Case Study ‘A Place Beyond Belief ‘

beyond belief

My first response to the piece called A Place Beyond Belief was one of curiosity. The backdrop of a religious building and the effect of the lights against the night sky is appealing, although the light bulbs themselves look dated. Is the piece finished? The scaffolding looks like it might be waiting for more. What does the artist mean by the statement?
To make sense of it my questions would be around place and context. Where this and what is it about? Who is it for?
I would define it as conceptual art, sculpture, and installation art.
My first thoughts after listening to Nathan Coley were about the enormity of the 911 tragedy and that it was beyond belief that such a thing could happen.

A Place Beyond Belief is now  in Pristina at the National Gallery of Kosovo.
This siting of it in the photograph does alter my response to it as it now becomes a political statement. Hearing Coley speak about it on the video clip gives it a context and seeing where it is situated almost removes the ambiguity of the statement. A Place Beyond Belief could be somewhere beyond the imagination, or as what seems to be most likely it could be a place that transcends religion and the oppression of people of different religions. Since the inspiration was the 911 attack in the name of Islam on a country whose main religion is Christianity, placing the piece in Kosovo where there are similar religious conflicts seems, for me, not to take it out of its original context as suggested by journalist Charlotte Higgins. Interesting to note that it was unveiled in Pristina initially on 11th September 2012 according to the Economist magazine, between the unfinished Serbian Cathedral and the university library.  Previously the piece was  shown in other places including Bruges where Coley placed it between a church and an administrative building and it was also part of the Durham Lumiere in 2013 where it was in the town centre.

Contextual information seems to be extremely useful in gaining understanding of contemporary work and for me would be an essential ingredient.

My own impression of this piece has changed since understanding more about it. Initially I thought that the light bulbs had a rather tacky funfair look and the piece seemed unfinished on the scaffolding. The scaffolding and sense of a place under construction, given the history, is now more appealing . Having seen a photograph of it on the artist’s website where it appeared in a gallery, I understand that the actual artwork is the lights on three metal bars and this is how it now appears in the Pristina gallery. However, the image of the piece against a night sky was far more interesting to me.
For me, perhaps the most important aspect of this piece is that it draws attention to the situation in Kosova, it “ lights it up” their situation in ways that can be interpreted differently. I am not yet a fan of this type of art, but can appreciate the political value and the power of it.
Looking at other works by Coley, particularly those using text, there seems to be two themes – one might be an interest in public space and architecture and how to utilise the contrasting religious and state buildings, and the other theme is where he encourages the viewer to look beyond religion, notably in Heaven is a Place Where Nothing Ever Happens and There Will Be No Miracles Here and Give Up The Good Book Pick Up a Good Gun. I find his work provocative and of course these are statements possibly designed to invite deeper thought and debate. The  Charlotte Higgins article caused a reaction in a magazine called the British Serb which I think is all part of the response to the artwork.


Research Point

Interesting info from Tate . Text has been used  in artwork as

a narrative, statement, sculpture, in literary and poetic forms, as recorded speech and as the artwork itself.

This can be called visual language or vocabulary.

A Hundred Mile Walk 1971-2 Richard Long

A Hundred Mile Walk 1971-2 Richard Long

In 2015 I visited an exhibition by Richard Long at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol. I did not realise that the text was part of the exhibition and saw it more as supporting information. In retrospect, I can see that he had intended it to be part of the body of work. because the exhibition had different elements such as maps, books and photographs, it is interesting for me to note that which seemed obviously part of the exhibit and those which I imagined were not. It seems that much of his work was influenced by solitary walks though different landscapes in different countries.

I researched Hamish Fulton who is also a “walking artist” and found an image which is completely text.

Possible artists to research later : Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth.

Exercise 3 Gallery visit

Tyger Tyger
Van der Beek , D.

Bronze 23 cms high


I visited Gallery Pangolin in Chalford Gloucestershire . The first piece I saw was a
bronze sculpture entitled Tyger. It is an extraordinary piece which appears similar to what I imagine a tiger skull would look like, although the teeth/tusks and markings also hold some sort of mythical symbolism. The outer spaces create ways of seeing inside to hollow areas of shiny gold which reflect light as well as shadow. With reference to time and place the sculpture feels like it is of a time and place in the imagination where anything is possible. The material , bronze , was barely recognizable given the way it had been treated . I was so intrigued by this piece that I contacted the artist by email and asked her what had inspired her . Having noted the title of Tyger with this specific spelling , I had wondered if Blake’s poem Tyger Tyger had been part of the inspiration . Some of the artists email response is quoted below :
“It is William Blake’s ‘Tyger Tyger’ that made me want to do that piece . I
love the apparent simplicity of all his poems of Innocence and Experience,
but the Tyger poem is the most mysterious and strange of them all.- I’d
really love to do it much bigger. Blake was very religious, but I’m not.
However, the Tyger I think is about creativity itself, of the act of
creation and inspiration, and of beauty.
I based it on a real tiger skull. I wanted the smoothness of the animal
skull outside, and the shiny gold inside to be the ‘Tyger, Tyger, burning
bright’ of the poem. Until Pangolin polished the bronze for me I didn’t know
if my idea was going to work. I hoped that if I made long cuts in the skull
shape, light would fall inside into the flames and stripes of both poem and
real tiger, and that as you move round, these would move and flow and change
Death by sofa

Lorraine Robbins .

