Mike Nelson’s show in Parma has deep agricultural roots

Mike Nelson is inspired by the agricultural roots of the Parma Palace in a visceral exhibition

Mike Nelson’s site-specific installation, “The Farmer’s House”, combines the historic design codes of the Palazzo dell’Agricoltore with natural materials

Contemporary British artist Mike Nelson draws inspiration from his surroundings for site-specific installations that invite viewers to immerse themselves in his labyrinthine worlds. In “The Farmer’s House,” a project curated by Didi Bozzini, Nelson draws on the historic design codes of the Palazzo dell’Agricoltore in Parma, Italy, in a bodily juxtaposition of bureaucracy and savagery.

The exhibition, on view until June 12, encompasses all floors of the building in broad consideration of both the palace’s social history and its viscerality, with raw materials drawing parallels between the natural and man-made worlds.

The agricultural roots of the building, which was constructed in 1939, were Nelson’s main inspiration. Under a Fascist government, the palace became a hub for those organizing agricultural endeavours, and its status as a cultural center is again emphasized here. The integral role of nature is reflected in installations spread throughout the palace, their organic forms in dialogue with the ornate design codes of the building.

The natural materials used in the facilities come from land cleared with the aim of facilitating the agricultural process; tenacious materials such as rocks, tree trunks and branches establish tangible links between the natural and the cultural.

“There’s something very visceral about ‘cleaning up’ a space,” says Nelson, who created a sculptural collage of Britain’s industrial age for Tate Britain’s 2019 annual commission. an urgency or a particular importance that had remained dormant up to now. It could also be a reminder of the dehumanization of agriculture through mechanization during the 20th century and the environmental ills that accompanied it.

The exhibition marks a new era for the palace itself, which will undergo a transformation that will rethink the role of the building in society. There are plans to turn it into a hotel, with co-working, retail and cultural space – a hub for local regeneration.

“The return of these natural forms, ostracized for their obstruction of agriculture, seems oddly poignant in such an edifice,” Nelson adds. ‘Artistically, the natural forms [are] framed against the harsh, stark lines of the building’s architecture; marble veneers and floors will watch and support their unruly relatives – the boulders strewn across the floor. While the heavy wooden doors will serve as guards against twisted branches and tree roots. §

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