When the BBC commissioned British artist Nathaniel Mellors to create a work of art for its television series “The Seven Ages of Britain,” it was in for a surprise. Far from presenting recognizably vanguard video, Mellors hewed to the conventions of mainstream broadcast programming, mimicking perfectly many of the trademark features of the BBC itself.
In his short film, The Seven Ages of Britain Teaser (2010), Mellors spoofs documentary filmmaking, the august history of Britain, the Queen’s English, the bumbling nature of men in general and, in particular, the soothing tones of one of Britain’s best-known broadcasters, David Dimbleby. The film begins with a lopsided struggle between a medieval lout named Kadmos (referring to the Greek founder of the phonetic alphabet) and a golden-masked deity who intones from on high, a verbal sparring match that goes on to include a physical fight over a highly realistic mask of Dimbleby’s face.
Invoking cinema tricks from action films and comic style from Monty Python, and using first-rate special effects provided by professionals in the field, Mellors’s film tracks the fate of the mask, which is seen hurtling through the air in a Vertigo-like moment before landing in the river. Dimbleby himself fishes it out, and calmly narrates a short history of the role of television and media in contemporary art, with a few neat asides about Mellors. It’s not clear where the BBC ends and Mellors begins, but the deadpan humor and the weirdness of the lifelike mask are right out of the annals of the YBAs-and the theater of Samuel Beckett.
In the exhibition at Monitor, Mellors’s film was augmented by the extraordinary Dimbleby mask, which rested on the floor in its own room, wires and microphones protruding from it. Mellors, who plays Throbbing Gristle-style rock music as well as making films, has rigged the mask to make some movements and barely audible sounds. This heir to Damien Hirst and Ron Mueck doesn’t give a fig whether his work is seen as television, performance, theater or music-and freely hires technical consultants in the best tradition of the outsourced object.
Another room contained several large Pollock-like splatter drawings executed in fluorescent polymers over 1960s Dutch police posters used for marksmanship training. A bull’s-eye for Mellors.
Photo: Nathaniel Mellors: The Seven Ages Teaser Face, 2010, animatronic head and audio equipment; at Monitor.