Aby Warburg’s work Mnemosyne Atlas (1924–1929)

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 7: Place and Time in the Archive


Warburg’s attempt to ‘map the afterlife of antiquity’, focused on the renaissance. He chose Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the muses, as the patron saint of his project. Warburg created large black panels onto which he attached black and white images in a kind of grid. The photographs grouped together showed various appropriations of art objects and things such as developments in the representation of Mars over time.

Image from https://warburg.library.cornell.edu/

It is a map of how images of great symbolic, intellectual, and emotional power emerge in Western antiquity and then reappear and are reanimated in the art and cosmology of later times and places, from Alexandrian Greece to Weimar Germany. Focusing especially on the Renaissance, the historical period where he found the struggle between the forces of reason and unreason to be most palpable, Warburg hoped that the Mnemosyne Atlas would allow its spectators to experience for themselves the “polarities” that riddle culture and thought. Warburg believed that these symbolic images, when juxtaposed and then placed in sequence, could foster immediate, synoptic insights.

The Atlas functions cartographically, too, as it explores how meanings are constituted by the movement of themes and styles between East and West, North and South.

In its “last version,” the Mnemosyne Atlas consisted of sixty-three panels. Using wooden boards, measuring approximately 150 x 200 cm and covered with black cloth, Warburg arranged and rearranged, in a lengthy combinatory process of addition and subtraction, black and white photographs of art-historical and cosmographical images. Here and there he also included photographs of maps, manuscript pages, and contemporary images drawn from newspapers and magazines. The individual panels, in turn, were then numbered and ordered to create still larger thematic sequences.

The actual panels of the “last version” are no longer extant; only black and white photographs (18 x 24 cm) of them remain, held in the archives of the Warburg Institute.


This piece absolutely fascinates me. From a cultural, historical and emotional point of view. I find it incredibly interesting to see someone think about the Renaissance and links to the classical period like this, Greek myths are a huge interest of mine and I am always interested in how the Renaissance took some of these images. It goes back to an earlier thought I had in the course about doing something similar but with Celtic mythology. What fascinates me about the Celts is their almost been forgotten unlike the Greek and Roman Gods. Why is this? What would a Renaissance reimagining of Celtic gods look like?


Johnson, C. (n.d.). About the Mnemosyne Atlas | Mnemosyne. [online] warburg.library.cornell.edu. Available at: https://warburg.library.cornell.edu/about.

Johnson, C. (n.d.). Aby Warburg | Mnemosyne. [online] warburg.library.cornell.edu. Available at: https://warburg.library.cornell.edu/about/aby-warburg [Accessed 31 Jul. 2022].

ZKM (n.d.). Aby Warburg. Mnemosyne Bilderatlas (English) | 2016 | ZKM. [online] zkm.de. Available at: https://zkm.de/en/publication/aby-warburg-mnemosyne-bilderatlas-english [Accessed 31 Jul. 2022].

Exercise 2: Case Study Analysis

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 7: Place and Time in the Archive, Research & Reflection

Susan Hiller

Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye

Ilya an Emilia Kabakov

Case Study 1: Susan Hiller, Witness (2000)


Witness is a sound installation, but also an archive. The installation consists of 350 speakers suspended from the ceiling, in a darkened room, lit by artificial blue lights. Each speaker plays different audio recordings of people from all over the world recounting their experience of witnessing a UFO or similarly unexplained phenomena. The recordings are in multiple languages, and create a cacophony of voices, at times going quiet and allowing just one voice to speak. The work was initially shown in an abandoned Baptist chapel in London and has since been exhibited at multiple national and international museums and festivals. The stories, though some are read by actors where written accounts have been found or provided, are not presented with any bias from Hiller, or with extra dramatisation added for effect; they create an almost factual, documentary account.


Susan Hiller’s Witness has many archival elements. It consists of a large number of different audio recordings and is presented not just as a playlist but in a constructed way to add to the meaning of the clips. They have a common theme around UFO stories. The archive tells a very specific curated story. The room it places the archive in a context, the room is dark with artificial blue lights to add to the atmosphere of UFOs and otherworldly experiences. The way in which the clips are presented also adds to this, they aren’t just one at a time but there are multiple languages being spoken at once, with periods of silence. This adds to the chaos and slightly spooky unsettling feeling.

By presenting this work as audio rather than text, it places the people behind the stories at the root. This is about the people as much as the stories they tell. By having the recordings by people or actors we get that human element.

