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Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen: The Aalto Natives – Venice Biennale 2017

Mellors and Nissinen represent Finland at this year’s Venice Biennale. They discuss handmade puppets, homemade film sets, creation myths involving eggs, the flimsy narratives on which national identities are built, and whether you have to love something in order to make fun of it

“All of these things (creation and national identity myths) are just about people generating little stories to entertain and manipulate people.” Nathaniel Mellors.

Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen’s film The Aalto Natives (2017) is a narrative multimedia installation offering an immersive theatrical experience around nationalism and identity. Finnish national characteristics and creation myths are explored and exploded in exuberant and irreverent style in an hour-long piece that plays on several screens around the Aalto pavilion, and incorporates dialogue between two sculptural animatronic figures, Geb and Atum, one of which is a large, talking egg. They play two terraforming aliens who revisit the Finland they created millions of years earlier to try to make sense of the culture.

It is very much a homemade production: the pair built their own film sets in six weeks, in Mellors’ studio in Los Angeles, and made all their own puppets. They have used “more or less every kind of puppetry in this piece”, according to Nissinen, including claymation, stop-motion hand-drawn animation, CGI and hand-puppetry. The puppetry and animation provide a deceptively lighthearted, satirical context within which to interrogate serious issues of globalisation, shifting borders, racism, migration and national identity. ‘All of these things (creation and national identity myths) are just about people generating little stories to entertain and manipulate people,’ says Mellors.

The curator is Xander Karskens.

Nathaniel Mellors (b1974, Doncaster) and Erkka Nissinen (b1975, Jyväskylä) have established both solo and collaborative projects since meeting each other during a residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in 2007. Mellors, who was awarded the Contemporary Art Society Prize in 2014, is now based in Los Angeles, where he recently had a solo exhibition: Prequel Dump, The Box, Los Angeles (2016). His work was also included in the main 2011 Venice Biennale exhibition, ILLUMInations. Nissinen was awarded the Illy Prize at Art Rotterdam in 2011, and the AVEK Prize for media art in 2013. Solo exhibitions include God or Terror or Retro Dog, at De Hallen Haarlem (2015), and Erkka Nissinen, at Jyväskylä Art Museum, Jyväskylä (2015).

Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen: The Aalto Natives
Pavilion of Finland, Giardini, Venice
13 May – 26 November 2017

Interview by VERONICA SIMPSON
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY



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