- Mike Nelson born 1967
- Metal lathe, metal trestles, cast concrete tiles, industrial machinery parts and wooden timbers
- Object: 3030 × 6020 × 1330 mm
- Purchased 2019
The Asset Strippers (Elephant) 2019 is a large sculptural assemblage made from reclaimed industrial items and materials. It was made as part of Mike Nelson’s larger project The Asset Stripers, his response to the Tate Britain Commission for the Duveen Galleries in 2019. A brilliant blue lathe balances on two wooden timbers on top of a pair of blue trestles. At the top of the lathe sits a dark green anglepoise lamp without a bulb. Positioned alongside at floor level are assorted lathe parts. Three of the parts lie horizontally, two stand upright. Each has been carefully placed in the manner of an archeological artefact or sculptural object, rather than an industrial machine part. The lathe and its component parts are placed on five abutting cast concrete slabs that together resemble a low-level traditional sculptural plinth. The compositional treatment of the parts, together with the monochromatic colour scheme, is reminiscent of British modernist sculpture, in particular the industrial assemblages of Anthony Caro (1924–2013). However, unlike much of Caro’s work, The Asset Strippers (Elephant) has not been painted or surface-treated. The patina of age and use of its reclaimed parts are visible in areas of rusting and traces of oil. Two other assemblages from The Asset Strippers are also in Tate’s collection: The Asset Strippers (Heygate stack, equivalent for a lost estate) 2019 (Tate T15412) and Double Drill (No. 15) 2019 (Tate T15411).
To make these works Nelson scoured online auctions of asset strippers and company liquidators to amass a collection of remnants from Britain’s manufacturing industry. In the press release for his Tate Britain exhibition, he explained:
Their manipulation and arrangement subtly shifts them from what they once were into sculpture, and then back again to what they are – examples of the machines and equipment left over from industry and infrastructure. The exhibition weaves this allusion with that of British history. It presents us with a vision of artefacts cannibalised from the last days of the industrial era in place of the treasures of empire that would normally adorn such halls.
(Mike Nelson, press release for The Asset Strippers, Tate Britain, London 18 March 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/press/press-releases/mike-nelson-asset-strippers, accessed 25 July 2019.)
An interest in the cultural and social contexts behind objects, as well as their material qualities, lies at the heart of Nelson’s practice. When reassembled and placed in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain, these sculptures transformed the neoclassical galleries into a warehouse of industrial objects that pointed to the decline of British industry, infrastructure and the welfare state. Nelson further commented:
I was interested in how an exhibition space used for the display of sculpture could be linked to the imperial and political status of Britain through the very materiality of the sculpture that it displays. These artefacts are not from the extensive British empire or from British foreign interests or colonial excursions, but they are the last remaining vestiges of what made these grand museums possible – industry. What I have accumulated here are the ends of an era, the cannibalising of all we have left – a sort of self-consumption, an eating away of ourselves.
(Nelson, in conversation with Tate curators Clarrie Wallis and Elsa Coustou, 28 February 2019.)
Such works typify Nelson’s practice of assembling found objects to create large-scale, site-specific sculptural installations that are loaded with socio-political meaning and webs of references to history and current affairs, as also seen in the multi-room installation The Coral Reef 2000 (Tate T12859).
Mike Nelson: Again, More Things (A Table Ruin), exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Gallery, London 2014.
Mike Nelson: The Asset Strippers, exhibition leaflet, Tate Britain, London 2019.
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