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Nathaniel Mellors & Erkka Nissinen: 'Bad Mantra' Review – Matt's Gallery

2 - 24 February 2019

FREE entry


Matt’s Gallery is hidden behind the burgundy exterior of 92 Webster Road, Bermondsey. A small note placed beside the doorbell asks you to ring to enter. With anticipation and slight unease about who was going to answer, I followed the command and stood back as the bell started chiming. It was not until moments passed that I heard shuffling footsteps and the faint sounds of an electronic guitar and slightly off-pitch voices coming from inside the gallery. I would soon realise that this was part of the Bad Mantra exhibition taking place in the 3x3x3 cubic space.

Image from @mattsgallerylondon Instagram

The first thing that you see as you walk into the gallery is the band of pink puppet faces stuck to the wall, with long arms and wires growing out of their heads. In tune with the sounds, the mouths of the puppets are animated to appear as if they are singing in time to the music. Pink hands also move in repetitive motions to play the programmed improvisation created by Mellors and Nissinen. Combining sculpture, music and sound, this exhibition showcases an intriguing installation that captivates you both visually and audibly as you stand in the centre of the small gallery space.

Image from @mattsgallerylondon Instagram

Although Mellors has exhibited at Matt’s Gallery previously, this is the first time that he has exhibited with Nissinen to showcase their collaborative practice. Both Mellors and Nissinen explore social and political issues through their work, using video, music and performance to produce installations with a sense of absurdist humour. Mellors and Nissinen have worked together before on The Aalto Natives, a commissioned video installation for the 2017 Venice Biennale. The following extract from The Aalto Natives inspired the title for the Bad Mantra exhibition at Matt’s Gallery: “A few years ago we had a damn-near perfect society here, and then a number our most aspirational children went away on a meditation camp and they came back emotionally and physically crippled. Infected by a Bad Mantra...”

The Aalto Natives depicts a narrative of Geb and Atum, two aliens who return to the land of Finland that they created years and years ago. Relating to Nissinen’s own Finnish Identity, this installation explores ideas of nationalism, myth and the development of societies and culture. Mellors and Nissinen have worked on other installations together, with their installation Transcendental Accidents parodying avant-garde dance performance. This parodical approach is reflected similarly in Bad Mantra, as it was almost comical to watch puppets performing a musical rendition, spurting out sounds unexpectedly.

Image from @mattsgallerylondon Instagram

Ironically, Matt’s Gallery was not founded by ‘Matt’ but by Robin Klassnik, the owner of a dog named Matt E. Mulsion. This contemporary art gallery has been open since 1979, moving across different spaces in London and currently residing in this residential part of South East London. As of 2019, the gallery will be moving across to Nine Elms in Battersea and into a new, larger space. Bad Mantra is the first exhibition to take over the 3x3x3 gallery for 2019 and the space will continue to host a series of longer form exhibitions throughout the year.

Edited by Dimitrina Dyakova

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