The work is multilingual to show the global impact of these stories, I think it helps to unite humanity as one against UFOs. It acts as a unifier as it doesn’t matter what language you are speaking, it shows these stories span cultures and nationalities. Another example of how we often have more in common than differences. I think it also adds to the sense of chaos, that it is difficult to pick out just one character, as you listen you flit between people, accents and languages. We are encouraged to listen to the overall hum and not the individuals.

Exhibiting in a chapel builds a sense of atmosphere. There is a strange effect of having the piece at the top of a spiral staircase in a chapel. Almost like you are descending to the UFOs themselves. The space also allows shadows to play a role. Of course, it being a chapel evokes religious and spiritual feelings, are these UFOs or a calling from the heavens? In Jonathan Jones’s piece in the Guardian about the experience, he describes that “a babble of voices talk at once, muttering like the voices of the dead or the legion of the damned” (Jones, 2000).

I don’t think the work is trying to make us believe in UFOs. Rather telling the stories of those who have had an experience. There is a certain conviction in the number of stories, that how can this happen to so many people if UFOs aren’t real? However, I think this is an unbiased piece that allows us to make our own judgement.

This is different from a documentary as there is little of the artist’s own views in there. There is no narrative to go along with, just the pure experiences of the voices and the atmosphere. We aren’t informed, we are left to make a judgement.

Case Study 2: Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1993–1996)


Work was made to accompany a feature-length film by Duny called The Watermelon Woman. The film follows Dunye trying to find out about the life of a black actress who has an unrecognised or uncredited role in a film called Plantation Memories, and is referred to only as ‘the watermelon woman’. Dunye’s film follows the fictional life of Fae Richards, an African American lesbian blues singer and actress, who Dunye images as the person that played the watermelon woman. This fictional film is used to highlight the fact that next to no archival information about black actresses (and no information at all about black lesbian actresses) was kept or recorded in archives, and so the artists created their own archive, The Fae Richards Photo Archive, in lieu of any actual archival findings. The work consists of 82 black and white photos that have been staged and enacted by Dunye, Leonard and other actors, alongside a cast list, and photo captions that were typed on a type-writer to give them an authentic appearance.


The archive was made to give a voice to a marginalised group of people. That no information about black lesbian actresses was kept meant that this was imagined.

It is made to look like an old archive to give it a sense of realism that this is to represent those voices that have been lost. The idea that these could have been real photos and text lifted from a real person from history.

In making this as a film, a book and an installation it helped to spread the word of this story. Like a real person from history may be celebrated in many ways, this gives them dimension. As though you could look up the different media to corroborate the story and make them seem more real.

There are still clues that this is fictional and that is important. As it highlights that this has had to be faked due to no real images or even knowledge of who these actresses were.

Case Study 3: Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away (1988)


This work is both a piece of creative writing and an installation. The text was written in 1977, and was used to accompany an exhibition in 1988 of the same name, though it’s also known as The Garbage Man. The installation is in a small, narrow room, which, apart from a small bed, looks like a kind of museum with glass cases, cabinets and shelves filled with jars which all contain items that would usually be thrown away, like buttons, tin cans, old boots etc. Each item has a label on it with a catalogue number and a description.


Art Institute Chicago (n.d.). The Fae Richards Photo Archive. [online] The Art Institute of Chicago. Available at: https://www.artic.edu/artworks/229418/the-fae-richards-photo-archive.
Hiller, S. (n.d.). SUSAN HILLER. [online] http://www.susanhiller.org. Available at: http://www.susanhiller.org/installations/witness.html [Accessed 30 Jul. 2022].
Jones, J. (2000). Susan Hiller’s Witness. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2000/may/25/art.artsfeatures [Accessed 30 Jul. 2022].
Kabakov, I. and Kabakov, E. (n.d.). The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away (The Garbage Man). [online] Ilya & Emilia Kabakov. Available at: http://www.kabakov.net/installations/2019/9/15/the-man-who-never-threw-anything-away-the-garbage-man.
Nykolak, J. (n.d.). Zoe Leonard. [online] http://www.nga.gov. Available at: https://www.nga.gov/features/exhibitions/outliers-and-american-vanguard-artist-biographies/zoe-leonard.html [Accessed 30 Jul. 2022].

