Case Study: ‘ A Place Beyond Belief’

‘A Place Beyond Belief, 2012 by Nathan Coley

Notes on Listening/Watching Nathan Coley’s Monologue:

What are my first thoughts after listening to the Monologue?

I guess I wonder is this the Artist talking about something he saw/witnessed. Is it the inspiration behind the piece? I’m reminded of the song Imagine by John Lennon – and the sentiment behind it, of wishing for people to move beyond the barriers and limitation or separations caused by religious beliefs.

My thoughts on the person’s use of the expression – I would say is it possible to move beyond belief? Can we exist without some form of belief – i.e. is that a part of being human?

Where is the piece cited?

The piece itself is not placed in New York (the place described in Coley’s Monologue), it’s placed in the National Gallery of Kosovo, Pristina. I have very little awareness of the history of Kosovo or of the Gallery so this would require some further research on my part. I wonder what the choice of location is about? I presume it is to reinforce the power or visual impact of the statement?

Realising I knew nothing about Kosovo, I took a brief look at the BBC overview of the nation – it’s clear that there have been deep divides, ethnic cleansing, religious motivations. All of which seem to make placing the artwork in that nation loaded with political significance.

After reading Charlotte Higgin’s review of the piece in the guardian:

Do you think contextual information is essential to gaining a greater understanding of contemporary work?

Yes to a degree – looking at photographs of the image alone you can only deduce so much. The piece certainly takes on more meaning as you uncover context and history of it’s placement.

I do believe it should be an ingredient or tool to aid the viewer’s appreciation of an artists work. However I feel that it should remain an artists choice whether or not to provide the viewer with that context, i.e. they don’t have to give interviews to art critics or provide text on their websites. So somewhere there should be a balance point between the artist providing enough context to help the viewer engage and enough to keep them interested in enquiring further.

What do you think about this piece? What do you think it achieves?

I think the piece is challenging – I think it is a piece which can be received differently by different recipients. I think the context matters – had the piece been placed at the site of the ruins of the World Trade Center would it have been able to have been received or would people have been too offended? It seems well placed in the nation of Kosovo, a nation exploring life beyond the confines of religion, the divides and confrontation of the past. I wonder if it would have a different life to it, if it were placed in several regions around the world?

In fact the piece exists as an installation in a gallery space as a work listed on his website. In this context it could be interpreted as suggesting the gallery or world of the arts is actually a place beyond belief. That the arts are some sort of beacon in a world dominated by belief. It’s not a view I hold to personally but I can see how actually this could be see as an commentary on the role of contemporary art.

Two/Three other pieces of his work:

We Must Cultivate Our Garden 2006

Firstly the accompanying text or essay below this piece on his website, is a really thorough analysis of the piece, and provides a great deal of context to allow the viewer to engage with the piece as the Artist intended.

We Must Cultivate Our Garden 2013

I’ve chosen the two pieces of the same name as examples because it’s fascinating to see how he’s re-interpreted the same theme for a series of different places. He changes the font of the text, the placement of the text, the scale of the text, the colour of the text and even changes the environment in which the piece sits, between the 2006 piece and the 2013 piece.

And for me this changes the tone or mood created by the piece. The 2013 piece, seems much less aggressive or forthcoming, it sits on the wall, flat, dark green, not a bold light up sign. In contrast the 2006 piece takes on the form of white or green lights, either in a dark room or which room, it is the centre of attention and it wants you to know it!

It makes me wonder why he felt that there needed to be a different interpretation or form for the phrase in the two different locations? What was his aim for the two different locations?

You Imagine What You Desire (Brighton) 2015

I wanted to focus on this piece partly because it uses a motif that seems to reoccur in his works; the scaffolding and a particular light up typeface. But I also wanted to focus on it because it seems brutal. That phrase in the setting of an old church, it’s placement which almost makes it appear like the scaffolding is holding up the archway and structure of the building seems like a direct confrontation. When I first read the words I actually re-phrased it to “You Desire What You Imagine” and I wonder do they mean the same things?

In the setting of the church, it seems hard not to read the phrase as a warning or confrontation with religious beliefs. The phrase implies, you imaged your God, your faith etc, a bold statement, because you desired it, and therefore its a thing of your own creation which exists at the whim of your emotions or decisions.

Major Motivations behind his work:

  • Philosophy – He seems to be fascinated by the way we think, how great philosophers have considered humanity, the ways we live and the thoughts behind that. He seems to use their words as an ammunition for his work’s.
  • Social reform – it would seem odd for him to approach the topics that his does, or use the phrases he does if he was not motivated by a desire to change societies. His work seems to confront how society interacts with or is built around religion, and seems to be advocating that humanity needs to move away from some if not all of these core motivators.
  • Religious belief – challenging or exposing this?
  • History – his work seems to often confront the history of a nation or people group or events, or historical world views, he deliberately places works in environments steeped in historical conflicts, there is a sense of someone wanting to use history as a platform for change i.e. lets learn from our mistakes.
  • Place – in the physical sense and the spiritual or emotional sense – his work seems to often involve the strategic placing of installations in spaces which causing the viewer to rethink that place, but the works themselves often challenge our assumption of our ‘place’ in the world, the way we think, live.

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