The Frac Bretagne brings together for the first time the entire film series incorporating central Neanderthal figures produced by British artist Nathaniel Mellors since 2012.
The first film titled The Sophisticated Neanderthal Interview (2012) features an interview between an ethereal “modern” man (Truson) and an apparently real Neanderthal. The modern man is unable to read the Neanderthal’s intelligence and in return the Neanderthal plays with him and his expectations of primitivism. The work reflects on contemporary class and identity separation but also anticipates recent developments in prehistoric science whereby the Neanderthal has been ‘de-objectified’ – moving from idiot relative to a central figure in the evolution of homo-sapiens. The interview appears to take place in a version of mythic ‘Eden’ which Mellors uses as a symbolic point of transition from sustainable hunter-gathering to ecologically untenable ownership. The work was filmed in the historic Bronson Caves in Griffith Park in Los Angeles (recurring filming location for Hollywood westerns and original Batman TV show).
Neanderthal Container (2014) features the reappearance of the character in the form of a Neanderthal stunt-dummy in permanent free-fall. As well as filming the figure falling and bouncing off trees, plants and buildings in and around Los Angeles, Mellors dropped the Neanderthal figure from a plane over the San Joaquin Valley. Mellors conceived the falling figure as depicting an “absolute exterior” and these sequences are punctuated by more psychedelic video fragments depicting the Neanderthal’s interior – a film-set populated by four different versions of the Neanderthal character who reflect on their condition and position “inside the Neanderthal stunt-dummy… which is actually a spaceship.”
Neanderthal Crucifixion (2021) features the return of The Neanderthal character from the previous works as an animated puppet – the new work is made with stop-frame animation and the narrative addresses the Neanderthal’s excitement about his forthcoming retirement, reflections on his cultural innovations “(“I invented houses”) and his social-alienation, class-resentment and prejudice against the new and increasingly prevalent homo-sapiens whose heads appear to be too small.
As a sort of prequel to the trilogy, the exhibition at Frac Bretagne looks back at Ourhouse (2010 – ) British TV drama being eaten from the inside out. It stages the eccentric Maddox-Wilson family’s lives destabilized when their house (‘Ourhouse’) is occupied by The Object (Brian Catling), whom the family fail to recognise as a human-being, each perceiving a different form in its place. The Object yields strange power over words and begins to eat the family’s books; processing their story inside its guts. Each episode of the series is determined by the texts The Object consumes, half-digests and vomitss-back-up.
In Ourhouse Episode -1 (2015-16), presented as part of the exhibition at Frac Bretagne, L’Objet eats The Eternal Present – a book retracing 35,000 years of European rock art.
Nathaniel Mellors (1974, United Kingdom)
Nathaniel Mellors develops an art based on film-making; writing scripts as well as directing and editing them, and working closely with actors such as Patrick Kennedy and David Birkin. To these films, he adds works based on sculpture and photograms, such as the ones that can be seen in this show. His studio works incorporate humor, irreverence, the poetic and the absurd but to address themes of ownership, history, power, morality etc. By drawing inspiration from the techniques linked to cinematographic fictions, he inscribes his work within given contexts of the social reality that he questions and analyzes. He explores our tastes, morality, habits and the various ideas anchored in our collective memory.
Nathaniel Mellors is graduated from the Royal College of Art in London in 2001. His work has notably been shown at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and at the Art: Concept Gallery, Paris (2014); at the 57th Venice Biennale with ErkkaNissinen for the Finnish Pavilion (2017); at the New Museum in New York (2018); at The Box, Los Angeles and at Matt’s Gallery in London (2019).
With a resolutely saturated and pop photographic aesthetic, Louise Mutrel’s work combines popular and vernacular icons from here and elsewhere. Her photographic approach claims the image in its contemporary use. She evacuates any notion of materiality attributed a priori. No more prints, mats or frames. The artist postulates a free image, always in movement and whose nomadism allows it to exist in the abyssal flow of social networks or in various forms such as the printed flags adorning the gallery at La Villette or today on the façade of the Frac Bretagne.
However, if she knows how to free herself from the classic codes of the photographic medium, Louise Mutrel chooses not to entrust everything to digital technology, preferring an analog, mechanical and profoundly plastic approach to the manipulation of the visual through the risographic process. A popular offset photocopying method that originated in Japan in the 1950s and was widely used throughout the world until the 2000s, risography gives images a screened texture and an immediately identifiable acidic colour palette. While one might see in the use of this printing technique a touch of nostalgia and a pronounced taste for a certain “vintage” look, the artist’s approach is, on the contrary, perfectly consistent with a practice situated in our time. Risography acts as a filter, but when many of her contemporaries willingly indulge in intensive “photoshop”, Louise Mutrel takes hold of the material to brillantly play with colours and printing.
Presented in large format, her images act as giant bumper stickers that corrupt the black façade of the very minimal Frac Bretagne. This impenetrable glass wall is illuminated by her photographs to become a “wall” in the digital sense of the word on which the images scroll, unfold and construct a visual and rhythmic adventure. The supposed neutrality of the building becomes a field of possibilities, a paradoxically blank page that comes alive with the aesthetic peregrinations of the young photographer.
Louise Mutrel invites us on an “exploded road trip”, she says. It is made of trucks, alpine landscapes, rocks, a car park (whose pylons delightfully echo the granite alignments of Aurelie Nemours) but also more abstract forms in a poetic and dreamlike collage on the scale of the building. She says little about her subjects. They are offered to our gaze and it is now up to us to imagine their history. All she tells us is that her framing is inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e prints, “images of the floating world” in French.
Born in 1992, Louise Mutrel works in Arles and Paris. She graduated from both the Haute École d’Art du Rhin in Strasbourg and the École Nationale Supérieure de Photographie d’Arles. In 2017, in Japan, she collaborated with local artisans by experimenting with Washi, a precious traditional Japanese paper. Since 2020, she has been building a plastic and photographic journey with rizography printing. Her work has been presented notably at La Villette, Paris in 2021, at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d’Arles in 2019 or at the Institut Français de Tokyo in 2018.
Autumn 2021. The world is slowly emerging from the lethargy imposed by the global pandemic. What we all hope will be a global accident will have acted as a magnifying glass on social and societal inequalities. If the entire planet has suffered from this virus, it is clear that we have not been treated equally according to our social condition, our skin color, our gender or our country. Beyond the COVID-19 crisis, the last few years have also generated real awareness that we hope will last. Whether they reveal themselves through violent or pacifist demands, legitimate or debatable, they have nevertheless allowed us to “problematize” a world too reluctant to question its fundamentals
The exhibition Ces dernières années proposes to look together at how the artworks that have recently entered the collection of the Frac Bretagne reflect the sounds of our world. They evoke with poetry and commitment the feminist and ecological questions, the notions of withdrawal and confinement, popular struggles or social conditions.
Finally, because a public collection of contemporary art is also, and perhaps even above all, a meeting of artistic expressions present and active in a here and now.