Lombard-Freid Projects is pleased to present the debut solo exhibition in the United States of British artist Nathaniel Mellors. The exhibition will introduce Mellors’ multimedia project, Giantbum, developed for the 2009 Tate Britain Triennial. Based on an absurdist script written by the artist, the project parodies religious theology through a narrative in which medieval explorers are trapped inside the body of a giant, taking inspiration from François Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-64). With a Monty Python-esque sense of humor, Mellors’ work draws inspiration from popular icons of cinema and theater while making pointed observations about language, cultural appropriation and power structures.
With the written word as his starting point, Mellors transforms language into a visual material as he explores linguistic manipulation through different stagings of the script. Two video projections installed in the main gallery represent two versions of the script: a ‘theater’ version, filmed on stage in an empty theater and a ‘rehearsal’ version, filmed in a white room in a former East London school. These divergent “demonstrations” convey a progressive destabilization of language and undermine its ability to correspond to and express external reality. The dramatic narrative takes shape within a framework of word play, punning and fragmented dialogue, forming an almost systematic disconnect between individual and collective understanding.
In the middle of the main gallery sits a triad of animatronic heads cast from the lead actor’s face. The heads speak phrases from the script and chant words such as “freedom” and “exit”, echoing the lead character’s evolution into a manipulative cult leader. The expedition gone awry purports to take place in 1213 AD, with the main character, The Father, as the group’s spiritual leader turned cannibal; his assistant, the sinister looking Sub-Priest; Sir Boss, a lush, confident and ultra-rational leading lady; and the Truthcurator, a frightened and somewhat naïve follower. The characters struggle to articulate their reality as their exchanges slip further and further away from accepted sense. Sent off to save his starving fellow explorers, The Father returns to the group “born-again”, having resorted to cannibalism and coprophagia to survive. These absurd and extreme examples of recycling comment on cultural appropriation and evoke more serious issues relating to linguistic manipulation. In this dislocated and hermetic environment, the perverted and total distortion of the group’s conception of reality becomes possible. This narrative evolution is reminiscent of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film Salò (1975).
In the second gallery space, a series of silkscreened prints on glass and mirror bring together the main characters from Pasolini’s Salò and Mellors’ Giantbum; the mirrored surfaces present each one as both static object and – through the reflection– ever-changing figure.