Open now and running until 7 May 2023, the Hayward Gallery presents Mike Nelson: Extinction Beckons, the first major survey exhibition of large-scale installations and sculptural works by the internationally acclaimed British artist. Curated by Yung Ma, who joined the Hayward Gallery from Centre Pompidou back in 2021, the psychologically charged and atmospheric presentation takes viewers on enthralling journeys into fictional worlds that eerily echo our own. The artist tells: “My intent has always been to make immersive works that operate on multiple levels. They should have a narrative, a spatial aspect, but also a psychological effect on the senses: you’re seeing and feeling one thing whilst your brain is trying to override this and tell you something else.”
To learn more about the ambitious new show, Something Curated spoke with the exhibition’s curator. Expanding on the selection process of the works presented, Ma explains to SC: “It was quite an organic process, developed in conversation with the artist. Since this is Mike Nelson’s first ever survey, it was important to present the various aspects of his practice over the last thirty or so years, from the earlier large-scale installations to the more recent sculptural works.” Entwining references to sci-fi, dark histories and countercultures, Nelson’s works touch on alternative ways of living and thinking: lost belief systems, interrupted histories and cultures that resist inclusion in an increasingly homogenised and globalised world.
Offering further insight, Ma tells: “We are presenting The Deliverance and the Patience, which was made in 2001 as part of the Venice Biennale that year. This large-scale immersive multi-room installation is in many ways a conceptual and physical sister piece to the Coral Reef. It had never been shown again until now. Mike’s interests have always been wide-ranging, from science fiction to contemporary art history, political movements and societal regression, amongst others. So, besides bringing forth the immersive quality of his practice, I hope we have managed to weave all these different threads into the exhibition’s visual and spatial narrative. The exhibition is also an exercise in rethinking the model of a survey. It explores possibilities of how time and memory reshape and alter the formal presence of an artwork, which is in turn a reflection on Mike’s approach on reworking and reimagining his own works.”
Constructed with materials scavenged from salvage yards, junk shops, auctions and flea markets, Nelson’s installations have a startling life-like quality. Ma expands: “Mike is very specific about his materials. While they are mostly salvaged, they all need to have certain qualities and looks, sometimes even smell, depending on the final work Mike envisions. A lot of the objects and materials in the exhibition came from Mike’s storages. Some of the ‘new’ materials came from places Mike knows and has sourced from before. For example, the reclaimed timbers had to come from this particular timber yard since they got their supplies from certain kinds of houses built during a specific era, which would have a unique texture and colour.”
The various Brutalist structures that make up Southbank Centre, an imposing complex of artistic venues that includes the Hayward Gallery, boast a unique and highly recognisable architecture. On how he approaches working within the Hayward’s spaces and utilising the storied building as a site of display, Ma says to SC: “It’s a privilege to be able to work with the iconic architecture of the Hayward. Having said that, its strong character makes it quite challenging as well. I don’t think there’s one straightforward answer to this question. It all depends on the art, so each exhibition will need a different approach but I think the best starting point is to ‘work’ with the spaces/building, not against it.”
Feature image: Installation view of Mike Nelson, Triple Bluff Canyon (the woodshed), 2004. Various materials. M25, 2023. Found tyres. Photo: Matt Greenwood. Courtesy the artist and the Hayward Gallery