15 cm high. Bronze. 2015

oca Death by Sofa Robbins,L Bronze 15cms high
My first reaction to the sculpture was to almost overlook it . It is small , entirely white and was positioned against a white wall in an inconspicuous place which was not immediately accessible to view. It is not the sort of work that I would usually be attracted to but I found myself returning to it and observing the positioning as part of the message of the work. The piece is representational and shows a small polar bear on a ledge of ice. To overlook it is in part perhaps a statement on global warming and that the plight of polar bears has been overlooked.. I felt the size to be significant in that the Arctic is distant and therefore minimized in my mind.


death by sofa sketchThe form of the bear itself was not interesting to me as it looked like a child’s toy bear, but the thoughts it provoked were. The medium of bronze was interesting in its durability given the fragility of the topic.
Lorraine Robbins has exhibited widely, nationally and internationally and has won drawing awards including the Jerwood drawing open. She combines her art with teaching.

I have been pondering the placing of exhibits and the part this plays in the message of the piece. Tyger was on a plinth with space around it so that visitors could see it from different angles and observe the patterns of light, whereas Death by sofa was given a very different place which seems to reflect its place in a society which has only recently taken action against global warming and environmental change.
I had not considered the role of place relating to installation art . Reading this article gave me a new context of how to understand installation art. Interesting to think of the way a specific artist may exhibit his work as part of the entire experience . I understand one of the objectives of installation art might be to immerse the viewer in a more complete sensory experience. This could be pleasant, unpleasant or challenging. Site specific installation such as the sound installation,  Vatnajoksull can be experienced via a gallery as well as in situ. In the same way, some installation art can be experienced via video film or still photographs.

Quotes for inspiration

Have been keeping a notebook with quotes and will put my favourites in here:

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Salvador Dali

“The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.” Lucian Freud

“There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.” Pablo Picasso

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” Vincent van Gogh

Image more interesting than artwork?

Exhibition April 2016, Stratford Park Museum, Stroud.

Soft Engineering: Textiles Taking Shape.  The image is a postcard of an exhibited gauze pleated scarf called Mohair and tussah silk. Although the item was interesting and very tactile, I found the this photograph in some ways more engaging that the scarf. Perhaps because it focuses on detail and brings attention to the changes in colour and the fine lines.


Reflections on how to look at art

Good basic intro to elements of art from Getty Museum

Looking at art and sometimes listening or touching art, how do I know what to look at or what to look for. It seems the first response is important and should be noted. Then there are many other aspects. According to Art History pp46-47 :

  • materiality, use of medium
  • composition and stylistic features
  • what engages interest – narrative, mimesis
  • appearance

Then there is also the emotional response, perhaps understanding the artist’s motivation for creating the piece as well as being interested in how the piece was created, particularly with installation art such as pieces by  Hirst and Paterson.

Exercise 2 : Developing research skills

Vatnajokull ( the sound of)

This was a multimedia installation and I would describe Katie Paterson as a conceptual artist. The gallery hosted a stark white space with postcards describing the site in Iceland where Katie Patterson had installed a microphone underwater in the Vatnajokull lagoon. Vatnajokull is the largest ice cap in Iceland and one of the largest in Europe. Sounds of the melting glacier could be heard via a phone linked to the microphone.
In the gallery was a white neon sign showing the telephone number that could be dialled to connect with the microphone. The piece therefore contained elements of text : the neon sign , and the sound that could be accessed, utilising technology. As well as this, the number was made available internationally via the internet so that people could call and listen from any country in the world. Using no text other than a number made this internationally accessible. In this artwork, although the numbers were created with neon lights, they feel to me to  be more functional than an actual part of the installation.

People visiting the installation would be viewing and listening. The sounds of the melting glacier bring to life that which is invisible and for most of us very distant. And yet the sound evokes that place which we know is dying and there is a melancholy mood as we witness the time passing.  As the ice melts into the lagoon it simply changes form but that has a profound effect on the environment, causing sea levels to rise. The ice cap has been created over thousands of years and this is the first time it has melted to this extent as far as we know. Although I feel that Katie Paterson is not an environmental activist she has heightened the awareness of the melting glacier through this artwork.

Research Point

Ian Hamilton Finlay was mentioned in the Dean and Millar article, Place The First Of All Things for Little Sparta . His other work includes postcard design incorporating text. Some of these are humorous and some are quite political. The text is very much part of the design. One of these that has a theme of place is Sail/Waves 1. Date unknown. The text and the waves have a strong relationship and there is a sense of being on a sailing boat although it is only barely suggested.

Robert Smithson was mentioned for his photo text work, A Tour of the Passaic New Jersey. 1967 . Looking at his other work, his pencil drawing entitled A Heap of Language is shaped like a hill of words and drawn on something that could be graph paper. It seems to relate to place as if the heap of language existed in a particular size and shape on a plan of something that could be built.

Dan Aitkin’s text sculpture entitled Vulnerable shows an image of the ocean . Although this could be a direct reference to a physical place , it can also remind the viewer that to be at sea , or confused , is also a place where one is vulnerable.

Roni Horn created a piece called You are the Weather which is a rubber floor with raised text  of words such as moderate , cold , tempestuous and balmy . Although this is black text on a grey floor there is a sense of a map and that these weather conditions might be related to specific areas . The title of the piece also indicates that these states exist inside you.

Graham Gussin’s installation called White Neon is a spiral of text lit by neon. The text reads : unsure undecided vague unclear unfinished unstable blurred unresolved indeterminate imprecise indefinite doubtful unknown uncertain. The spiral might represent the inner place where indecision resides . When it is difficult to make a decision often thoughts spiral in ways that are unhelpful .