Exercise 1: An Archival Impulse

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 7: Place and Time in the Archive

Reflective Notes

Idiosyncratic collections probing into particular figures, objects and events. There are many examples in art of these archival impulses. It was active prewar and even more so after.

In the first instance archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present. They elaborate on the found image, object, and text, and favour the installation format as they do so.

Sometimes archival samplings push the postmodernist complications of originality and authorship to an extreme.

Yet the term also suggests a changed status in the work of art in an age of digital information, which is said to follow those of industrial production and mass consumption. The ideal medium of archival art is the mega archive of the Internet, and over the last decade terms that evoke the electronic network, such as “platforms” and “stations,” have appeared in art parlance, as has the Internet rhetoric of “interactivity.

The archives at issue here are not databases in this sense; they are recalcitrant material, fragmentary rather than fungible, and as such, they call out for human interpretation, not machinic reprocessing.

In this regard archival art is as much preproduction as it is postproduction: concerned less with absolute
origins than with obscure traces.

Further, it often arranges these materials according to a quasi-archival logic, a matrix of citation and juxtaposition, and presents them in a quasi-archival architecture, a complex of texts and objects (again, platforms, stations, kiosks . . . ). Thus Dean speaks of her method as “collection,” Durant of his as “combination,” Hirschhorn of his as “ramification.

Through mutations of connection and disconnection, this art also serves.

In a sense, Dean’s archival work is an allegory of archival work-as sometimes melancholic, often vertiginous, and always incomplete.

Perhaps the paranoid dimension of archival art is the other utopian ambition-its desire to turn belatedness into becomingness, failed visions in art, literature, philosophy, and everyday life into possible alternative kinds of social relations, to transform the no-place into the no-place of a utopia.

Key Points

  • An archive is not just a database. It needs careful culturing and selection of materials.
  • Archiving isn’t new.
  • It is also different to curating a museum display.
  • The development of an archive can be as interesting as the finished product.

My Thoughts

After reading the article I think I have a better understanding of what an archive is. Before reading I was thinking more along the lines of a database or museum collection but I think there are distinct differences. The creative process involves selecting and constructing the items. You aren’t just cataloguing everything you find or make about a certain subject. The process is more about careful consideration of what goes in and how that item tells the overall story. You aren’t just there to offer a balanced opinion like a museum collection would. An archive can tell a very political story if needed. Of course, everyone will make up their own mind after experiencing it, but you shouldn’t be afraid to make a statement through it.


One item I made which immediately springs to mind is a quilt I made out of my daughter’s old baby clothes. At the time I didn’t think of it as creating an archive but it has many of the qualities. I didn’t just make it from all of the clothes, but there was careful consideration about which pieces to keep. It is a quilt full of memories that evokes a feeling of nostalgia when I look at it. She uses it regularly too – hence some of the holes! It is very much a living piece. When I made it, it was out of the need to be able to keep some of the clothes but in a useful way as I wouldn’t have had the space to keep everything, and if I did then they would have been hidden away in storage. By making this, it meant I a regularly reminded of a time gone by.

Foster, H. (2004). An Archival Impulse. October, 110, pp.3–22.


Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 7: Place and Time in the Archive

According to Sue Breakall an archive is….

‘time and space bound, perpetually connected to events in the past’

Sue Breakall, ‘Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive’, Tate Papers no. 9, Spring, (2008).

Artists often use archives to present and produce their work.

The word ‘archive’ comes from the Greek for governments as they were traditionally historical records kept in a physical location. The digital era has changed that and archives have become much wider spread.

Archives typically consist of ‘ephemera‘, that is items which weren’t initially intended to be kept for a long time. In the process of storing them in an archive, they are given a new status.

Jeremy Deller’s work An Injury to One is an Injury to All, is an installation, perhaps even a kind of collaborative performance work, but it can also be seen as an archive. Deller is recreating an event from the past, in the present. He uses people and their stories, newspaper reports, and memories as archives from which to represent a historical moment, which then becomes an archive itself.

Natural Disaster Archive

One type of archive I came across recently was archives made by Digital Humanities projects to document natural disasters. Archives such as UC CEISMIC.

Jeremy Deller – The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All)

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 6: The Politics of Place, Project 7: Place and Time in the Archive

Initial Five Words


Three questions

  1. How selective are the pieces?
  2. Is this a balanced view?
  3. Why are some things on the wall and some in cabinets?


The archive is a selection of items that all seem related to the union-police conflict during a time of protest. There are photos, texts, documents, videos and artwork. On closer inspection, they are all related to the miner strikes of 1984. Upon reading the information on the Tate website, the materials are actually split into two rooms. There is a mix of items from the original event and Deller’s reenactment in 2001.

Some specific items of interest include a denim jacket studded with union enamel badges, a police riot shield, original newspapers, graffiti photos, timelines, books, video of the events, vinyl map of Britain.

The slogan – “An injury to one is an injury to all” is from the Industrial Workers of the World and is a humanist appeal for solidarity.

Context and Interpretation

Name – Jeremy Deller
Nationality – English
Title of Work – The Battle of Orgreaves Archive
Date of Completion – 2001
Medium – archive of many types of item
Where can it be found – Not currently on display

The slogan underlines the message of the work. For Deller, the events at Orgreave resembled the events of the civil war, medieval and brutal. Deller has explained how the memory of seeing the original news reports as an eighteen-year-old affected him and led him later to engage with the social divisions created by the events surrounding the miners’ strike:

The image … stuck in my mind and for years I wanted to find out what exactly happened on that day with a view to re-enacting or commemorating it in some way. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the strike, like a civil war, had a traumatically divisive effect at all levels of life in the UK. Families were torn apart because of divided loyalties, the union movement was split on its willingness to support the National Union of Mineworkers, the print media especially contributed to the polarization of the arguments to the point where there appeared to be little space for a middle ground. So in all but name it became an ideological and industrial battle between the two sections of British society.

Deller, 2002

For Deller, the specific historical event that unfolded at Orgreave represented the destruction of mining communities as well as the wider social fabric of the working class during the Thatcher government.

The 2001 reconstruction took place in Orgreave on 17 June, and its cast and expertise were drawn from more than twenty historical re-enactment societies under the direction of the re-enactment tactician Howard Giles, along with veterans of the original conflict drawn from both sides of the battle lines. However, while re-enactments usually serve to investigate what might have happened, or to offer a re-interpretation, even a corrective, to history, Deller’s intention was, as the curator Ralph Rugoff explains, ‘to openly acknowledge that any history is inevitably impure, highly mediated, and in need of being re-written’.

For this work, as with most of his projects, Deller interacted and engaged with different social groups or communities to produce artwork that can take many forms. Some of his other projects have been realised in the form of an exhibition, a march, a book, an installation, a discussion, a road trip or a convention. Instead of making objects, Deller is an artist who curates the unfolding of situations between groups of people.


I find this piece by Deller along with the reenactment footage to be incredibly powerful. The miner strikes are something I live through too, growing up in the 80s in Yorkshire and my family were heavily involved in them. It feels even more important in the current climate to look back at these times as we seem to be entering another period of civil unrest with multiple strikes planned this summer. The world has just come out of chaos with the pandemic and it seems more than ever we need to band together, but the opposite is happening. Pieces like this by Deller make us reflect on times gone by when there were huge conflicts and by comparing it to the English civil war he makes us think even more about if we ever really learn anything from history>


Tate (2012). ‘The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All)’, Jeremy Deller, 2001 | Tate. [online] Tate. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/deller-the-battle-of-orgreave-archive-an-injury-to-one-is-an-injury-to-all-t12185.
Tate (n.d.). Jeremy Deller born 1966. [online] Tate. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/jeremy-deller-3034.

Assignment 6: The Politics of Place

Assignment 6 - The Politics of Place, Assignments, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons)
  1. This is another assignment I just want to get submitted before I go on holiday so that I can return to it and reflect further on the themes when I have time. I have not had time to dig as much into ‘Place’ and ‘Politics’ as I would like. But I feel for my progress I need to move on through this quite theoretical module that has had a lot of reading and researching in. I have bought the Tacita Dean book ‘Art works: Place’ to read on my holiday next week. So, I will add more here then.

    2. ‘Place is Political’. See forum post

3. Place and Time are related in so many of the works in the course so far. Going back to the Spiral Jetty which I considered earlier on in the course. This is a good example of how time and place are both shown in the piece. The place for the Spiral Jetty was chosen specifically due to its industrial nature. There are constant reminders of the place it is situated in Smithson’s film about the jetty. It brings in the politics of that place too, the politics of human destruction of the planet which seem even more relevant in today’s age.

The time when the Spiral Jetty was created is interesting in terms of a cultural perspective. Mankind was exploring space and 1968 brought the famous Earth Rise photo. The emergence of this photo showed the world in a way it had probably not been viewed previously, like an oasis in a dark place and it inevitably changed humans’ perception of the planet. 1968 was a very turbulent year, it saw the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy which sparked large scale protests. In response to the political activism and alongside the emerging environmental movement, land art sprung into life.


Reading back on the post I wrote on the Spiral Jetty as part of this has made me realise how much more I used to write and how excited I was by works of art. When I compare these last two modules I have lost some of that enthusiasm. This is down to being ill and then tiredness and I am hoping a complete week off next week will renew my enthusiasm to complete the course as I still very much want to.

Exercise 3: Politics/Control

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 6: The Politics of Place

Reading – Dean, T. and Millar, J (2005) ‘Room Five: Politics / Control’ In: Dean, T. and Millar, J (eds.) Place. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 105-131.

Place is always political.

Even keeping a place empty is a political act.

Myths of a place are for political purposes such as territorial claims or to say which people should be in the place.

Communities can be bound by national or global politics.

Artists mentioned

Thomas Demand

German photographer. Presents work with various tableaux made from paper and cardboard. The places seem bland initially they are taken from recent political events. Demand is known for making photographs of three-dimensional models that look like real images of rooms and other spaces, often sites loaded with social and political meanings. He describes himself not as a photographer, but as a conceptual artist for whom photography is an intrinsic part of his creative process.

After perusing his website, the image that drew my attention was ‘Controlroom’, 2011. This is a model he reconstructed of the Fukushima nuclear power plant’s control room. He spends time recreating the model to then just photograph it. He says he does this to “make sense of the chaotic environment we are in”.

From https://thomasdemand.net/selected-work/kontrollraum-controlroom

Sharon Lockhart

Film – Teatro Amazonas. Shows a building that represents time, and a people that represent place. Taking a cinematic approach to photography, Sharon Lockhart’s photographs are the result of comprehensive preparation and staging. This book presents images taken in Brazil’s Amazon Basin, in a fishing village on the island of Visio and among the rubber-trappers along the river Madeira. Focusing on a balance between composing to bring out certain aspects in her subjects and capturing the natural relationships of people in their own surroundings, Lockhart’s photographs explore an interesting mixture of narrative and documentary. Essays by Timothy Martin and Karel Schampers look at the photos in the context of her previous work and the anthropological significance of her working methods.

Image from https://www.lockhartstudio.com/teatro-amazonas

Anri Sala

Albanian artist. Single channel video work that explores the transformative effect of politics upon a sense place.

Willie Doherty

Northern Irish photographer. Black and white photos of Derry. Exploring the relationship between landscape and memory, Doherty responds to mysterious isolated settings that conceal a troubled past. Though his primary geographic reference is Northern Ireland, and especially his native Derry – a city divided along sectarian lines during the ‘Troubles’, Doherty has trained his lens on sites of contested history elsewhere in the world, including Granada, Pennsylvania and the US/Mexico border. Studying these terrains in forensic detail, Doherty’s video and photo works reveal the impossibility of objectivity and historical truth, often using diptychs to set contradictory points of view against each other. His videos unfold slowly, sometimes combining material evidence with haunting fictional monologues that speak of shame, deception, brutality and its aftermath, as if leaking the stories contained within the landscape. Assessing how these sites appear to us now, Doherty uses powerful language and disorientating imagery to reflect on how we approach histories of trauma.

Image from https://www.kerlingallery.com/artists/willie-doherty#tab:slideshow;tab-1:slideshow;slide:8

Susan Hiller

The J-street project. Over 260 roads in Germany with names that represent a Jewish presence. The J. Street Project 2002–5 is a sixty-seven minute film that consists of a sequence of static camera shots of street signs in Germany that incorporate the word ‘Jude’ (German for ‘Jew’). Hiller found a total of 303 signs in streets, lanes, roads, avenues and alleys scattered throughout the country. The work focuses on the dissonance between these mundane, everyday signs and the memories they trigger of a genocidal history. The soundtrack records traffic noise, church bells and other incidental sounds. For this factual, indexical project Hiller maintained a neutral seriality in her approach. Cumulatively, however, it becomes clear that the signs are loaded with the memory of Jewish presence in the locations, not just from modern times but from thousands of years of history. The tension between past and present in the film highlights the sense of absence and traumatic loss. The place names operate as memorials of erasure.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba

Artist born in Tokyo, now a resident in Vietnam. Work draws on relationships between different cultural points. His works are often generated from multiple landscapes of thoughts combining unlikely mixture into the existing context of local history and issues.

