AO On Site at the 54th Venice Biennale 2011: Preview of Mike Nelson’s “I, Impostor” at the British Pavilion

June 5th, 2011

I, Impostor
. All images by Cristiano Corte, courtesy of the British Council, unless otherwise noted.

Mike Nelson, who has twice been short-listed for the Turner Prize, is the first installation artist to be invited by the British Council to create a new work in the UK’s Pavilion in the 2011 Venice Biennale. Nelson is known for site-specific large scale installations with enigmatic titles: The Deliverance and the Patience (2001), Triple Bluff Canyon (2004), To the Memory of HP Lovecraft (2008), and so on. Curated by Richard Riley, with Andrea Rose as Commissioner, this transformative pavilion is one of the most talked about at this year’s biennale.

British Pavilion. Photograph by John Riddy, courtesy of Matt’s Gallery London, Franco Noero Turin, and 303 Gallery New York.

More text and images after the jump…

Mike Nelson, photo by Thierry Bal, courtesy Artinfo.

The transformative element of Nelson’s installation here is twofold. It arrives first in the form of loss of orientation (is this the British pavilion?), and then in the mental grasping of what one is looking at, whilst managing to navigate the labyrinthian spaces. The visitor becomes the intruder in a space he or she doesn’t recognize. The visitor attempts to piece together a narrative from the clues he or she uncovers: an unmade bed, an empty dining room with multiple chandeliers, a darkroom with developing photographs.

The weaving of fact and fiction, of memory and rewriting, is an integral part of Nelson’s practice. The bunker-like installation is in fact a reimagining of a space he originally built for the 2003 Istanbul Biennial, Magazin: Büyük Valide Han. This repositioning and re-working of the work in a Venetian context draws a link between these two legendary mercantile centres of the eastern and western world. The juxtaposition also picks up on Nelson’s own histories with the cities and experiences with their respective biennials.

The 2003 installation was housed in a 17th century caravanserai situated in the Mercan area of Istanbul. According to the exhibition catalog, “Nelson has referred to the work for Istanbul as being a parasitical installation that had lodged itself into a 17th century building. Based on the photographic memory of the earlier work, with I, Imposter, Nelson has not only rebuilt the original darkroom but sections of the caravanserai itself, so that now a building, from another time and place, exists inside the late 19th century British Pavilion in Venice.”

In his review of the pavilion, Charles Darwent of the Independent writes: “Istanbul, like Venice, has always been an entrepôt of trade and culture. [...] It is in the nature of Istanbul to have exported the work, of Venice to have imported it. That, though, is to do precisely what we mustn’t do with Nelson’s work, which is to explain it. The real thing about his spaces is the urgency they inspire in you to leave them. This isn’t merely because they are windowless and grubby. What worries about the transience they evoke is the feeling that it might move on to you.”

Due to the fragile environment of the installation, there is a limit on the number of visitors allowed in at one time; keep an eye on pavilion’s twitter for up-to-date information on queues and opening times: @BCVisualArts. The British Pavilion is open to the public until November 27th, 2011.

Born in  Loughborough, England in 1967, Mike Nelson lives and works in London. The artist holds degrees from Chelsea College of Art & Design (MA Sculpture) and from Reading University ( BA, Fine Art). Mike Nelson has exhibited internationally since 1994, including solo shows at Statens Museum fur Kunst, Copenhagen; Villa Arson, Nice; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Musée d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; Centre d’Art Santa Monica, Barcelona; Camden Art Centre, London; California College of the Arts, San Francisco; and the Australian Center for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Nelson has presented major works at recent biennials in Venice (2001), Sydney (2002), Istanbul (2003), and Sao Paolo (2004).

Previous representatives of the British pavilion are Steve McQueen (2009), Tracey Emin (2007), Gilbert and George (2005), Chris Ofili (2003), Mark Wallinger (2001), Gary Hume (1999), and Rachel Whiteread (1997).

– J. Lindblad

Related Links:

Exhibition Site [British Council]
Venice Biennale preview: from Mike Nelson to Lindsay Lohan [Telegraph]
Venice Biennale 2011: Mike Nelson, British Pavilion, review [Telegraph]
Mike Nelson at the Venice Biennale [Guardian]
Venice Biennale 2011: Mike Nelson at the British Pavillion [Tate Blog]
UK Venice Biennale entry ‘avoids Britishness’ [Guardian]
“I’m not quite sure what installation is…” [The Art Newspaper]
Briton’s labyrinthine installation is already the toast of Venice [Independent]
Venice Biennale: Mike Nelson’s British Pavilion – review [Guardian]
Mike Nelson to Make History at the British Pavilion for 2011 Venice Biennale [Art Daily]
Re-examined Territories: the British Council present Mike Nelson, Venice Biennale [Aesthetic Magazine]