Nathan Coley: A Place Beyond Belief at the Haunch of Venison
Glasgow-based artist Nathan Coley’s first major solo exhibition opens at the Haunch of Venison today, and explores the nature of ritual, space, public protest and mourning.
The exhibition takes its name from an expression used by a New Yorker describing the state of her city on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. At the centre of the gallery is a large-scale, illuminated text fastened to scaffolding spelling out “A Place Beyond Belief” and communicates the hope and regenerative quality of the New Yorker’s phrase. It is the fifth of a series of works in which Coley appropriates phrases he has come across in conversation, literature and song lyrics, and feels like a fitting title for an exhibition that coincides with the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
Coley, a Turner Prize nominee, is interested in the idea of a collective consciousness and the human need for self-expression. This interest exerts itself through Coley’s The Honour Series, a set of photos that mix gold leaf and gelatin silver print. All the images in the series are of people holding placards, people in protest, or gathered to make a statement. However, Coley then uses vast daubs of brilliant gold leaf to blank out the key communicative elements of the image – the message on the placards, or the figures on a plinth – and thus forces us to look at gesture, environment and surrounding to gauge what the “message”, in the traditional sense, actually is. Apart from making a powerful comment on the nature of free speech and expression, The Honour Series are visually striking and beautiful, which is a point often missed when dealing with overtly political art.
On the upper gallery, Coley engages the viewer further in an installation of raised gravestones and a series of wall-mounted drawings. By providing a blank space on the gravestones, we are required to project a name or a thought of a loved-one on to the remaining emptiness, in a similar way to The Honour Series. These pieces thus beg more questions than they answer; they are evocative, mysterious, engaging and incredibly moving.
By obscuring the traditional avenues for public declaration, Coley imbues his work with a unique and strong-willed political voice. The beauty of his pieces stresses the importance of faith beyond the competing and conflicting ideologies from which conflicts arise. In the broader sense, it is a steely faith in humanity and its will to survive that makes A Place beyond Belief such a success.