British artist Nathaniel Mellors’ major solo show Ourhouse opens at the ICA this week. Screened over three spaces in the gallery alongside an animatronic double headed sculpture of the ‘Daddy’ character, 'Ourhouse' is an absurdist sitcom that revolves around the lives of the beyond-eccentric Maddox-Wilson family and documents the gradual destabilisation of the household through its inhabitants. With Mellors’ influences ranging from Pasolini to UFOs, by way of contextualisation this show boasts an accompanying exhibition entitled 3rd Leggg of work that has inspired the artist, a reading room of weird and wonderful material and a talks and screening series.
Mellors invited publisher and all round purveyor of beneath-the-radar culture Mark Pilkington aka Strange Attractor to curate the series of talks that range from presentations on haunted soundsystems to new thinking on shamanism and prehistoric rock art. Intrigued by the Strange Attractor Salon, Dazed chatted animism, sci-fi and man-eating dessert with Nathaniel and Strange Attractor.
Dazed Digital: What made you decide to get Strange Attractor involved?
Nathaniel Mellors: One of the things that’s different about this exhibition is that they’ve given me a free license with the ICA structure so that I could programme in relation to my new work and so I thought that it would be terrific to ask Mark to run with the talks thing because he’s been making these incredibly rich programmes on fascinating subjects for years. We also have shared friends and a background in British post industrial music, a relatively underground scene that we both engaged with in the late 80s/early 90s
DD: The subjects of the talks seem wide-ranging, what are the most obvious links to Ourhouse?
Nathaniel Mellors: There’s a lot of associative connections. In Ourhouse there’s this central character called the object, a human figure that the rest of the family don’t recognize as being human and so experience a kind of confusion in its presence. What’s actually happening is that this central character is taking over language and the family are experiencing a linguistic confusion so are not able to order their senses around it. I would associatively relate that to Animism and objecthood and the status of objects, and I’d relate that to art and how the power mechanics of art making work and how we project value onto objects.
Strange Attractor: Animism deals with our relationship with the world around us - essentially it’s the belief that everything is alive - so one of the talks is by Dr. Robert Wallis, who’s going to do a presentation that develops understanding of rock art from the Palaeolithic to the Native Americans of the late 19th century, and what that says about our relationships with the natural world…less in a David Attenborough way and more in an intuitive way.
DD: You’ve programmed films after each of the talks, what are the links there?
Nathaniel Mellors: The film I’ve programmed after the Art & Animism talk is The Bed Sitting Room by David Lester, who went on to direct Superman. It’s about the idea that after the bomb, even though there’s only 37 people left alive England reverts to its traditional class structure, so you’ve got the Post Office played by one person and the BBC played by one person and then you’ve got this aristocratic character who believes he’s turning into a bed sitting room. Then after the Ken Hollings talk there’s a screening The Stuff, a film I love about a takeover of the earth by this alien force that takes the form of a highly addictive ice cream that’s marketed as a health product. It’s interesting because you eat the monster instead of the monster eating you, but then it eats you from the inside. In a way it’s a playful critique of consumerism and globalization and Coca Cola that links with Pasolini’s Salo and ideas of consumption and excretion, so it kind of riffs on that, there’s quite a lot of this freestyling.
DD: As a publisher coming out of a counter-cultural tradition, do you have a take on this attention to consumerism and capitalist culture?
Strange Attractor: When we started the tagline I used was ‘We declare war on mediocrity and a pox on the foot soldiers of stupidity’ and I meant by that really mass corporate culture. I think people have asked in the past whether I am just being oppositional, but there’s more to it than that, it’s about what exists beyond the frame that we’re presented with. The way that the momentum of culture works is that everything pushes behind a very small number of people, objects, ideas and things, so it’s about trying to create a bit of a wobble. As much as anything the set up with the books was originally to publish material you wouldn’t find anywhere else and I have a sense of duty about that.
Nathaniel Mellors: It’s about creating some dissonance. We’ve got a broad cultural inheritance at this point in time of work from the 60s/70s/80s which is often being recycled and restaged so we’re in a culture of stylization and that’s something to upset at every opportunity.
Nathaniel Mellors: Ourhouse is showing at ICA, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH, 9 March - 15 May 2011