Mike Nelson has been working day and night at the abandoned Essex Street Market to create what he calls A Psychic Vacuum. The space has been closed off for 13 years and is now home to Nelson's first major New York exhibition. The 6,500 sq foot installation is a labyrinth of 10 rooms that create a fictional world with inspiration from the world outside its doors.

Upon the opening of the space last week we asked the artist a few questions about the experience and stopped by to get a sneak peak. The exhibition, located at 117 Delancey Street, runs through October 28th (Friday through Sunday, noon-6pm). All photos by Sam Horine.

How did the Essex Street Market become the site for your first major U.S. installation?
Creative Time had been looking for the right space for over a year and located that site. It was an interesting building that was unknown to most people and therefore ideal to create a new fictional environment.


The installation is partially inspired by the building's history and the surrounding neighborhood -- can you expand upon how?
The neighborhood was of interest as it's a place in transition and has a history of a variety of immigrants being moved through. Specifically the abundance of tattoo parlors, clairvoyant storefronts, and biker shops, as well as the building's own history including the Chinese restaurant at the entrance and meat freezer rooms all inspired aspects of the installation.


What did you learn while researching the building?
Well there were garters, scarves, underwear and mattresses upstairs, and nocturnal life all around, so you can draw your own conclusions. The Chinese restaurant, the first room of the installation, was left with dirty dishes, oil spilled, even a $2 tip in one of the envelopes – it looks like it was vacated quite urgently.

What sort of remnants from the building did you use?
There was a map of the U.S. hanging on the wall upstairs that was torn in half and really striking so we moved that to the installation downstairs. I often use found objects in my installations, and this image also became part of the announcement.

The peeling paint is courtesy of the space, and we used one of the meat freezer rooms in the show in which you can catch a whiff of its original use. The windows in the last room provide beautiful light that shifts throughout the day creating different experiences with the work.

Most material was found outside the building including Materials for the Arts archived prints of tattoos and old photo prints, and finds from flea markets in upstate NY.


The space is also inspired by different literary authors, who did you garner inspiration from and how did it effect the work?
Lovecraft, Borroughs, Bradbury – ideas and inspirations come from all over and subtly inspire visual directions in the work.

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Moments working late, alone in the dark hot space, felt like I channeled Travis Bickle.

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
Having to work in it in the summer.

What's your current soundtrack to the city?
I’ve been having a Grateful Dead moment – a CD was left in the car I drove a lot.