At the beginning of this month Brighton Festival rolled into town, bringing with it a plethora of cultural and artistic activities. The theme for this year’s festival, explored through theatre, dance, film, literature and visual arts, is split into three strands; ‘Art and Nature’; ‘Crossing Places’; and ‘Taking Liberty’. Alongside this, is HOUSE Festival, which grew out of the local Artists Open House festival as a curated section that shows artists selected by a guest curator. HOUSE focuses solely on visual arts and this year has chosen Turner Prize nominated artist Nathan Coley for works on two sites, including a new co-commission with Brighton Festival.
‘You Imagine What You Desire’ (2014), contained in St Nicholas’ Church, is an installation made up of theatrical lights of the kind used for dressing room mirrors, attached to a scaffolding, that spell out the words of the title. The text is taken from a quote by playwright and economist George Bernard Shaw and in the architecture of the church creates a contemplative space. The viewers are bathed in the ambient glow of the lights, whilst they meditate on the authorial voice of the text as well as their own position within it.
The new co-commission displayed at The Regency Town House for HOUSE and Brighton Festival, titled ‘Portraits of Dissension’ (2015) is a sculptural installation exploring architecture, belief and politics. Made up of a series of works, the first is a bronze maquette of the aftermath of the 1984 IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel, located on the Brighton seafront. Titled ‘Roy Walsh meets Patrick Magee’ after the IRA bomber who used Roy Walsh as a pseudonym to check into the Grand. The artist plays with the idea of the construction of history - within the architectural framework Coley explores the nature of an event and how it might shape history. Placed casually next to the large bronze maquette are pieces of bamboo, hand cut, leaning against it. This allusion to the nearby Royal Pavillion serves to reinforce the idea of a passing of time; both buildings were built to house people in transition. They also hold strong political positions, one gained from a single event in the form of the Grand Hotel, the other built that way as an exotic palace for Prince Regent and his mistresses.
Coley’s work looks at the architecture of place as an access point to experience, casting the viewer into vernaculars familiar to them, he intends to disrupt this. By reconfiguring what might be recognisable in the uncanny, he questions subjectivity: “In times of uncertainty what better than works that deal with place, people and politics.”