Magic Bus: Mike Nelson’s Pumpkin Palace

16 Aug

It bears the emblem of the Red Crescent and chugs around- albeit very slowly- with the sort of laconic roar you’d associate only with superannuated lions and London Routemasters. Mais ceci n’est pas un bus… or is it? Anyone who has ever visited a Mike Nelson exhibition may have some idea of what lies within: prayer mats, stale décor and the air of a none-too recently-abandoned dwelling are the order here, and dead spooky it is, too.
The work, entitled Pumpkin Palace, was commissioned by CCAC Wattis in San Francisco and transported to Britain for the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe. I’m not sure how it happened but shortly afterwards it turned up in a disused barn outside my parents’ house in Northumberland, where it stayed shrouded in secrecy and a canvas tarpaulin until 2006, when these photos were taken by a former Polish Army border guard called Arkadius.
Insofar as it can be glibly summarised as I pause between job applications, Mike Nelson’s work concentrates on the eerie crossroads where the Counter-Culture of the 1960s and 1970s came into contact with nascent fundamentalism, institutionalised paranoia and the cult of the conspiracy theory. Walking into his Pumpkin Palace, you could be forgiven for thinking that even the dust and your own dead skin flakes might be pregnant with meaning.
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