Visual Studies 1: Creative Arts Today: Part one: Contemporary Art: Page 41-43 Case Study

Nathan Coley, A Place Beyond Belief (2012)

My first response to this piece

When looking at this piece my initial thoughts are about the possible meanings of the presented text. What is this place beyond belief? Is it heaven? Or is a place that is simply too good to be believed (you will not believe this place!?) Or perhaps there is more to life than belief, or perhaps it is simply a marker for a physical place behind the church building.

I then wondered why this work was here, why the church? Was it a commission and was it a statement for or against religion?

I would define this piece as a site specific work, as well as being a sculpture and installation art.

A search on Coley

Nathan Coley is a Scottish artist; his work tends to cover his own ideas and his interest in architecture and specific places. His work primarily covers moral, political and social ideas. The title of this work is both specific and descriptive of the here and now but also inspirational for the future. The piece is presented using fairground lights and scaffolding, this is a suggestion that it is there temporarily, like a travelling fairground which is there for a limited amount of time. The scaffolding also suggests that something is being built or renovated. (Perhaps an idea rather than a physical building?!)

Coley’s Inspiration

Coley was inspired to create this piece following a story he heard about peoples recollections of events which happened shortly after the 9/11 Twin Towers attack when people were starting to go about their normal lives again. After hearing this monologue the piece takes on a more political and social meaning rather than simply a religious one. It is suggesting that society needs to look beyond belief when labelling and judging others based on their faith.  


After reading the information on Coley’s website we learn that this particular image of the piece refers to its installation in Kosovo, alongside a derelict church building. It was unveiled on September 11th, as a link back to the reason that the piece was originally created. Is this a reminder for people not to repeat the events of the past? It was a commission by the government and a reminder that Kosovo is more than the story of it’s past.

Out of context this piece could be about anywhere, which is part of the point that Coley is trying to make. When this place is installed it takes on a new meaning depending on the context in which it is presented and the primary audience of the piece.

Contextual Information

Contextual information can be important when gaining understanding of contemporary work, it can be useful to know the inspiration behind the work, and if it was created for a particular purpose or reason. Also, if it was a site specific installation or commission, or indeed the driving force behind its creation. Equally, it is sometimes nice not to know why a piece was created so that you can apply your own experiences and understanding, When discussing with others you can also learn of different interpretations which you may not have thought of before, which makes for interesting conversations. Although useful, I do not believe it is an essential ingredient when looking at contemporary art.

The Piece

This piece sends a bold message out to anyone who is reading it. It makes them stop, think and perhaps contemplate their own actions as individuals as well as their society as a whole. Although simple in execution this piece has a depth to it which will have different meanings to those who read it. It works as a religious, social and political message which lends itself to the surroundings which it sits in.

Coley’s Other Work

Coley’s work often has a political, religious or moral message. He repeats a similar style in his textual pieces with the use of the scaffolding and fairground style lighting. He has an interest in architecture and often uses landmarks or busy public areas to display his pieces for a greater impact.

He takes phrases that inspire him and finds them a new meaning, challenging the connotations associated with the original phrase. He deconstructs phrases and sometimes the words he takes out are just as important as the ones which he leaves in.

He sees himself as creating his inspirations and then releasing them into the world for us to see.


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