Brief notes on creative reading tools

As a reminder, I am making myself a list of some creative reading tools suggested in Creative Arts Today handbook:

  • Keep a writer’s notebook:  I already have a sketchbook/notebook for visual ideas in the areas textiles/jewellery/porcelain. I could add to it also notes to be developed in writing or in combination with other creative areas. It seems a very stimulating idea
  • Dictionary of literary terms: book suggested is Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, I shall look into it
  • Study of literary theories and use of ‘theory boxes’: 👍
  • Keep an open mind and imagination: 👍

Reasons to read, reasons to write


Why people read?

For pure enjoyment and entertainment, for the pleasure of getting lost in a good story, following an intriguing plot

To escape daily life and take refuge in imaginary worlds and/or create one’s own

To foster imagination and look for stimulating ideas, encourage creativity

To improve oneself mentally or spiritually

To relax and unstress

To get a better understanding of people and life through characters and their stories

To cultivate oneself

To learn and get information

To gain a deeper knowledge of oneself

Because one cannot help it and has a sort of reading addiction

To overcome difficult moments

To learn how to write

To enjoy the physical pleasure of touching and smelling a book (this sounds perhaps outrageous, but as a child I enjoyed this terribly)

To get beyond the limits of one’s own limited life and gain a wider experience of the world

To focus and sharpen one’s thoughts

To understand how great minds work and learn from them

Why people write?

To express oneself and give voice to feelings, emotions, ideas

They have compelling stories to tell, characters they want to bring to life

Because they have an absolute urge to write, cannot think of their life without writing

To express one’s creativity

To become famous and see one’s own value recognized by others

It’s their dream job and want to make a living with it

To overcome a difficult time in life and find a new direction

To forget real life problems or pains

To create a fictional, imaginary world

To be remembered after death

To tell a message and to be useful to others

To let other people know one’s experiences

For a sense of play and become children again

To answer what one’s feels is a personal call

To be loved and admired by others

To remember and understand one’s own past

To get over psychological problems, a difficult childhood or loneliness feelings

In several cases the answers from the two lists almost overlap, the reasons behind reading and writing are basically the same or very similar. For example the pleasure to read a good story is mirrored by the pleasure to write a good story, the need to escape daily life can be expressed through reading or writing and both reading and writing can help to get a better understanding of themselves and others. A good number of people cannot even imagine a life without reading and/or writing.

But I think there are also important differences between readers and writers: not all readers are writers though I believe all writers are readers. Readers are stimulated by what they read but they can maintain a certain degree of passivity, readers can find a great pleasure in reading as writers can find a great pleasure in writing but writers also have to put in a considerable effort, an active commitment. So I see a correspondence and a strong relation between readers and writers but I feel that writers certainly go a full step forward. I feel in any case that people really need stories, they need to read them, listen to them or see them played, or otherwise imagine, make and create them. Even people who do not read or write or go to movies need stories, may they be only gossips about celebs, news from their friends, recounting from vacation and so on. I feel that the need for stories is really very basic in humans.

Assignment One, Part B: Interpretation of Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave

In this essay I shall interpret The Battle of Orgreave, a 2001 re-enactment by Jeremy Deller of the violent fighting which occurred at Orgreave in South Yorkshire in 1984 between the striking miners and the police as a conclusion of more than an year-long confrontation, and consider the form and context of the piece, and its relation to time and place.

The video excerpts make for an emotionally strong experience: the rapidly alternating points of view from the streetside to the advancing then fleeing miners, from behind the policemen screens to the horseback charging, and to the men brutally hit to the ground – the jerky movements of the camera – the rhythmic obsessive sounds –  all these elements produce a poignant feeling of physical involvement. But while reliving those events as if they were just happening it is of course impossible to ignore that that very day the battle was lost forever, that mistakes cannot be repaired and that there is no playback in history (The Battle).

It is a constant time shift perception,  a continuous moving back and forward from 1984 to 2001 and vice versa, combined with a sense of displacement: Orgreave is a real place, where events are restaged and relived and contemporarily  a place remembered and changed forever, as shown by the black and white still frames of the 1984 clashes punctuating the film. The effect is that of a compelling seesaw in time and place which I believe well translates Deller’s original idea of ‘confronting something and not being afraid of looking at it again’ (The Battle):  we stay where we are and from here reassess the past and  ‘relive one of the greatest symbolic moments of modern industrial struggle’ (Wainwright, 2001). This combination of proximity and detachment, closeness and distance is a powerful tool to gain a refreshed perspective.