Steve McQueen

British artist. Two related films – Carib’s leap and Western Deep. British artist Steve McQueen’s projected video and film installations are rich in cinematic tradition and compelling in content. Presented as a single installation, Caribs’ Leap and Western Deep are linked by the theme of descent. The dual-screen projection Caribs’ Leap juxtaposes luminous scenes of the beachfront on the island of Grenada—the birthplace of McQueen’s parents—with irregular images of tiny figures falling through a vast sky. The latter pay homage to the island’s indigenous Caribs, who in 1651 leapt to their death rather than surrender to the invading French. In Western Deep, the viewer takes a nightmarish journey into the hot, noisy depths of a South African goldmine. Presented and considered together, these two films suggestively liken modern mining conditions to a historical act of genocide.

Focus on Jeremy Deller – The Battle of Orgreave

Based on confrontations near the Orgreave Coking Plant in the miner strikes of 1984. He worked with an expert in reenactment and local people. Highlighted all the issues of the 80s – jobs and local identity and the importance of place to the sense of self.

To be finished


Wider Research on Place

Coursework, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 6: The Politics of Place

FOR_SITE project, Sanctuary

In 2017, in response to Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban which would bar people from majority Muslim countries from travelling to America, FOR-SITE launched a new project to counter the growing fear and nationalism and offer an antidote – a sanctuary. The exhibitions and commissions, artist residencies, and education programs are based on the belief that art can inspire fresh thinking and important dialogue about our natural and cultural environment.


Sanctuary evokes a place of rest and safety. You think of sanctuaries as being tranquil, places where no judgement occurs and where everyone is welcome. Sanctuaries are places, but not all places are sanctuaries.


Sanctuary on its is an evocative term but when put in the context of Trump’s proposed travel ban it takes on a new meaning. It explores the idea of all humans need refuge, protection and safety. It was made by artists from 21 different countries which is a way of connecting people in the face of adversity. That political leaders like Trump can make laws like a travel ban but ultimately there is always more that unites us than divides us.

Wider Research – Home Land Security

Occupying a suite of former military structures in the Presidio overlooking the San Francisco Bay, Home Land Security brought together works by contemporary artists and collectives from around the globe to reflect on the human dimensions and increasing complexity of national security, including the physical and psychological borders we create, protect, and cross in its name.

Critical Analysis

Francis Ays, When Faith Moves Mountains

This project was conceived when Alÿs was first in Lima, Peru for the Biennial in 2000. The unrest, social tension, and resistance against the Fujimori dictatorship were overt. It was, in the words of Alÿs, an ‘epic response’ which resulted in a minute change. This change could only be brought about by an enormous collective effort. It took place in the Ventanilla dunes, a place where people displaced in the civil unrest had made their homes without running water or electricity. The event is documented with photographs and a video on his website and acts as a powerful metaphor. No one could recognise that the dune had ever moved and the aftermath of the work is in the sense of collective effort and the anecdotes that spread long after the event ended.


Wider Research

Critical Analysis


FOR-SITE Foundation (2021). About. [online] FOR-SITE Foundation. Available at: https://www.for-site.org/about/ [Accessed 18 Jul. 2022].
FOR-SITE Foundation (n.d.). Sanctuary. [online] FOR-SITE Foundation. Available at: https://www.for-site.org/project/sanctuary/.
MoMA (n.d.). Francis Alÿs. When Faith Moves Mountains. 2002 | MoMA. [online] The Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/109922.

Nathan Coley – A Place Beyond Belief

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 6: The Politics of Place

Nathan Coley is a Glaswegian artist who produces text-based work.

Image from learn.oca.ac.uk

Coley’s exhibition A Place Beyond Belief was first shown at Haunch of Venison in 2012 and included a range of photographic and sculptural work relating to the ritualised nature of protest and mourning. Included in the show was an illuminated, scaffolded text, A Place Beyond Belief, which was originally sourced from the testimony of a New Yorker describing a subway journey she made in the days following the 9/11 attacks. An edition of the work was also unveiled outside Kosova Art Gallery in Prishtina, Kosovo on the occasion of their independence from UN supervision.

