Nick Hackworth

Mike Nelson: Triple Bluff Canyon, Modern Art Oxford

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

In form, the work of 37-year-old British artist Mike Nelson is utterly contemporary. His installations are built environments, like surreal, disjointed but perfectly realised film sets, the equivalent of a David Lynch movie.

When nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001, he recreated part of the Tate’s storerooms, storing there the remains of a previous work as a critique of the institution, and was so convincing that many critics and visitors failed to notice the work at all, believing themselves simply to be in the back rooms of the museum.

In the intellectual scope and sensibility of his work, however, Nelson, exhibits virtues that so many of his contemporaries lack: a willingness to make art that speaks about something other than itself, a willingness to embrace both low popular and high culture, and a willingness to evoke emotion and empathy unashamedly, without ever descending into cliché.

In Oxford, his latest installation addresses the conflict in the Middle East, the world of conspiracy theories, the history of Land Art that was born in America in the Sixties and the idea of the artist as alchemist, turning base thoughts into cultural gold.

Leading us into Nelson’s parallel universe is an octagonal cinema foyer. Upstairs, the full force of the fantasy takes hold. In one room, Nelson has recreated his studio, where a video plays of a conspiracy theorist explaining the awful meaning of the logos used by multinationals, such as Shell and Exxon.

In the other, an old wooden tunnel, like the entrance to a disused mine, protrudes from a mountain of sand, and leads into a hut, that, like the few oil drums scattered around, is almost totally submerged by the sand. The whole piece pulls together such a multiplicity of ideas that though it has a strong immediate, emotional and intellectual impact, it still tantalisingly leaves you only on the edge of comprehension, wanting to understand and feel more.

Until 4 July. Information: 01865 813 830.