Crossing the Threshold: Nathan Coley at Doggerfisher

Jenny Richards chats to Nathan Coley about his new exhibition at doggerfisher

archive review (edinburgh) | Read in About 3 minutes
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Published 30 Jul 2007
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On my way to see Nathan Coley's new show at doggerfisher I'm reminded of his last exhibition in Edinburgh, most prominently the Lamp of Sacrifice: 286 sculptures in cardboard of every place of worship listed in Edinburgh's yellow pages. This piece, alongside his work at Mount Stuart (for which he has been nominated for the Turner Prize), underpins his interest in buildings and architecture and how we invest meaning in these structures.

Religious sites have often been the focus of Coley's work, places that were once home to our understanding of "meaning" and law. The biggest question Coley's work asks is can we profess to true understanding, when - in today's society - we increasingly recognise that meaning is a construct of the individual.

The works at doggerfisher are a varied mix of sculpture, photography and text, enticing the eye with brightly coloured fairground lights and beautifully designed powder coated light boxes. “The show is generous, much like a tasting menu, of my ideas and work," affirms Nathan.

Upon entry to the gallery you must cross the first sculpture: a minimal stretch of oak, functioning as a threshold. Next, a wall or 'barricade' as Coley puts it, has been built dividing the space. Whilst this is a three-dimensional piece, the gaps between the wooden slats allow you to see through the wall and within it. People stood across the other side of the structure appear camouflaged; their view of me is likewise, conjuring up images of a look out post, with an invisible enemy. Both pieces employ the viewer physically. The work depends on the audience being part of the installation: distinguishing each sculpture with a more humane quality which, when discussing ideas on meaning and belief is pivotal.

Photographs of 16/17/18th century confessional boxes, Annihilated Confessions, line the other walls of doggerfisher, large parts of the image obscured by Coley's own graffiti handiwork. "The Catholic structures have been annihilated, representing the annihilation of religion in contemporary society," says Coley.

The work in gallery two, Safe House, furthers this idea to more challenging areas. The house is a model of the building which some of the Glasgow airport bombers lived in. Text covering the sculpture is the five rights of an individual under Muslim law. Placed in Edinburgh, the historic city of Enlightenment and a key centre of past religious and philosophical thinking, we see Coley continuing these discussions in a contemporary context. Paralleled with the international nature of the Festival, this work questions the reality of Scotland's stance on religion and law today.

Coley's advice to the viewer within this exhibition, and, drawn from his public text works, 'There are no miracles here' and 'We must cultivate the garden' is clear. The question is whether or not you will take counsel from the work's suggestions. Only then will what Voltaire stated years ago, resonate further: "We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization."