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 Erkka Nissinen 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).
Image of the banner: Nathaniel Mellors, Neanderthal Container (screenshot), 2014
Images of the carousel: Views of the exhibition Nathaniel Mellors Permanent presents, presented at Frac Bretagne, Rennes, from October 8, 2021 to January 2, 2022. Photo credit: Aurélien Mole