Mike Nelson’s “Psychic Vacuum”

October 9th, 2007

CREATIVE TIME PRESENTS: MIKE NELSON/A PSYCHIC VACUUM,” the sign so boldly read above the information table. The crumbly-looking alcove of the building served as Creative Time’s makeshift office, where each entrant was required to sign a piece of paper. This paper ended up being a waiver, freeing the city from any lawsuits I may want to file in case something happened to me inside the exhibit or as a result of being there, I started to panic and wonder if it was really worth risking my uninsured body to write this story. My (insured) cousin convinced me it was, and by “convinced” I mean pushed my dragging feet to the Creative Time employee collecting our tickets.

We entered a musty, deserted looking Chinese restaurant, with remnants of old booths, telephone books and knickknacks. At once, I was walking through a once flooded site that had been evacuated, evidenced by wrinkled water-stained paper was everywhere. The kitchen was cleaned out and the walk-ins were empty except a few bones.

Then, we were presented with a choice of doors to enter. I peeked through one to discover a hallway with other rooms, while my cousin busted through the other to discover stairs leading exactly to nowhere. Forced to take the path that was open, we discovered an array of rooms. Passing through these rooms, we were transported to a series of rooms that seemed to have functioned as a tattoo parlor.

A few rooms were empty, with only tattoo reference sheets adorning the walls, while one of the larger rooms featured a chair with a stool propping up a rusting needle. A meticulously positioned lamp cast ominous shadows and I quickly backed out of the room only to enter another featuring a small makeshift bar with a crocodile’s head and candles. The space was littered with voodoo icons, their eccentric shadows accentuated by the dim lighting.

We walked around in circles for quite some time, making sure cover all ground possible, and, at one point, stepped into a rather chilly garage area with several old, beaten tires. This led us into the former meat market – complete with piles and piles of sand. It was an arresting end to the building momentum of the exhibit – dimly lit, cramped rooms designed to look deserted that led into a open expanse with soaring ceiling heights filled with sand dunes – which was breathtaking.

The dramatic effect of the installation, comes in part, from the facilitated paranoia caused by none other than claustrophobia. Nelson is clearly aware of the fear of exploring a series of closed, dingy spaces without knowing where they lead. The humidity outdoors suffocatingly intensified inside the building and possibly could have induced slight hallucinations. This is one of the key elements to “Psychic Vacuum” that cannot be conveyed via photos nor through this review.

After my second round, I needed to flip through Creative Time’s information binder about the exhibit to assure my doubts that Nelson had really artificially created this environment. The artist spent months at flea markets and old tattoo parlors collecting bric-a-brac and vintage items to complete the vision he had for Building D. He led us through an intense voyage through time and varied spaces that manipulated our imaginations until he was ready to let us go from his mind… and our own. –Esther Kim

Mike Nelson, “A Psychic Vacuum”
Through October 28, 2007
117 Delancey Street @ Essex Street, SE corner
Friday – Sunday, 12-6pm