- Mike Nelson born 1967
- Wood and steel workbench, wood, steel panels and enamelled signs
- Object: 2500 × 4500 × 2620 mm
- Presented by the artist; Matt’s Gallery, London; 303 Gallery, New York and Galleria Franco Noero, Turin 2019
The Asset Strippers (Heygate stack, equivalent for a lost estate) 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. The work comprised of a horizontal pile of graffitied steel awnings and enamelled signs, stacked between timbers resting on top of five railway sleepers. The 2.6-metre-high stack is balanced across a wood and steel workbench supported by wooden flooring. A single drawer at the front of the bench is left partially opened, lending the work a sense of abandonment that is further emphasised by the broken floorboards supporting the bulky mass of materials above. The awnings were originally used to secure residences on the condemned housing estate in Walworth, South East London from which the work takes its title. The Heygate Estate was demolished between 2011 and 2014 as part of the planned urban regeneration of the area around the Elephant and Castle road interchange. The precarious nature of the vast stack combined with the stale odour and ruined appearance of the timber lend the work an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Two other assemblages from The Asset Strippers are also in Tate’s collection: The Asset Strippers (Elephant) 2019 (Tate T15413) and The Asset Strippers (Witness) 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 and construction industries. 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, in 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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