Mike Nelson, The Book of Spells, (a speculative fiction), 2022, detail. Photograph by Jonathan Bassett.
Mike Nelson, The Book of Spells, (a speculative fiction), 2022, detail. Photograph by Jonathan Bassett.

Mike Nelson, The Book of Spells, (a speculative fiction), 2022, detail. Photograph by Jonathan Bassett.

Mike Nelson

The Book of Spells, (a speculative fiction)

24 February – 23 April 2023

Webster Road

Friday-Sunday, 12-6PM

Offsite at 92 Webster Road, SE16 4DF

Matt’s Gallery is delighted to reopen Mike Nelson’s The Book of Spells, (a speculative fiction) at the gallery’s former home at 92 Webster Road.

This singular exhibition opened in early 2022 and closed when Matt’s Gallery relocated to its new space in Nine Elms last April. It was never taken down with the hope that we would be able to open it again at some point. Now, coinciding with Nelson’s major survey Extinction Beckons at The Hayward Gallery, we are pleased to share this most recent work by the artist once again.

Compact and self-contained, this work is site specific to the domestic setting of 92 Webster Road. Housed in a room, accessed directly from the street, it contains many elements and themes that can be seen throughout Nelson’s practice. Incorporating architectural elements such as a sash window from the fabric of the building, The Book of Spells is steeped in the atmosphere and history of its location – an alternative site of art-making and exhibiting for over 40 years. It connects to the artist’s early work and the enduring relationships he has with alternative spaces such as Matt’s Gallery and Dilston Grove at the former Café Gallery (now Southwark Park Galleries). In this way the exhibition draws a line that traces the ecology of contemporary art in London, connecting the grassroots of an alternative art scene in which contemporary practice is developed; where works are created that one day go on to be shown in institutions such as The Hayward. The title of the Hayward exhibition, Extinction Beckons, is taken from Nelson’s publication of the same name, published in 2000 to coincide with his exhibition The Coral Reef at Matt’s Gallery.

For The Book of Spells Nelson created a new intervention and reimagined the space at 92 Webster Road. Crafting a domestic interior out of the 3x3x3m gallery, the space consciously carries echoes of Nelson’s previous works. It harks back to The Coral Reef, reiterating the dichotomy of escape and entrapment. It directly builds upon a section of his 2001 exhibition Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted., at the ICA, London, which attempted an alchemical experiment to break the continuity of time through the manipulation of the mundane and unwanted. As a single room, appearing as if isolated and removed from one of the artist’s larger installations, it calls to mind Melnais Kakis, Nelson’s work created for the former church at Dilston Grove in 1999.

The piece was developed during the peculiar shifting times of successive global lockdowns – a time when travel and human contact became inaccessible and abstract, as did our accepted vision of the planet we inhabit. The work sits on the boundary of claustrophobia and imaginative freedom – either an oasis or a self-made prison depending on the visitor’s perspective, but more likely a hallucinogenic mirage alluding to both.

The Book of Spells is accompanied by Q7, the seventh instalment in our ongoing series of artist interviews.

This exhibition is supported by Kingston University and Henocq Law Trust. Use of the site is by kind permission of Ron Henocq Fine Art.

The Book of Spells, (a speculative fiction) was created with the support of The Elephant Trust and Goldman Sachs Gives.

Due to the nature of the work and scale of the gallery, admission will be limited to one person at a time. No booking is required, though you may need to wait before entering. Entry is free.