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Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street
Vancouver, Canada
Open from Tuesday to
Sunday 12 pm → 6 pm

Admission always free
23 Nov 12until20 Jan 13

Nathan Coley

Knowledge, Kindliness and Courage | We Must Cultivate Our Garden

B.C. Binning Gallery, Alvin Balkind Gallery and offsite at the Pennsylvania Hotel Carrall St, and East Hastings St.

A black and white photograph of a person standing by a traffic light pole on a city street corner. They have a megaphone and are carrying a sign covered by a gold leaf intervention over the image.

Nathan Coley, *18.10.11 *(F), 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Haunch of Venison, London

The Contemporary Art Gallery presents a major solo exhibition with British artist Nathan Coley, his first in North America. Comprising an exhibition across all gallery spaces and an offsite presentation, existing pieces are presented alongside Unnamed (2012), a major new commission.

Coley’s practice revolves around investigations into the social aspects of our built environment, working across a diverse range of media. Interested in public space, the artist explores how architecture comes to be invested — and reinvested — with meaning, and how through the competing practices of place these claims and significations come into conflict.

For Coley, buildings are empty vessels given significance by their social history: by the communities that populate them. He is interested in these politics, insofar as they put a political demand on place in the current pluralist climate of enforced equality. Fiona Bradley comments, “The gap between the city as built and as experienced, as it exists in the world and in the mind and memory, resonates throughout Nathan Coley’s practice … [he] conjures cities, metaphorically dismantling them.”

Unnamed forms the centerpiece to the exhibition, developing on from In Memory (2010) a simple enclosure formed by poured concrete surrounding a tended graveyard with headstones and planting commissioned for Jupiter Artland in Scotland. Just as previous works have looked at how buildings embody systems of belief — specifically places of worship — at the Contemporary Art Gallery Unnamed develops this thematic questioning by using headstones, which collectively reveal the differing stories relating to the patterns of history, immigration and Indigenous peoples. Gathered throughout the gallery supported on stout wooden batons, the seemingly informal, provisional nature of their installation creates a sense of the sculptures being in transit, of yet to find a home, suggestive of a dislocation from their actual site, temporarily in limbo. The silence of these “ready-made” objects produces a powerful presence leaving us to ask where they have come from and how they got here. With names erased the forms touch on notions concerning how we mark lives that are passed and raise the issue of morality in using these loaded objects in such a way.

Coley’s practice reveals that claims to public space in postmodern society (one marked not by national cohesion, but fragmentation, trans-nationalism, pluralism) are made by groups of people who have different ideas on how it should be used; the structures they erect manifest these desires, values and beliefs. Works such as 28.10.11. or 18.10.11. (both 2012) from an ongoing group of works titled The Honour Series picturing protests taken at various public marches and demonstrations throughout the world clearly engage such issues.

Presented off-site We Must Cultivate Our Garden (2006) a large scale illuminated text work held aloft on a scaffolding structure, evokes just such concerns. Taken from the last line of Candide by Voltaire, the statement is powerful and complex. The use of the plural “we” is inclusive, conveying the sense that a joint effort is necessary for an endeavour to have any effect. The imperative “must” lends an active, almost dictatorial tone. The words “cultivate” and “garden” are loaded with metaphorical weight: we can cultivate our minds, our souls, our relationships as well as the soil. Our “garden” might constitute a house, a spirit, a child, or a patch of land. In some ways it can be considered a call to arms, suggestive that a hunger for knowledge and understanding can be satiated through investigation and hard work rather than reliance on fate, tenuous beliefs or social standing. Coley is interested in the idea that the sentence is open to multiple forms of translation and interpretation, this element of ambiguity crucial whereby the onus is placed on the viewer to locate a meaning which interests them. Indeed, through his work, the artist reveals the unconscious of the architecture and cityscapes he interrogates, investigating social as much as physical constructions. Or as Coley says, “It’s in your imagination.”


Nathan Coley lives and works in Glasgow. He was shortlisted for the 2007 Turner Prize and recent solo exhibitions include: A Place Beyond Belief, Haunch of Venison, London and Kosova Art Gallery, Kosovo (2012); APPEARANCES, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, The Ballast Project, Scheevaartmuseum, Amsterdam (2011); There Will Be No Miracles Here, The National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2010); Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2009); De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex, UK, 46 Brooklands Gardens, Jaywick, Essex, UK, Haunch of Venison, Berlin (2008). His work was included in the group exhibition Days Like These, at Tate Britain (2003) and in the British Art Show 6 at BALTIC (2005). More recent group exhibitions include: Mythologies, Haunch of Venison London, UK; Jerusalem Show (Version 2.1), Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jerusalem (2009); Tales of Time and Space, Folkestone Triennial, Folkestone, UK; The Greenroom, The Hessel Museum of Art, New York; Persona, Parc Saint Léger, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Paris (2008). Coley’s work is held in many European museum collections and he is currently represented by Haunch of Venison in London and New York.

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