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.