Mike Nelson: Hybrid Scripts

23 September 2023 – 21 January 2024
FREE / No booking required
NGCA Main Gallery

Guided visits take place every 30mins on the hour and half hour between 10:30am-4:30pm (last entry 4pm)

Hybrid Scripts is the first solo exhibition in the North East in nearly 30 years by internationally acclaimed British artist Mike Nelson.

Nelson produces immersive worlds which draw on international political movements, science fiction, counterculture, film and literature. His monumental installations invite the viewer to step into an alternate reality filled with a vast array of objects and personal effects which convey human presence while presenting a world eerily familiar to our own. 

The exhibition comprises two seminal early sculptural installations Taylor and Lionheart in direct dialogue for the first time. Both works reflect on Britain’s colonial past, migration, trade and travel.

Taylor (1994) is a monumental sculpture on loan from the Arts Council Collection. Taylor’s title refers to George Taylor, a marooned astronaut from the film Planet of the Apes – a tale where humanity, in search of new worlds, finds itself back in the same place but in an even worse situation. The work also references the eighteenth-century warehouse in Liverpool where it was first exhibited in 1994 – once at the centre of the last days of the British slave trade – and to the Cuban ‘rafter crisis’ of the early 1990s. The work sits like a prop from a non-existent film awaiting the final component: you, the viewer, with your histories and imaginations to complete the story. This was Nelson’s first work to use fiction in this way to suggest journeys to other worlds – whether by force, escape or exploration.

Lionheart marks a pivotal moment in British history with the election of New Labour in 1997 in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union on the ever-changing continent of Europe. Nelson witnessed the beginnings of a new wave of immigration as people from the former east of Europe travelled north towards Britain, arriving in Germany around this time, selling relics from their Communist past. The traders seemed to be retracing trade routes from the East that had been dormant for decades, blocked by the ideology of the Iron Curtain. In contrast, at this time, Britain’s markets were still redolent of their colonial history, both peopled by and selling relics from the former Empire.

Named after Richard the Lionheart, arguably the first imperialist King of England who focused almost exclusively on Crusades overseas, the installation depicts a drifter’s camp, a hunter or trapper of the inanimate collecting material painstakingly sourced from flea markets and car boot sales across Bremen, North Germany (where the work was originally made in 1997), London and the island Helgoland – a piece of literal common ground owned by both countries and geographically between the two. This material encampment is built from the discarded clues to a world at a certain point in time – the colonial flotsam and jetsam of the British car boot fused with the furs and traps of Eastern Europe – but reverberates today in those histories it touches upon and the trajectories that they have followed to this point in time.

Mike Nelson represented Great Britain at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011 and has shown in leading galleries around the world. His first survey exhibition Extinction Beckons opened earlier this year at the Hayward Gallery, London. In 2019 he transformed the grand spaces of Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries with his major sculptural commission The Asset Strippers.

The selection of artwork is part of Arts Council Collection’s pilot project Borrow Big! which supports arts organisations in exploring large-scale, site specific works from the Collection. The exhibition has also been made possible thanks to The New Art Gallery Walsall.

Image: Mike Nelson, Taylor, 1994. Courtesy the artist and 303 Gallery, New York; Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Matt’s Gallery, London; and neugerriemschneider, Berlin.

Update to visitors  

As you may be aware, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and National Glass Centre visitor centre has recently been closed due to storm damage to the riverside front of the building. 

However, we’re delighted to say that we are now open!    

Things will be a little bit different for a while as we continue to address the storm damage to the riverside front of the building. But our team has worked hard to make changes so that we can offer visitors a packed programme of exhibitions, events, activities and shopping.  

Please read our reopening information before your visit. 

Stay connected with Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art Instagram Twitter Facebook