 Venice Biennale with the generous support of The Mondriaan Fund and the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors, Reliquary Reliquary, 2016, Resin, drinking straws, paint, polymerized plaster, silicone, hair, Perspex, and wood, 70 x 22 x 21 1/2 in (177.8 x 55.9 x 54.6 cm), Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors, Original Crucifixion, 2017, Acrylic and floor paint, sponge, polystyrene, and spray paint on canvas, 100 x 85 x 6 1/4 in (254 x 215.9 x 15.9 cm), Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors, Neanderthal Container, 2015, HD video, sound, color; 20:32 min, Commissioned by Taipei Biennial 2014, Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors, Neanderthal Container, 2015, HD video, sound, color; 20:32 min, Commissioned by Taipei Biennial 2014, Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors, Neanderthal Container: Animatronic Prelaps, 2015, Painted silicone, steel, wood, and animatronic mechanisms, Dimensions variableCourtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van , Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, The Aalto Natives (Floored Version), 2017–18, Animatronic sculpture: steel, wood, and silicone, Three-channel HD video, sound, color; 53:34 min, The Aalto Natives was originally commissioned by Frame Finland for the 2017 Venice Biennale with the generous support of The Mondriaan Fund and the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam, Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors, The Vomiter (Ourhouse), 2010, Painted silicone, paper pulp, bucket, silicone hose, peristaltic pump, Perspex, steel, wood, and animatronic mechanism, Dimensions variable, Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

Nathaniel Mellors, The Sophisticated Neanderthal Interview, 2014, 35mm film transferred to HD video, sound, color; 23:19 min, Commissioned by the Hammer Museum with the support of The Mondriaan Fund and Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, Courtesy the artist; the Box, Los Angeles; Matt’s Gallery, London; Monitor, Rome; and Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam

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