The Aalto Natives

13 May — 26 Nov 2017 at La Biennale Di Venezia in Venice, Italy

12 FEBRUARY 2017
Erkka Nissinen, Nathaniel Mellors, Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017, photo by Ugo Carmeni, courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland.
Erkka Nissinen, Nathaniel Mellors, Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017, photo by Ugo Carmeni, courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland.

Artists Nathaniel Mellors (1974, UK) and Erkka Nissinen (1975, Finland) represent Finland at the 57th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia with ‘The Aalto Natives’. Commissioned and produced by Frame Contemporary Art Finland, the exhibition is curated by Xander Karskens (1973, Netherlands), artistic director at Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen.

Working collaboratively, the artists will transform the Pavilion of Finland - built in 1956 by architect Alvar Aalto - into an immersive, multimedia environment. The installation brings together sculptural elements, animatronics and video, which are synchronised in a dynamic choreography of dialogue and image. The exhibition focuses on various clichés surrounding Finnish history and national identity for ‘The Aalto Natives’. Taking cues from archaeology, anthropology and science fiction, short video vignettes at the core of the installation re-imagine Finnish society through the eyes of a pair of outsider figures, represented by talking animatronic puppets who, in dialogue, present a lecture. The animatronic puppets introduce a series of fast-paced video vignettes on Finnish mythology, contemporary Finnish society and their vision for the future of Finland.

Nissinen and Mellors are individually recognised for their absurd, irreverent and hilarious story-driven work; their humorous approach belies a profound understanding of contemporary issues of morality and communication. The artists met in Amsterdam during their Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten residency from 2007-8, and have been admirers of each other’s work since.

Nissinen and Mellors were selected through an Open Call process issued by Frame Contemporary Art Finland in 2016. The jury was impressed by the inventiveness of the proposal, its subversive humour, and the imaginative way it responded to the complex issue of nationhood and interdependence. “We selected the proposal because the ideas it presented were amongst the most captivating, surprising and artistically diverse. We are confident that it will generate debate and be a highly engaging experience for the audience.”

Erkka Nissinen graduated in 2001 from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, she has exhibited widely including recent solo exhibitions at De Hallen, Haarlem (2015); Sorbus, Helsinki (2015); Hordaland Art Centre, Bergen (2015); Jyväskylä Art Museum, Jyväskylä (2015) and Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam (2011). He has also participated in group exhibitions including the 7th Turku Biennial, Turku (2015); The Varieties, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston (2015) and La La La Human Steps, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2015). In 2011 he was awarded with the acclaimed Illy Prize at Rotterdam Art Fair, and in 2013 received the AVEK Prize for media art.

Nathaniel Mellors is an Amsterdam and Los Angeles based artist working across a wide range of media. In 2014 Mellors was awarded the UK Contemporary Art Society Prize, and was the recipient of the Cobra Museum Amstelveen’s Cobra Art Prize in 2011. From 2013-14 he was artist-in-residence at HAMMER Museum, Los Angeles and MONASH, Melbourne, Australia. Recent solo exhibitions include at The Box Gallery, Los Angeles (2016); Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam (2014); art:concept, Paris (2014); Matt’s Gallery, London & Salle de Bains, Lyon (2012); I.C.A., London (2011). Mellors has participated in The Great Acceleration –Taipei Biennial (2014); ILLUMInations – the 54th Venice Biennale (2011); In The Days of the Comet – British Art Show 7 (2010-11); Altermodern, Tate Triennial (2009), Biennale de Lyon (2007) and Art Now: The Way in Which it Landed, curated by Ryan Gander at Tate Britain (2008).

Xander Karskens was curator of the Finnish national pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, Xander Karskens recently started as artistic director at the Cobra Museum in Amstelveen, where he collects and exhibits the art of this post-war avant-garde in relation to developments in contemporary art and discourse. Before, he was responsible for the contemporary art program and collections at Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem. Earlier international exhibitions projects Karskens organized include Ghost in the system - scenarios for resistance at NCCA Moscow (2013) and FOCUS:the Netherlands at ARCOmadrid in 2012.