Photo by Hyatt Mannix 2011
Photo by Hyatt Mannix 2011
November 14th, 2011 · Performa 11 Staff

Nathaniel Mellors on Trying to "Not Make Work Like an Art-Schooled Artist"


British artist and musician Nathaniel Mellors is known for making films and installations that deal with the vicissitudes of language through absurdist scripts, psychedelic theatre, film, video, performance, collage and sculpture. His Performa 11 Premiere, Ourhouse (November 16th and 17th, 2011), is a surreal six-part video series that combines sculpture, language and power dynamics in an upper-class home. He will join curator Mark Beasley for an artist class at the Performa Hub to discuss the serious nonsense and surreal side of humor and language. In the meantime, we bring you our own seriously surreal interview with Mellors: 

Where do you live? 

I live and work in Amsterdam.

What is your occupation? 


Nathaniel Mellors

What’s the most memorable performance you've ever seen? 

Seeing the British noise/post-industrial band Whitehouse live at the Union Tavern in London in 1990, supported by God. I was 15 years old, wide-eyed and green. I had my record signed by the band, then my friend Ashley - who was very drunk and making ironic requests for "Discipline" by Throbbing Gristle - was de-bagged and spanked on stage by one of the groups. 

If you could change one thing about your country right now, what would it be? 

The dismantling of the Dutch cultural funding system by the current coalition government- that's part of a broader shift to the right wing in the Netherlands via neoliberal logic. It's bad, everyone's nervous; culture and multiculturalism are getting scapegoated for political and financial mismanagement, again. 

Where do you draw your biggest inspiration? 

Waking up. Also: Friends, acquaintances, Pier Paolo Pasolini. 

Daddy and Babydoll in Ourhouse, 2010- Ongoing.

What was the first performance you staged? 

I think it was an improvised performance at a house party in Kent, England, around 1989. It was an absurd situation: a performance that the host didn't expect to happen. We (the band I was in) had heard there was a party planned and turned up in a van with big amplifiers and surprised everyone. We got the stuff into the house. It was a suburban semi-detached. I was playing a little toy Casio SK5 sampling keyboard extremely badly, there were about eight other people in the band, including future Stereolab bassist Simon Johns and the genius drummer/DJ Ashley Marlowe. I heard the rest of the band stop playing- which was unusual- and when I looked up from the keyboard there were three policemen in front of me. The gig was stopped. Maybe the host had called the police? That was a kind of teenage victory.

What is your responsibility as an artist? 

No more of these childish gestures or anecdotes. To make new languages out of the present. Realism sans naturalism.

What is your first love? 


What were you trained as? 

An artist in art school.

What is your starting point? 

To try to not make work like an art-schooled artist.

What is your favorite place for solitude? 

Newport, Oregon.

What is ambition?

I don't understand the question.

Name one of your favorite historical artists and why.

Pier Paolo Pasolini- for engaging with the question of why art should be made above and beyond how it can be made. And getting DEEP- taking apart the social and political system developing around him. He was so on it hey had to kill him! PPP's predictions are more relevant today than ever. His work is beyond style and the content is pristine and enigmatic. It doesn't go one way or the other.

What hidden details should we know about you?

I have no body.

How would you define artistic genius? 

Vision/intuition + ability + confidence/lack of fear= The X Factor.

Or artistic intelligence? 

It's a very intuitive kind; mine can smell shapes.

Richard Bremmer as Daddy in Ourhouse, 2010- Ongoing.

What's the best piece of writing you have encountered about your work and how has it expanded your perception of your own creations? 

 John C. Welchman's "Abecedarium" on the work Giantbum (which we are making a completely new version of for Performa, with the Brooklyn Youth Company- they are an amazing group of super-talented, very young actors). You can read the full essay here. This is a piece of writing that functions as a serious art historical and critical essay for Giantbum and as a fun, parallel work; another linguistic game.

Video still from Giantbum, 2008.

What can we expect from your Performa 11 piece? 

There are two pieces  - for the Brooklyn Youth Theatre version of Giantbum, which will be part of Performa Radio on November 12th, 2011- something unique, fresh and surprising. I will be surprised; we'll all be surprised. This group, run by Erin McCready, is extremely talented and creative. Children are the best artists, and this group are brilliant actors as well as doing all the production roles! I am just lighting the touch-paper…I can't wait to see it.

For the two nights of screenings (November 16th and 17th) of Ourhouse - this will be the first time my absurdist series has been shown with all four episodes (including the latest brand new episode) in sequence. So it's a WORLD PREMIERE! 


Ourhouse episodes 1, 2, 3 & 4 were made with the generous support of the Netherlands Film Funds; Fonds BKVB; De Hallen, Haarlem; British Art Show 7- In The Days of the Comet; Fondazione Sandretto re Rebaudengo, Turin; SMART Project Space, Amsterdam; Eastside Projects, Birmingham; LUX, London; ICA, London; Matt's Gallery, London; Galerie Diana Stigter, Amsterdam and MONITOR; Rome.

Ourhouse episodes 1, 2 & 4 were produced by NOMAD, UK. Ourhouse Episode 3 was produced by NOMAD, UK & SMART Project Space, Amsterdam.

End of article