Over three months during late 1999 and early 2000, the English artist Mike Nelson built a fifteen-room, totally immersive installation at Matt's Gallery in London's East End called The Coral Reef. Each of the rooms resembled a different reception area, and the floor plan of the installation was based on the shape of a swastika, with each corridor seemingly turning back on itself, causing viewers to become highly disoriented. Two of the fifteen rooms were perfect replicas of each other, which made it even more difficult for people to find their way out of the maze-like work. The Coral Reef was both a critique of global capital, and a highly reflexive meditation on medium. It led to Nelson's nomination for the Turner Prize in 2001, was acquired by the Tate Britain in 2008, and has since become emblematic of contemporary installation art. What does The Coral Reef tell us about trends in contemporary art since 2000?
Helen Hughes is co-founder and co-editor of Discipline, a co-editor of emaj, and a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Melbourne.
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