In the 1990s Mike Nelson became known for his claustrophobic, labyrinthine installations, which feel like the ruins of modern life’s belief systems. Some of them refer to failed political or countercultural movements; others, to the psychologically dense literature of H.P. Lovecraft or Jorge Luis Borges. Worn-out, found household objects like clothes, posters, furniture, and sleeping bags are brought together in architectural assemblages, conveying a sense of forlornness. Nelson, however, doesn’t tell stories. Rather, he creates uncanny atmospheres, in which the vestiges of these social rituals are made physically palpable. Other works convey this concept in a much more minimalist fashion. Among these works is the installation “A52,” which was developed especially for CAPRI. It is the most recent piece in a series of works that Nelson began in 2013: damaged car tyres picked up from the side of the Autobahn are arranged throughout the room. Their titles refer to the most important regional expressway of the respective venue in which they are shown: in Birmingham it was the “M6,” in Lyon the “A7 Route du soleil.” In Düsseldorf, the tyres come from the “A52.” All three cities have specific relationships to the roadway and are sites of old industry and thoroughfare. But the smooth form and the simple material of the tyres also recalls American Minimal Art and Land Art, such as in the works developed by Robert Morris and Robert Smithson in the 1960s. The suggestion of “Road movies” also lies close at hand, evoking the street as a gateway to freedom and self-actualization. Nevertheless, something dystopian inhabits the destroyed tyres, something like what happens in J.G. Ballard’s novel trilogy (Crash, Concrete Island, and High Rise), where the staging of car accidents becomes a thrill and a sexual fetish.
We don’t know the history of the found tyres, but it is clear that they are connected to accidents, injuries, and even death. The absence of a vehicle or its passengers becomes palpable through partly bizarre, partly anthropomorphic forms, which in turn recall archaic totemic objects and their rituals. In a certain sense, the tyres are part of just such a ritual—one that unconsciously belongs to our everyday lives, in which we hardly reflect on how regularly we move from one place to the next. Even in its most banal form, the artistic process of repeatedly arranging found tyres in new sites likewise has something quasi-religious about it. In this way, the elaborate room installations find their precise, sculptural complement in these tyres.
Mike Nelson was born in 1967 in Loughborough, England. He has been nominated for the Turner Prize twice and represented Great Britain in the 2011 Venice Biennale. His works were most recently exhibited in the Museum Bojmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2016) and at the Lyon Biennale (2015).