Blog archive June 2023

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21.06.23 / 01 / mike nelson

It was so good to see Mike Nelson's work again. The experience is the thing. You step through an old door and find yourself in a room with some old things in. You go through another door and down a corridor to another door and another room with more mysterious things. You’re in another reality. The clues add up. Some of the stuff is just stuff and some of it means something - there are no explanations in the spaces. You become disorientated by the constant changes of direction. You come out of another old door half an hour later slightly dazed, wondering how all that space and time fitted into the gallery.

I had to make many photos to show how the detail accumulates - it’s not a single-glance or key-view art. There is a developing sense of dread, as seeming references to 9/11, the Gulf Wars, conspiracy theories, build up out of incidental detail, but there are no final explanations of a single narrative - clarity is withheld. You are, literally, imagining things. The actual explanation given (in this case, about 'The Deliverance and The Patience', ships to carry reluctant settlers from Bermuda to Virginia) simply adds another layer of allusion. 'The Deliverance and The Patience' was originally staged in 2001, just before 9/11, which makes it seem disturbingly prescient.

Nelson’s work was formative in my understanding of how to make ‘alternative worship’. To quote myself from an interview years ago:

Mike Nelson's installations - ... you step through a door and find yourself in the rooms and corridors of an alternative world, with no explanation - you end up scrutinising every object for clues, and some of it means something and some of it is just scene-setting.

So all of these have the narrative trail, picking up clues, not quite knowing what's trash and what's art or what's around the next corner. They show how disparate pieces and incidents can be strung together as a journey. They use the stuff of the 'real' world - real chairs and bottles and clocks and newspapers - sourced not made. They show how to construct meaning with everyday or available things.

There have been little Mike Nelson moments in Grace, deliberate and accidental. The (re)appearance of a sleeping bag and wooden cross in the Hayward certainly startled me - Nelson has always had a sleeping bag thing going on, and so have I, though Richard Long might be another source for me. The ‘death of Christ’ station in ‘Stations of the Cross’ with its Gulf War hospital bed and oscilloscope was a definite allusion. Intriguingly, there is a copy of key alt-worship text TAZ in 'The Deliverance and The Patience' - Nelson shares an interest in 'temporary autonomous zones' and pirate utopias. So these personal and alt-worship resonances add yet another layer of connection that few will share.

Nelson’s immersive work is often site-specific and difficult to recreate, so it’s seldom shown. When it is restaged, it is necessarily in an altered form, maybe incorporating parts of another installation, or as here recreating part of one work inside another, which adds to the elusive quality, the slippage of time and space. I was thrilled and deeply moved to be back in his work again - it felt like something important and familiar that I had lost for a while.

12.06.23 / 01 / no more suit and tie

A minor review of my wardrobe, to put some things into vacuum storage bags, snowballed into a major clearout, eventually encompassing old luggage, unwanted furniture, and a 1990 ghetto blaster with failed cassette drives.

Many things hung forgotten and unused in suit bags, and most of these went. The little tight jacket that I bought when thin from undiagnosed Graves’ Disease. A nice sports jacket that I had entirely forgotten about, still good and still fits so back in wear. Old formal shirts with double cuffs for cufflinks, gone.

Still awaiting its fate, my suit, bought 20 years ago, outdated in style, ill fitting around the waist. Once it was a given that you had to have a suit, for formal client-facing meetings and presentations. But sufficient formality seldom happened. I found more congenial ways of dressing that I at least got away with, and the suit was worn maybe once a year, for a black-tie Christmas party to save me the trouble of hiring. And even that use ended across the pandemic. The suit seems so 20th century now. I have different forms of smart dressing that fit my idea of the 21st century better.

Suit fail #1: I need to keep my chest warm, for some reason, to avoid a chill. Most suits are open-chested. Suit fail #2: The tailoring doesn't work with the backpacks and messenger bags that we all wear now. Suit fail #3: Fill the pockets and the shape is spoiled. Suit fail #4: Needs smart shoes. I need more cushioning than that, because of my old hip and knee injuries. A day in traditional shoes leaves me sore.

So goodbye suit, with your 19th century roots, your impractical tailoring, lack of pockets and lack of warmth. I doubt I will ever own another.

And now my eye falls on the little rack of ties. None have been worn for a very long time. The shirts to wear them have been thrown out. I have a black tie for funerals, but I dress in black anyway, and can drop in on funerals any time.

A wardrobe without a suit, formal shirt or ties - what if, what if, says a voice in my head. Which is why I end up keeping things, unused, until the moths or mould get them.

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