Extinction Beckons

A review of Mike Nelson’s Hayward Gallery exhibition

Steve Russell


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Mike Nelson, is an internationally acclaimed British artist, born 1967 in Loughborough, he works in London. Extinction Beckons is a major exhibition, which includes sculptural works and new versions of his original installations.

Extinction Beckons but there’s a gentle warning by a Hayward Gallery assistant. ‘There are uneven surfaces, and the possibility of disorientation and claustrophobia.’ 

Everything is made of scavenged, found objects; there are numerous used doors, boards and fittings, each of which exudes history. Aesthetically precise pieces constructed from farm engineering and equipment that would stand happily alongside any sculpture from past millennia are beautifully realized, with the patina and distress of lost empires and industrial ages. 

It would be impossible to highlight the immense amount of detail and all the intricacies that are slightly hidden or that can be seen from a different angle. A gallery wall would normally be pristine but the corridor towards ‘I, Impostor’ has scuff marks, the result of tyres being rolled along the passage. This creates a beautiful uniform pattern. There is the powerful smell of rubber tyres inside and outside the woodshed.

‘The Amnesiacs’ features a run of rundown and ramshackle cages. Home to the memorabilia of the fictional biker gang imagined by Nelson, born of his interest in pulp biker fiction of the 1960s and 1970s.

Everywhere is empty, the inhabitants left in a hurry, they could return at any time. Expect to see a crazed axe man, a zombie, a Russian President, a POTUS, either caged, or about to walk into the space. The mood is a continued air of lingering disquiet.

Somewhere inside ‘The Deliverance and The Patience” slight relief can be found at the top of a truncated wooden staircase. This gives a view of the beautifully curated roof of the labyrinth and a very close connection with the Hayward ceiling. But it’s no escape, there’s only one door in and one out of the installation.

Beautifully derelict exhibits have intriguing clues and references that are telling you something, maybe it’s clear or not, you have investigate by reading the surfaces, the shapes, the construction. I look forward to returning armed with the catalogue, there’s a very useful and informative lexicon, which provides some explanations and answers.

It’s a very bleak view, the desolation resonating with humanity’s continuing degradation of the Planet. It’s impossible not be reminded of what’s happening in the world today, where extinction is vehemently beckoning!


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Steve Russell

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Steve Russell, artist. Dealing with issues of self, identity and symbols through the medium of paint, ephemera and other drawing materials. My practice is a figurative style that marries diverse elements into an instantly recognizable, idiosyncratic idiom that is at times touching, dramatic and visceral. Using line and dramatically visceral expressive colour, I produce images that manage to be optimistic and intriguing, even in seemingly mundane or problematic contexts.

Note: The audio included in this article has been generated from the text. It has been added to the piece to assist with accessibility and to provide another way to enjoy the work.