On beets and ping pong: Interview with Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors

Nathaniel Mellors (left) and Erkka Nissinen.

Nathaniel Mellors (left) and Erkka Nissinen presented their exhibition proposal for the jury remotely from Los Angeles and New York. The hand belongs to curator Xander Karskens. Photo: Rosa Kuosmanen

We discussed with artists Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors about their forthcoming Venice Biennale exhibition project, what they admire in each other’s artistic work – and a bit about Boris Johnson’s hair. Nissinen and Mellors will represent Finland at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.


Please tell a bit about your artistic practise, and your recent projects. What are you working on right now?

Erkka: I’m working on a collabarative piece for Finland Venice 2017 pavillion with Nathaniel Mellors.

Nathaniel: Same here.


You met in the residency in Rijksakademie. How did your collaboration begin for Finland’s open call? What do you admire or like about each other’s artistic work? 

Erkka: There is idiosyncratic, grotesque humour that I find immediately appealing in Nathaniel’s work, but under that surface there is also very sophisticated, intellectual level that is possible to feast on. He seems to make works that I would like to make and have ideas before I would have them so I think this collaboration is a good way for me to absorb some of his artistic and intellectual vitality for later use.

Nathaniel:  Erkka and I became very close friends at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam during 2007 – 2008. We felt an immediate connection with each other’s works – a shared interest in a kind of bodily and mediated grotesque, and joy in black and brown humour. And so we played a lot of ping-pong and hung out together a lot. Erkka’s work is funnier than mine and more explicitly personal. And he’s better at ping-pong than me, and he eats more fish than I do. We’ve decided to appropriate each other.

Erkka: I feel that Nathaniel’s answers are always funnier and more relaxed than mine. I envy his ability to live in the moment. Just to elaborate: I’m much more into eating beets now. I think they are healthy and red. I take pride in ping pong and healthy eating being two areas in which I’m better than Nathaniel, although I hear he has turned vegetarian so this makes me worried that he might emerge as a winner in longevity.


How do you feel about the forthcoming exhibition project in Venice? What thoughts do you have about the Venice Biennale; why is the Biennale relevant still today?

Erkka: There is a comedy aspect in representing or embodying a whole nation in a large international art event. The situation is maybe a bit like Eurovision song contest. It’s enjoyable to be making what is in my books an epic undertaking in collaboration with another artist so that the weight of the whole work doesn’t rest on only my shoulders. This allows us to have fun with this piece and I’m sure that shows in the final result.

Nathaniel:  It’s great to have a big cultural event – in one of the most beautiful places in Europe – where people from as many countries as possible come together and celebrate all the differences they have in common through a series of imaginative acts. This is at a time when the very idea of Europe is being seriously corrupted by some very dubious politics.  We’ll need a big bonfire and some Ewoks for the party once we’ve sorted everything out.

Erkka: I feel threatened by Brexit and Boris Johnson.

Nathaniel: Are you thinking about his hair? You are jealous of his hair. But you are better at avoiding answering questions than him. Is there a place that manufactures politicians’ hair? Brexit sounds like a chocolate bar.

Erkka: I fear Brexit. Nathaniel says it’s a chocolate bar and he has a good hair whereas my head looks like an egg. He wins again.