Not sure if I should admit this, but I had no idea who Nathaniel Mellors was up to, say, two months ago. Then there he was, welcoming me with two sculptures in one of the first rooms of the main show at the Venice Biennale, creeping me out with two wrinkly robotic heads attached via grayish hair. There he was, featured in the artsy branch of the Milano Film Festival, in my hometown. And here he is, transforming SMART Project Space, a former morgue, into a weird exhibition-organism populated by anything from Vito Acconci performances to James Ensor drawings.
A part of the Statement series, :Hypercolon: - a common effort by the aforementioned Mellors and fellow artist Chris Bloor – is way more sensual than the last few shows hosted at the Amsterdam venue. By sensual I mean that the senses, but more specifically the related body parts and bodily fluids, are the fil rouge keeping the show together. A few months ago I wrote that the Stedelijk is like an organism, pumping you in and out its pipes beyond your control. This time the analogy is more literal, and the two artists have modeled the whole display after the human body, giving each room a name and a function. The visitor travels from the right eye through the brain, the left eye, then descends through the mouth into the stomach and out of, well, the ass.
Although the highlights of the show are definitely the Nathaniel Mellors films – strategically placed in the two key areas, the brain and the colon – the rooms are filled with very heterogeneous art, including comics from the 50s (Basil Wolverton, whose Stomach Drawings are quite hilarious), advertising clips from the 70s (Robert Abel), and even etchings from the eighteenth century (William Hogarth, James Gilray). A bunch of other contemporary artists are in between, some effectively – the aforementioned Vito Acconci, also present with a sound work in the toilet -- and some that feel pretty random -- Chris Bloor himself, whose Failures of the Avant-Garde series doesn't seem to keep up with the density of most of the other works on show.
Considering Mellors' work, the protagonists of his videos are the most fascinating and representative of the exhibition’s general mood. Struggling to find a way out of their crazy brains, they have surreal and grotesque conversations, traveling in odd caravans through prairies (The Cure of Folly, co-produced by SMART itself and screened in the Brain room) or eating shit (the Pasolini-inspired Giantbum, in the Colon room). The cinematic quality of the films and their mysterious grotesqueness are enough to engage you, and their weirdness is rewarding in itself even if you don't watch the whole thing.
Like the other Statement shows at SMART, :Hypercolon: tries to convey a particular vision of the world, centered on inner conflicts rather than political ones. Politics are there as well, but the satirical pieces always have a very body-inspired humor – especially thanks to the oldest drawings and etchings (the most effective example of this is the entrance to the Colon room, framed by an upscale Ensor drawing in billboard style) that provide the show with a specific atmosphere and work really well with Mellors' fanatic characters.
Even though the press release stresses the “shifting relationship between artwork and audience”, the show doesn't really break new ground in terms of space-visitor dialectics. :Hypercolon:'s sensuality lies more in its content, the artworks being mostly two-dimensional, and I already mentioned how certain associations didn't really convince me in terms of “density.” Overall there is an atmosphere to it, but the feeling I had is you could have trimmed some stuff down and still have acheived the same effect, if not better.
~Nicola Bozzi, a writer living in Amsterdam.
(Images: Nathaniel Mellors, Still from Ourhouse Episode 3 ‘The Cure of Folly’, 2011; Chris Bloor, :Hypercolon : invitation, 2011; Failures of the Avant Garde; Linda Quinlan, Mroouctkh, still image from video; Timmy van Zoelen, Furious Suns, still image from video; Courtesy of artist and SMART Project Space)