Critics’ Picks

View of “Nathaniel Mellors,” 2013.


Nathaniel Mellors

Monitor | Rome
via Sforza Cesarini 43a Palazzo Sforza Cesarini
November 30 - January 26

Nathaniel Mellors’s second solo show presents three distinct but related groups of work. The focal element in the exhibition is the recent video The Saprophage, 2012. Shot using an iPhone camera and developed with the artist’s long-term collaborators Gwendoline Christie, Johnny Vivash, and David Birkin, the film highlights Mellors’s interests in linguistic manipulation, absurdist comedy, and ideological and historical clashes. Using a series of jump-cuts, the camera lens follows a surreal conversation between a man, moving around the decadent backyard of an East London home, and a woman in the desolate hills of Los Angeles. The words shouted from different ends of the globe produce a dialogue that describes a cultural apolcalypse of which the two protagonists seem to be the only survivors. While they discuss being “trapped in a bubble of [their] own perma-present time”—in which they find neither the past nor the future imaginable—a third figure suddenly enters the scene: the Saprophage. A tribute to filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s unmade film San Paolo (Saint Paul), this pseudoevangelic character, whose distinguishing characteristic is his habit of feeding on decomposing matter, appears from a Greek bay and joins the conversation, asking the way to America, where he aims to bring morality. Consumption, evacuation, and recomposition are the essence of the Saprophage’s quest.

The exhibition continues, offering a large sculptural installation (The Saprophage and Before and After the Saprophage, 2012) made of wood, plaster, chicken wire, and a video recording of a discussion about the video’s original script held between the artist and Christie, who also plays the female protagonist. The form of the sculpture, which resembles two heads joined by a neck, repeats itself as a spray-painted motif in six digital prints on wood, hung on the gallery’s walls.

All the works on view share The Saprophage’s presence in new and different configurations. Throughout the consistent, fictive itinerary visitors take through the exhibition, Nathaniel Mellors once again acts as a narrator conflating reality and fantasy, humor and politics, history and mysticism, giving rise to an epistemological wasteland.