Triple Bluff Canyon at Modern Art Oxford
The purple walled corridor, low-lit and thick with the smell of paint, is a brief, claustrophobic space, and an entirely convincing illusion that leads directly into another. An octagonal room, deep maroon walls alluding to a kind of tatty opulence, presents a simulated choice of exits. Of the four available doorways (all identical, and glassed with mirrors), one leads backward, and two are locked. Where am I? Some kind of between space. An elaborate magic trick, dusted with perfect detail. The fourth door leads us backstage, and the bluff is revealed: behind those maroon walls, we realise the octagonal room is a space within a space, constructed of a wooden frame and boards. Looking at the raw back panels it's hard to believe they contain such a convincing illusion. With the same materials so often used to create flat painted surfaces, Nelson's octagon is not walked past but walked through; not looked at, but lived.
Upstairs, we find a reversal of the previous situation - rather than finding a way out, we are looking for a way in. A reconstruction of a cluttered workshop or studio, built in a similar manner to the octagon. In a film projected large against one wall, an American 'conspiracy theorist' states his complex world view, stacking warped perceptions, accusations and half-truths into a complex construction all of his own. From some angles, we see the film framed by Nelson's studio. The table, covered in books and magazines, an electric fan and a stool, juts into the frame. We can feel Nelson crunching through the gears of his various techniques, culminating in this very precisely tangled mess of constructs and concepts.
A ramshackle wooden tunnel forms an unexpected and incongruous entryway, cutting through a huge heap of sand that almost reaches the gallery ceiling at some points. The sand trickles and moves from time to time, glowing in the diffused light from the skylight and the perfect white walls. The room is pregnant with atmosphere, serene, surreal and expectant. Moving on, we see the inside of a wooden shack, sand cascading through the long broken windows. The gallery space has been divided, bent, torn and reworked: we have to detour back through the previous rooms to see the outside of the shack, perching half-buried on a spectacular reconstruction of a sand dune. These locations have a pervasive feel of decay and abandonment that plays against the obvious intricacy of their construction - once again, the illusion revealed, this time at the exact moment it is activated.
Nelson has filled the gallery with matter and meaning way beyond its capacity. Further investigation only adds to the undulating landscape of reference points, inflections and half glimpses: Triple Bluff Canyon continues to change around me long after I have left the gallery.© John Brainlove 2004
Triple Bluff Canyon by Mike Nelson at Modern Art Oxford 8th May - 4th July 2004
Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford OX1 1BP
T: + 44 (0)1865 722733
Modern Art Oxford
Brainlove Mike Nelson interview
Guardian review (Adrian Searle)
Mike Nelson is represented by Matt's Gallery, London