Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors explore nationalism and creation myths in their absurdist video installation to feature in the Finnish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen will present their first collaboration, The Aalto Natives, in the Finnish Pavilion at the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Opening on 13 May, the exhibition is the flagship contemporary art event included in Finland’s official centenary programme. Its patron is Mrs Jenni Haukio, the spouse of the President of Finland.   


Individually known for their irreverent and often comedic story-driven work, in which a humorous approach deceivingly belies a profound inquiry into contemporary issues of morality and power, Mellors and Nissinen will focus on various clichés surrounding Finnish history and national identity in The Aalto Natives.

The installation will be conceived for the architectural and ideological context of the Finnish Pavilion, designed by architect Alvar Aalto in 1956. Conflating ideas and tropes from archaeology, anthropology and science fiction, it will re-imagine Finnish society.

“The Aalto Natives explores themes such as the invention of national identity and the origins of culture by way of absurdist satire. Dressing its intellectual ambitions in purposefully silly gear, it both addresses the complex challenges our globalized world faces today, and pokes a cheeky kind of fun at the political correctness of its discourse,” says curator Xander Karskens.

In The Aalto Natives, the artists, who share an interest in the capacity of absurdism and transgression to critique power structures and the status quo, bring together Nissinen’s intuitive, do-it-yourself attitude to image production and his penchant for naïve musicality, with Mellors’ writing-based approach to filmmaking, and integration of sculpture.

“We wanted to take a cosmic perspective on nationalism — a comic-cosmic perspective on national identity, creation mythology, transnational movement, bureaucracy and class & racial stereotyping. We started with the idea of creation mythology – it seemed both absurd and necessary. We took a trip to the Ateneum in Helsinki, looked at  the Kalevala paintings and talked about the role of the egg-laying duck. We realized that Finland is part of a broader genus of egg-based civilizations,” say the artists.

The Venice Biennale, located in the Giardini and Arsenale directly in the historic centre of Venice, will open to the public on 13 May. The Art Biennale, which rotates with the Architecture Biennale every other year, is expected to attract approximately half a million visitors. Along with the national exhibitions, the Biennale hosts a large main exhibition of 120 artists in the Italian Pavilion. This year the main exhibition Viva Arte Viva is curated by Christine Macel, Chief Curator of Centre Pompidou in Paris.

“The Venice Biennale is the oldest and one of the most prestigious international exhibitions of contemporary art, which always manages to capture the zeitgeist of the world in a magical way. The Aalto Natives exhibition is by far the most international production we have ever seen in the Finnish Pavilion. With their very special take on the global state of affairs, Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors will provide us with a viewpoint like no other,” says Raija Koli, Director of Frame and the commissioner of the exhibition.


The Aalto Natives to be exhibited at the Cobra Museum and Kiasma after Venice

The Aalto Natives installation will be seen both in the Netherlands and Finland right after  the Biennale ends in November. In addition to being presented at the Cobra Museum in Amstelveen in the Netherlands in December 2017, The Aalto Natives will be included as part of a major exhibition featuring Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki in spring 2018.


About the artists and curator

Erkka Nissinen (1975, Jyväskylä) studied at The Slade School of Fine Art in London and gained an MFA degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, Finland in 2001. In 2007-8 he was a resident at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Nissinen was awarded the Illy Prize at Art Rotterdam in 2011, and the AVEK Prize for media art in 2013. He has over the years created a series of video works and installations featuring a resourceful do-it-yourself deployment of both vernacular and digital tools to craft an absurdist comical-philosophical universe. Here, topics such as social interaction, sexuality, violence and the origins of human consciousness and creativity are addressed in cartoonesque narratives populated by a cast of hyperbolic characters, often performed by the artist himself. Nissinen lives in New York.


Nathaniel Mellors (1974, Doncaster, UK) studied at the University of Oxford‘s Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and the Royal College of Art in London. In 2007-8 he was a resident at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Mellors is also an advisor at the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam and a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, in the UK. In 2011 he was the recipient of the Cobra Museum Amstelveen’s Cobra Art Prize. In 2014 Mellors was awarded the UK Contemporary Art Society Prize. Mellors’ work often takes the form of absurdist fantasy used to address serious themes. His irreverent, absurd and hilarious videos, sculptures, performances and installations challenge notions of taste, morality, and intelligence. Mellors lives in Los Angeles and Amsterdam.


Xander Karskens (NL, 1973), curator of the Finnish national pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, recently assumed the post of artistic director at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen, where he collects and exhibits the art of the CoBrA group in relation to developments in contemporary art and discourse. Before, he was responsible for the contemporary art programme and collections at Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem, where he worked with both Mellors (in 2010) and Nissinen (in 2015) on solo exhibitions, and acquired their work for the museum’s collection.


Read more about Finland at the 57th Venice Biennale


Photo: Erkka Nissinen and Nathaniel Mellors: The Aalto Natives, 2017, production image.