Nathaniel Mellors: Ourhouse

What happens when language fails? Madness.

'The Object' in Nathaniel Mellors, Ourhouse, 2010. Image courtesy of the Artist; Galerie Diana Stigter, Amsterdam; Matt's Gallery, London and MONITOR, Rome.

In a crumbling estate in the English countryside, ‘The Object’ descends upon a peculiar liberal upper class family. No one recognises him as human. As he mechanically and menacingly eats their books and expels them, language, meaning, places and perception deteriorate into obscurity.

This is the premise of British artist Nathaniel Mellors’ work ‘Ourhouse‘ – an absurdist dramatic series now on show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. ‘Ourhouse’ tells the story of the Maddox-Wilson’s – an unconventional and idiosyncratic bohemian family whose lives malfunction when a large white-haired man in a track suit descends upon their house.

The hip head of the patriarchal structure, ‘Daddy’ is married to ‘Babydoll’ who is not much older than his son from a previous marriage, Truson, and adopted son, Faxon. Alcoholic Uncle Tommy who is at times contained within a television set, and gardener ‘Bobby Jobby’ who Babydoll uses as a childish plaything, round out this strange and eclectic cast of characters.

'Bobby Jobby and Babydoll' in Nathaniel Mellors, Ourhouse, 2010. Image courtesy of the Artist; Galerie Diana Stigter, Amsterdam; Matt's Gallery, London and MONITOR, Rome.

When ‘The Object’ arrives at the end of Episode 1, no one can quite figure out what it is – or if ‘it’ is even and ‘it.’ Perhaps it is an ‘is’, or a skittle, an hourglass, a reaper. It seems to affect speech, vision and auditory sensations – Truson is overwhelmed by the ‘sound of death‘ and Babydoll complains of the wind inside the house. After an increasingly nonsensical Beckett-like argument it is eventually deemed a ‘Thingy’ and everyone goes off to the great British institutions – the pub.

'Uncle Tommy' in Nathaniel Mellors, Ourhouse, 2010. Image courtesy of the Artist; Galerie Diana Stigter, Amsterdam; Matt's Gallery, London and MONITOR, Rome.

At the pub, a place where every round of drinks costs 50 pence, the obscurity increases. Uncle Tommy takes his place within the television set on the bar and Daddy and Babydoll’s mannerisms, dress and speech transform to take on a working class affect. Is this a purposely adopted, a guise taken on for the good old British pub, or is this the influence of ‘The Object’?

'Daddy and Babydoll' in Nathaniel Mellors, Ourhouse, 2010. Image courtesy of the Artist; Galerie Diana Stigter, Amsterdam; Matt's Gallery, London and MONITOR, Rome.

Mellors’ ongoing series examines the relationships between language and meaning. When language is lost, as in the case of Bobby Jobby who loses the ability to articulate his thoughts, so does all meaning. Without language he cannot communicate, even visually. Asked to draw his thoughts, they come out as a series of shapes and colours, completely disconnected from what he is desperately trying to convey. It is clear that whoever controls language, controls meaning in the world.

The impeccably shot drama progresses almost indistinguishably from a television series – and I’m hooked. Like a TV junkie, I eagerly await the completion of Episode 3 (Episode 4 is also on view, however never being one to skip ahead I cannot bring myself to watch it quite yet). A peek at the script raises both excitement and curiosity at how Mellors is going to translate a stream of consciousness visualised inside the body of ‘The Object’ onto the screen – it will require a vision of madness indeed.

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