A young woman sits in a New York subway carriage, a number of days after the terrorist attacks on the twin towers. It is early morning, and the city is grudgingly back at work. Like many of her fellow passengers, she is tired, emotionally fragile, confused and angry – still trying to come to terms with what has happened to her city. A Sikh man sits opposite her, wearing a bright orange turban. There is a strong tangible sense of hatred from the passengers towards the man – a feeling of raw anger and disgust. The mans eyes are averted, the commuters stares un-replied. His head is bowed, he is sobbing. The train travels on, stopping at the next station, the doors open and close, passengers get on and off. After a few stops and more torturous minutes, the man gathers his belongings and gets up to leave. Standing by the exit is a young black woman with a newly born baby. As the man approaches, he reaches into his pockets and takes out a handful of dollars. Without saying anything, he shoved the money into the folds of the baby’s clothes and exits the train. The doors close, and the remaining passengers burst into tears. At that moment, the woman realises that for New York to get past the attack, to move on and rebuild itself, it has to think anew, it has to look again. It has to get to a place beyond belief.


After listening to the monologue, I question how far we have progressed. The 911 attacks were in 2001 and I don’t think we are at that healing point of moving beyond belief. There are still hate attacks, instances of homophobia, racism, xenophobia and people attacking people from another place. Listening to the dialogue almost seems idealistic and preachy, with a hint of naivety.

Coley’s Website

On Coley’s website are more details about the piece.

Details: Illuminated text on scaffolding, 6m x 7m x 3m

Installation: National Gallery of Kosovo

Nathan Coley made the piece after listening to people talk about the 9/11 attacks.

…the woman said she realised that for New York to be the beautiful place we know, it had to find a way to become a place beyond belief.”

He then made the piece in Kosovo, between new government education buildings, the Kosovo art gallery and a ruined Orthodox church.

To site the piece using a reference from the 9/11 attacks in the midst of building destroyed by the Kosovo war gives it a different meaning.

It highlights the worldwide issues that war causes, we often see acts of Terrorism and war as the immediate impact, but these effects are felt the world over. It gives the piece a whole new political stance, by comparing the situation in Kosovo to terrorism it highlights an area of the world that many don’t know about. The 9/11 attacks are known by most people in the western world but the situation in Kosovo is not so much. Why is it that we seem to care more about certain countries being attacked than others?

I think contextual information is vital for understanding political pieces like this. I do think it should be an essential ingredient. Of course, people should be able to make their own interpretations and views from a piece but it is important to understand the context that the artist used to create it.

Other work by Coley

Photo from artist’s website: https://www.studionathancoley.com/works/i-dont-have-another-land-2

‘I Dont Have Another Land’ was a piece of graffiti found on a wall in Jerusalem in the early 2000s an Coley now placed it in Charleston, East Essex, England.

The bold proclamation in the sculpture at Charleston could be interpreted as a reference to the climate emergency or the current refugee crisis. Perhaps it will encourage visitors to reflect on Charleston as a haven – a place of refuge for queer artist Duncan Grant and his friends, at a time when their identities and lifestyles were criminalised.

Nathan Coley website

Connections between works – Coley uses phrases that take on a new meaning in each place they are exhibited. They are statements that can be taken lightly, or in a very political manner once you know the context behind them.

The use of text is a common motif. He uses text as it has been directly said, he doesn’t translate or edit it. The text doesn’t always make grammatical sense. The words don’t make up a traditional sentence as there is no verb or punctuation and it is written in capital letters. The work immediately makes the viewer question where this ‘place’ is, and what belief does the artist mean?

Reflections – I am really moved and inspired by Coley’s work. On one level they are simple, it is words, illuminated on scaffolding. However, they have a deeper political meaning that makes people question world situations. There is a sense of worldwide community, that these words travel across continents but still have meaning.


Coley, N. (n.d.). A Place Beyond Belief. [online] Studio Nathan Coley. Available at: https://www.studionathancoley.com/works/a-place-beyond-belief [Accessed 18 Jul. 2022].

Higgins, C. (2012). Nathan Coley’s Kosovan sculpture: a beacon in bulbs. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/sep/23/nathan-coley-kosovo-sculpture-beacon [Accessed 18 Jul. 2022].

National Galleries Scotland (2019). Nathan Coley. [online] National Galleries of Scotland. Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/features/nathan-coley.