‘I was shocked’: The artist who erected a giant sign for refugees at sea | Art

phosphorusTowering above New Haven’s Western Promenade, visible to refugees at sea and dog walkers roaming ahead, a giant message is written under bright playground lights and held high by five-meter scaffolding . “You imagine what you want,” says Word Sculpture, one of six by the Glasgow artist Nathan Colley Currently installed at various locations in Sussex.

“It’s at the end of the drag,” said Corley of New Haven, “where people are driving to picnics — and it’s very deliberately facing the water.” Here, ferries carry vacationers to and from Dieppe, but in In addition to this official corridor, the Strait also brings thousands of souls from beyond continental Europe. “Of all the locations, that one is the most political,” said the 54-year-old, who chose his words carefully in his bright and serene studio at co-working space Whiskey Bond in Speirs Locks, Glasgow Canal.

These words are taken from a quote by playwright Bernard Shaw on the origins of creativity, but as with all of Coley’s written work, it is the environment that adds its own meaning. “The idea of ​​people coming from afar, seeking refuge, and venturing across the notoriously dangerous English Channel, is all about imagining a better life and longing for something more for your children than you are now.” He paused , and comb her hands down her hair. “Like most people, I’m appalled that as a nation, we’ve forgotten how we become great – through immigration.”

Coley's I Don't Have another Land is installed in Charleston, East Sussex.
I Don’t Have Another Land by Coley was installed in Charleston. Photo: Keith Hunter

By chance, the sculpture was first lit up on the day Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the plans. Sending asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda“I wonder what her parents – who fled persecution in Uganda – imagined for their children and daughters.” Commissioned by Artnet Sussex Hyundaiand Coley’s largest ever exhibition of outdoor works, the series includes a new piece, I Don’t Have Another Land, installed at the former home in Charleston Bloomsbury Artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

Coley’s materials lie in the common and serendipitous, the notion of the ready-made, something taken from one place and relocated elsewhere. In this case, “I don’t have another piece of land” is a line of graffiti he found on a wall in Jerusalem in 2005. As always, there are multiple interpretations to choose from, and Coley won’t prescribe the other, though there’s also a playful take on this stance: “When you think you know what an artwork is about, it It fell off your fingertips,” he said playfully.

Public space – both as a physical reality and as a concept – is important to Coley’s work. So how has the pandemic, which has so restricted people’s movement, affected his practice and the wider public’s understanding of the shared realm? He said he “secretly liked” the first lockdown, admitting it was “the first stop since I graduated”.That was 30 years ago, from Glasgow College ArtHe is encouraged that the park near Glasgow’s south side, where he lives, “hasn’t been used by more people since its Victorian design” – especially by young people.

“I’m glad to be anonymous”…Nathan Corley. Photo: Murdoch McLeod/The Guardian

He believes that working from home and the restrictions of the lockdown have exacerbated questions about who owns, how we use it, and whether it is home or non-home space. He called them “other places where we gather, and places where there are rituals and rules, even if they’re not recorded. We’re too close to really understand it, but there’s a lot to be done about spaces that aren’t controlled by commerce, churches, or railroads.” Reassess.”

A former Turner Prize nominee, whose work is held in private and public collections internationally, Kohli highlighted his own privilege as he criticised the “stagnation” of Scottish art and called for a zero-for-all for cultural workers tax policy. in Ireland.

“In Scotland in particular, the visual arts are an absolute flop,” he said. “It’s also due to the fact that over the years artists in Scotland have punched more than their weight – people thought everything was fine. But the chances were less than when I graduated.”

Coley likes to say that sculpture has its own needs, insisting he is “happy to be anonymous”. Ideally, he believes, the sculpture should be “long enough to disappear before the end”. You take the dog for a walk. For the first few weeks you only see everything, but over time you stop noticing it. “Then they were taken and they became visible again: ‘That thing is gone. Do you remember what it said?

He continued: “All of this because it’s not a private space. It’s not controlled. It’s not like a supermarket. It’s not like your phone. It’s a different negotiation.”