Selected Magazine Reviews # 3 Untitled Magazine 2004

Nathaniel Mellors

‘Profondo Viola’

Matt’s Gallery, London,UK

8 September to 31 October 2004

Reviewed by Cameron Irving

I came face to face with God not too long ago. It was when I was in a storage room at Matt’s on my way through to the main exhibition space at the gallery. Well, it was a storage room before it became an antechamber for Mellor’s multimedia installation Profondo Viola. Amongst empty shelves, a sweeping arch made from cladded plywood served as a screen for a video projection. And there was the face, in all its glory, imposed on a background of swirling clouds and atmospheric music, the face of the almighty … wearing a joke shop moustache.

‘Profundo Viola’ – ‘Bill Viola’. The immediate conclusion reached is that the title of the installation derives from a cynical piss-take of the American video artist and his serious efforts to represent the metaphysical in a milieu consistently hostile to spirituality. A glance into the main exhibition space served to affirm the satirical air and comical aspect in Mellor’s tone, as it revealed an array of disjointed sculptural oddities, like a huge paddling pool, skew-whiff projections showing 16mm film and video works of characters wearing outrageous outfits or donning cheap props.

With visual formats ranging from music videos and TV shows to serious film or fly-on-the-wall documentary, this carnival of representation was an expansion of Mellors’ concern with mainstream entertainment in relation to gallery specific art. The dynamics of the discourse Mellor explores, and the connection of differing modes of representation, display an impressive confidence and ability to work with multimedia as a material and subject matter. The films that the artist has personally written and scripted make references to the later films of Jean-Luc Goddard, as 16 mm is spliced with digital renderings. Other films, such as Swiss Village use a fly-on-the-wall format for absurd ends: a woman gets harassed by a voice shouting ridiculous proclamations, repeating and distorting vowel sounds; a tactic that is used again in some of the sound-works. Classic cinematic elements such as the meditative sound of clanging bells could be heard from somewhere in the galley, like a distant church on some Tuscan hill in a Pasolini film. These filmic nods were juxtaposed with the other visual formats lifted from light entertainment, such as the pontificating character in the antechamber, who is more Kenny Everett than prophet or God.

Sketchy, hand-painted posters proclaiming ‘Hope Misanthropy’ randomly pasted on the gallery walls, might have been advertising a band, or pushing a campaign. Instead of mass printed promotional material, they are unique ‘works on paper’ – the most typical example of ‘gallery art’. These drawings reverse the Warholian factory principle of churning out or multiplying a once unique image, by taking a format that is by its nature a reproducible one, and producing individual, unique examples. Placed in inconspicuous places, they actually attracted hardly any attention at all, furthering the futility of the posters.

One had to literally step over much of the elements making up this installation. Fluorescent tube lighting lay scattered around asking whether it needed to be considered as sculpture, or declared as discarded lighting effects. There were so many opportunities to catch cheeky references to modernism, as Caro-esque minimalist structures cut from polystyrene doubled as screens for the projections. From somewhere, Prog Rock belted out, as unannounced as a gig warm up, and headphones linked to amplifiers played a seven-inch record, made by the artist, titled Moondoghuis. Consisting of slightly unnerving but sarcastic voices spliced together, an interview seemed to be being conducted with the character ‘Moondog’. Who he is, or what he is, is not certain, but copies of the record were available at the exit for viewer to take home.

Other headphones attached to cheap plastic chains resting on polystyrene plinths remained disconnected and wireless. These erroneous headphones served no purpose other than – like the fluorescent light tube works – to confuse the viewer of their status. By picking them up, only to replace them again was, I think, another joke at the viewer’s expense, courtesy of Mellors.

Sometimes, an overload of disparate material in an installation is a way of compensating for a lack of an intelligent direction, leaving a vast array of stuff to beef-up the work through multiple references. Profondo Viola, thankfully, was no such installation. Mellors’ used a vast amount of visual references to show a process of disintegration, where visual structures of communication and representation crumbled into an entropic, playful haze that hovered between the real and the factual, the silly and the serious, the satirical and the sincere.

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