Nathaniel Mellors & Erkka Nissinen, The Aalto Natives
March 16–September 9, 2018
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Mannerheiminaukio 2, FI-00100 Helsinki, Finland
Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen represented Finland at the 2017 Venice Biennale with their video installation The Aalto Natives. Kiasma’s exhibition features the video installation that was shown in Venice and a selection of new works by the artist duo.
Using humour, The Aalto Natives video installation reflects on themes such as national identity, creation myths and nationalism. It tells the story of two aliens named Geb and Atum who return to explore a place they created millions of years ago, Finland. The aliens are especially interested in the society and culture that has developed in the country in the meantime.
Egg-shaped Geb and box-headed Atum are present in the gallery as animatronic puppets. The video unfolds in four parts: the creation and prehistory of Finland; Atum’s arrival in Finland; his quest to find “the real Finland”; and the encounter between Atum and Muta, a Neanderthal who lives in Finland.
The work is rich in allusions ranging from the Finnish national epic Kalevala, in which the world is created from a duck egg, to the stereotype of the Social Democratic welfare state. The Neanderthal is a character familiar from Mellors’ prior work.
Within this narrative framework, Mellors and Nissinen critique religion and the nature of human existence, to reveal the systemic flaws at the heart of cultures dominated by rationalism and the fetishization of progress.
Various visual idioms—including HD videos of old school Muppet-style puppeteering, 3D CGI, and hand-drawn stop-motion animation—conjure the universe and psychology of their characters. These different media and technologies are synchronized into a dynamic and immersive theatrical experience.
Xander Karskens, Artistic Director of Cobra Museum in Amstelveen and curator of The Aalto Pavilion in Venice says “The Aalto Natives explores themes such as the invention of the nation state and the origins of culture by way of absurdist satire. Dressing its intellectual ambitions in deceivingly comical gear, the work addresses the complex challenges our globalized world faces today, like neoconservative nationalism, intolerance, and class polarization.”
The title, The Aalto Natives, refers to the venue in which the work debuted, The Aalto Pavilion in Venice, designed by the iconic Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The pavilion also makes an appearance in the video as Geb and Atum’s spaceship. The title alludes to alternative realities: its pronunciation resembles that of the word “alternatives.”
The new installations in Kiasma continue the story of the video: many of the animated puppets from the video are featured in the new installations. The exhibition in Kiasma is curated by Patrik Nyberg.
Nathaniel Mellors (1974, Doncaster, UK) looks at serious topics through a lens of bizarre fantasy. He works in various media including video, performance, text and music. Mellors is based in Los Angeles.
Erkka Nissinen (1975, Jyväskylä, Finland) is known for his DIY-style videos and installations. He uses absurdist humour as a vehicle to explore topical social issues and political themes. Nissinen lives in New York.
Mellors and Nissinen met in 2007 during an artist residency in Amsterdam. The Aalto Natives video installation was their first artistic collaboration.
The Aalto Natives installation was commissioned and produced by Frame Contemporary Art Finland. The exhibition is accomppanied by a publication including the complete script of the work.
Opening of the exhibition will take place on March 15, 2018 at 6pm.