‘A Place Beyond Belief’ (Project 3: Place in art – Case study)

A Place Beyond Belief by Nathan Coley

  • What is your first response to this piece?
  • What questions are you going to ask in order to make sense of the piece?
  • What type of work do you think this is? How would you define it?
  • What do you think the text is about?

 

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Fig. 1. Coley, N. A Place Beyond Belief (2012)

First reponse

My first response to this is to focus on the meaning of the illuminated text, given its position next to a christian church.

  • A church is the centre of worship for christians. They have faith, which is sometimes referred to as belief. Arguably faith is beyond simple belief. A person may believe in the existence of God but a person of faith may feel that their belief defines many aspects of their life, their decision-making, etc. In that respect the church represents something beyond belief.
  • Churches have, however, have been at the centre of many scandals in recent times. In that sense the expression can be seen as pejorative. The church and its actions were ‘beyond belief’.
  • Unfortunately, another initial response was to be puzzled about how it could be categorised! I would describe as an installation.

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Katie Paterson (Project 3: Place in Art – Exercise 2)

“Have a look at the work of Katie Paterson. In particular consider: http://www.katiepaterson.org/vatnajokull/

“How would you define this piece in terms of media?”

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Fig 1. Paterson, K. Vatnajökull glacier (2007-08)

I decided to start with Vatnajökull (the sound of) and then look at her work more generally.

Vatnajökull (the sound of)

I undertook the exercise quite literally initially and so listened to, and researched a little about, Vatnajökull  (the sound of) (2007-08). The idea is truly brilliant. We are given a mobile telephone number to call, which would allow us to hear the Vatnajökull glacier melting. In effect we are being asked to listen to what global warming sounds like. There are however, so many layers of thought behind the work. (Sadly, the number no longer works.)

The melting of glaciers is something that doesn’t happen close to many of the world’s inhabitants. Given the very fixed position of Vatnajökull , Patterson brings the melting glacier to us. This in turn changes the nature of the ‘place’ of the glacier. We are connected to something that was distant, but is now close and so fits within our realm of experience and comprehension.

The effects of global warming work on a much slower timescale than human timescales. Another effect of this work, therefore, is to shrink time. We can hear global warming happening now, within a 30 second telephone call rather than watch time-lapse images and/or diagrams illustrating the effects.

Paterson’s choice of this glacier for her work is also interesting. According to the Glacier Guides website (2017), Vatnajökull  is “…by far the largest glacier in Iceland and the largest glacier mass in all of Europe…” It goes on to say, “Like so many other glaciers around the world, rising temperatures and reduced snowfall mean that this ancient icecap is melting. In one of the most recent reports from the Icelandic government’s Committee on Climate Change, it warns that by the next century, Iceland’s glaciers will no longer exist.” So Paterson has chosen the largest glacier in Iceland to allow us to experience climate change with a sense of immediacy and proximity; in our place at this time.

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‘Place – The First of All Things’ (Project 3: Place in Art – Exercise 1)

Exploring Art

Read: ‘Place – The First of All Things’ by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar

List artists mentioned and look at least one piece by those whose work incorporates text.

1. Notes

Ian Hamilton Finlay

Finlay I H The World Has Been Empty Since the Romans - 1985

Fig. 1 Finlay, I. H. The World Has Been Empty Since the Romans (1985)

I find this piece quite baffling. This image was taken from the Tate’s website (see list of illustrations below). In the text that accompanied the image, it was explained that “Despite its ruin-like appearance, Finlay’s sculpture was in fact specially made in its present form.” The text goes onto discuss various aspects of the context of the work, in particular that this is the first part of a sentence which concludes, “But the memory of the Romans fills it. They go on prophesying liberty.”

This exercise has asked whether the pieces have any relevance to ‘place’ and how they reference it.

The piece is quoting a reference to the Romans but “The World” as understood by the Romans was not the planet, it was largely Europe, North Africa and those parts of western Asia abutting the Mediterranean Sea.

The sentence is attributed to Antoine de Saint-Just, a military and political leader during the French Revolution. In terms of place, there is something curious about a revolutionary leader of the 18th Century referencing the Roman concept of the world. Whatever his aims and ideals for the French revolution, the quote suggests an antiquated sense of what he felt the world was or could become, which is underscored by the old and damaged appearance of the stones.   

 

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