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Exhibition reveals stories from the hidden depths of human history
Robert Louis Stevenson’s final novel and rare objects from the enigmatic Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) are the inspiration behind an exhibition of objects at Sussex curated by British artist Mike Nelson.
Nelson, who represented the UK at the Venice Biennale last year and has twice been shortlisted for the Turner Prize, is best known for his environments that equate suggested literary fictions to spatial structures in immersive, atmospheric installations.
The Ebb Tide takes its name from Robert Louis Stevenson’s last novel, which is set within the subterfuge of the imperialist and capitalist expansion of the late 19th century and the amorality that surrounded the greed for the treasure uncovered by the movement of such people – rather like the ebb tide of the title.
Within the glass cases in the Library exhibition space and in his accompanying text, Nelson makes allusions to another text: the ‘Invocation’ from William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, the form of which is emulated in Nelson’s own text and formally in the display of objects.
The Ebb Tide will include a series of ‘historic curiosities’ (objects and images provided by the AMC) that evoke tales of lost cultures, mysterious places and the transformation of human experience by technology and conflict.
Objects include the keys to the infamous island prison of Alcatraz, a piece of the first transatlantic telecommunications cable, plans for a Victorian time machine (that subsequently “vanished” without trace) and others that relate to humanity in conflict with itself and its environment.
The exhibition forms part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations and marks its special connection with contemporary art history and practice.
Art historian Professor David Allan Mellor, a long-time admirer of Nelson’s work, suggested the idea of a collaboration with the London-based AMC, whose collections include photographs and paintings, plans and objects relating to tribal histories and technology. The Archive’s collections are currently being used by students on the University’s two MAs in curating.
Professor Mellor says: “Mike usually likes to form the environment himself, as he’s a gifted builder and designer, so this is quite a tough brief, given that the Library space is intimate and that there are glass and steel cases to negotiate.
“Mike visited the space and then set about selecting objects from the Archive. I think what he’s worked out is a very poetic rationale built around his choice of objects.
“Like Jeremy Deller, Mike is an interdisciplinary artist who complements the Sussex agenda – to connect networks of meaning. Sussex has always had a connection with people who practise and who are intimately involved in the process of art and it is wonderful that artists of Mike’s calibre are engaging with the University and its students in this way.”
The Ebb Tide runs in the Library exhibition space from Thursday 24 May to Friday 29 June, 10am-5.30pm daily (closed Sundays and bank holidays).
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