The Venice Questionnaire #14 – Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors

The creation of national identity, terraforming aliens and a Bollywood remake of La-La Land on the programme for the Finnish pavilion

Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, work in progress from The Aalto Natives, 2017, HD video still. Courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, work in progress from The Aalto Natives, 2017, HD video still. Courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, work in progress from The Aalto Natives, 2017, HD video still. Courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen. Photo: Veera Konsti. Courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland


ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2017 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening (13 May – 26 November).

Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors are representing Finland. The pavilion is in the Giardini.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

We’re making a video installation with animatronic sculpture. The video is about nationalism and the creation of national identity, creation mythology and terraforming aliens. We shot the video, which is about Finland, entirely in Los Angeles. We built our own film studio, really badly.

How is making a show for the Venice Biennale different to preparing a ‘normal’ exhibition? Or another biennial?

There’s a good chance some people will turn up to this one. We spent 18 months developing the work. It felt necessary to do justice to the idea, and also we were optimistic that if we get this right we might never have to be in an exhibition ever again.

There are a huge number of biennial exhibitions across the world nowadays. Do you think the Venice Biennale still has a special status, and why?

Yes – Venice has an aquatic medievalism which is unique. Biennale-wise it’s the big one. The other biennales are political and superficial in comparison, Venice is just good old-fashioned colonialism.

What does it mean to ‘represent’ your country? Do you find it an honour or is it problematic?

Well we are a collaboration with only 50% Finnish nationality. Erkka is Finnish, Nathaniel is a Yorkshire ex-pat’ and pre-Brexit traitor. So Erkka feels a tremendous sense of national responsibility and pressure which has been mentally and physically debilitating, we had to spend a portion of the budget on therapy. Nathaniel is resoundingly proud to represent Finland and, if the work is well received, is hoping to stay on in Finland as a cultural refugee and benefits claimant.

The Venice audience is a diverse group. Who is most important to you? The artist peers, the gallerists, curators and critics concentrated around the opening, or the general public which visits in the months that follow?

Both – we made two works this year, one for the opening week which is a Bollywood re-make of the film La-La Land (have you seen that – it’s amazing) and then a different work for the general public – I don’t want to say too much but it’s essentially a concretisation of a lot of our favourite cultural theory played out through various forms of pop-cultural appropriation, like TV, the Internet, Scrabble etc.

Did you visit the last Venice Biennale? What’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

Our earliest Venice memories are quite abstract – shapes, colours, a kind of beige smell. There’s some kind of persistent threat, but it’s hard to describe – we’re not sure if it has a body even, or if it’s inside or outside us. Erkka was set to work cutting the crusts off of small triangular sandwiches but was never allowed into the garden party. Nathaniel was living in Long Eaton, and remembers a Jamaican family who kept rabbits in their backyard on Granville Avenue.

How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in your home country?

It’s too early to tell.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

We are excited to see all 1500 former Rijksakademie participants in the Biennale – including Pauline Curnier Jardin in the main exhibition and Katja Novitskova’s pavilion for Estonia. We are also excited to see the things we don’t know we are excited to see. These are the things we are most excited about. 

Click here to read all the Venice Questionnaires so far

21 April 2017