Whitehot Magazine

May 2010, Mike Nelson @ 303 Gallery

Mike Nelon, Quiver of Arrows, 2010
Installation view; Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery

Mike Nelson: Quiver of Arrows

303 Gallery
547 West 21st Street

New York, NY 10011

February 27 through April 10, 2010

Mike Nelson has pegged us. He’s burrowed underneath our set of assumptions and our shared notions regarding the 1960s, the 1970s and the present-day in ways that only reveal themselves after long and exacting consideration. In addition, he’s presented an economic treatise on the parallels between the eras mentioned above and the current economic crisis we’re living through. It’s one thing to describe a set of circumstances and events in language; it’s entirely another thing to describe the same set of circumstances and events using objects and the setting of a gallery space. Mike Nelson employs these tools to translate events both figuratively and literally at the same time.

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The artifacts within the installation piece Quiver of Arrows clearly belong to another era, a time of greater mobility, both economic and literal. The reverberations, however, pertain precisely to what we are experiencing at this moment in our cultural and economic landscape, and are entirely prescient.

Mike Nelson has presented us with four trailers, now all literally connected and without wheels and up on stilts—immobile and inward-facing, rather than mobile and outward-facing. The tenor here is introspective, introverted and “recessed” rather than forging ahead, looking towards and beyond the horizon, carving out ones’ own version of life and reality on to the cultural surroundings. And very much like what happened after the money supply expansion of the 1960s (and of course similar ones of recent years), the current post-boom “contraction” resembles very clearly the insular quality of the actual work: four airstream trailers assembled together in an inward-facing fashion, and without means of transportation (wheels). A perfect analogue to the current post-boom era we’ve found ourselves in.

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Mike Nelon, Quiver of Arrows, 2010
Installation view; Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery

The false/easy credit boom of the 1960s resulted in a large portion of the population of that time “expanding”—setting up larger goals for themselves than they otherwise would have (given the false promise of money that didn’t actually exist), pushing the envelope, impelling and struggling against what they saw as political and cultural boundaries, arbitrary barriers it was their obligation to traverse.
And break through the boundaries they did! By this point the story of the cultural upheavals of the 1960s are familiar enough to all of us. But why did this come about? There have been many notions on this, and a small handful of these have become standard currency along the trading route that has become the commonly accepted interpretations of North American post-war culture.

There has been no shortage of stories and theories on the “end” of the 1960s, specifically the point where the “optimism” turned in on itself, turned ugly, evolved into despondency, where the culture “recessed”. What I’m presenting here is an economic perspective, specifically, a vastly truncated monetary theory. Do people change their behavior and their outlook as monetary policy does? Of course they do. What gets affected through monetary policy: optimism isn’t the only byproduct of “culture”, it is also the byproduct of individuals making changes in their lives—large changes—due to what they reasonably see as easy (or easier) credit: for instance, buying houses, investing, saving, or consuming. Each of these things is greatly affected by how “easy” or “difficult” it is to get a bank loan, for instance. Individuals making decisions in their lives and dealing with money will, of course, be affected. And an aggregate of individuals all swimming inside of a stream whose currents to a great extent are determined by monetary policy will, overall, be acting in certain ways, buoyed by certain premises and assumptions.
What happened AFTER the economic boom of the 1960s, of course, is well-known. If anyone reading this is over 40 years old, they’ll probably remember the “stagflation” of the 1970s, the economic stagnation and the accompanying inflation: the gas lines, the dismantling of the last vestige of the gold standard, the severe recession…all of it an entirely predictable post-boom morass.

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Mike Nelon, Quiver of Arrows, 2010
Installation view; Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery

The smell—the subtle mustiness of used, worn furnishings disintegrating and slowly returning to dirt—is omnipresent within Mike Nelson’s Airstream trailers of “Quiver of Arrows” but never overwhelming. What I saw walking through the four attached trailers were lives—at one time hell-bent on both forging and escaping—now gone, ravaged or disappeared. Where were these individuals? What had become of them? Do they lead radically different lives these days than they did when they’d occupied these vehicles?

To me, these trailers, this piece in its entirety, is the most on-target, up-to-date installation I’ve seen this year. Mike Nelson has hit a bull’s-eye in his rendition of a post-war boom culture, skidding and slowing down, shifting inwardly, grinding to a halt.

Inside the installation itself, I distinctly felt and heard whispers and echoes of CNBC, Fox News and CNN talking heads tittering nervously, attempting to describe what, exactly, was happening in the economic world around them. They had, at the base of it of course, no idea what was going on, what was crumbling and why. In addition, I started to hear the thoughts and conversations of the imaginary occupants of these trailers, also, either sharply or muddled, attempting to describe similar things to those above, and also how they would respond, what they would do about it. The results, as we can see from the remnants of that era, are all around us.

Hans Michaud

Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.


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