The re-enactment was at the core of Deller’s project (Deller, 2002), and this choice made it part of the glorious popular tradition of historical re-enactments and gave to that fight the symbolic status of a crucial historical event – the term chosen, ‘battle’, is very significant in this respect. Furthermore the historical film as a medium is a well-known form that most people can easily connect to and get involved with. So it seems a perfectly suited vehicle for an ambitious community art project like this.

It is interesting how the artist, in a very contemporary way, freely chooses the media that he thinks most suitable to serve his purposes, without discriminating between high or low. The re-enactment is also a form of participatory art or live performance of Futurist and Dada descent, which directly engages the public into its making. During the re-enactement of The Battle of Orgreave the participants and the viewers alike may have relived feelings of anger and pride, of belonging and awareness, and possibly found a new sense of personal and local identity.

I noticed as I was viewing the film (The Battle) that the players’ reactions were mixed, at times the veterans seemed flooded with vivid emotions and turned almost aggressively  – as if in a flashback – against the re-enacters. At other times they remained in the present and joked and made games as in a festive gathering. It looks as if the players were experiencing the time shift perception and displacement I mentioned before. Interestingly some old miners played the policemen and the policemen the miners, exchanging roles and perhaps liberating past negative emotions as a result, according to the cathartic theory of Aristotle in the Poetics.

The site- and time-specific re-enactment of 2001, which required two years of research and preparation (Artangel, 2001), was the pivotal event around which all the project of The Battle of Orgreave was born, but it also included other significant elements – the film and the installation – that allow it to live beyond that place and day and reach a greater audience without which that intense collective experience would have been short-lived and limited in action. The film effectively combines dramatic shootings of the re-enactement, original images from 1984, interviews with the people involved, while the installation at The Tate adds additional social and political context in the form of documents and texts of the time, videos, objects, notes and research materials (The Tate, 2001).

The combination of several elements and media creates a complex experience that being site- and time-specific is a form of ephemeral art, but also relivable and reproducible.  Art and life are interwoven in uninhibited ways and the message is unequivocally social and political as reads the subtitle of the exhibition at The Tate: ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. Orgreave is made a place of collective defeat, and ‘place is always political’ (Dean and Millar, p. 105).’But is it art?’ asks Jones in The Guardian answering that ‘the Battle of Orgreave  is art of a surprisingly traditional kind … is a history painting’ (Jones, 2001). Though if it’s true that like all historical paintings it depicts an event of the past that cannot be changed and so to say puts it at rest forever, Deller’s intention however was the opposite: ‘I’ve always described it as digging up a corpse and giving it a proper post-mortem …’ (The Battle) and I believe that his intention was successfully realized.

This far-reaching project is not an unicum in Deller’s work.  He has often cooperated with groups of people in artpieces which make a combined use of videos, images, texts, music and sounds in installations dealing with political and social issues as collective memories, folk art, pop culture, community identity particularly within the British society but relevant also to the contemporary themes of globalization. After treating popular British culture in Folk Archive (2005), at the Venice Biennale in 2013 he refocused on past and present British society in English Magic, and again in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (2014) he explored the influence of the Industrial Revolution, while in Do Touch (2015)  the artist disseminated historical objects in contemporary public spaces.

In an interview (Artreview, 2013), Deller declares his deep interest for people, cultures and history and I think that with his art he successfully raises public awareness on these issues.

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Artangel, The Battle of Artangel project, 2001 At: (Accessed 15/10/16)

Deller, Jeremy (2002) The English Civil War: Part II [online] At: (Accessed 12/10/16)

Rappolt, Mark (2013) Interview with Jeremy Deller [online] in ArtReview At: (Accessed 19/10/16)

The Battle of Orgreave (2001) Directed by Jeremy Deller, footage by Mike Figgis [documentary film] At: (Accessed 10/10/16)

The Battle of Orgreave (2001) Directed by Jeremy Deller, footage by Mike Figgis [documentary film] At: (Accessed 11/10/16)

The Tate, Deller, Jeremy The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All) At: (Accessed 18/10/16)

Wainwright, Martin (2001) Strikers relive battle of Orgreave [online] in The Guardian At: (Accessed 11/10/16)





Assignment One, Part A: What is art revisited

I still think that art, to be named so, must bring forward new ideas, show things under an innovative light, offer an original approach to old solutions and activate the mind and/or the soul of the viewers. But I now see that this is too general a definition as it can be true also of other human activities, like science, technology or even religion, and that does not fully account for the pieces examined so far. Looking back at the artists I have studied I see that all of them, as diverse as they are, do have important points in common: a clear concept in mind,  a choice of appropriate media to express it, a willingness and competence to communicate their vision to the viewers in intelligible ways and the capacity and determination to develop their work consistently throughout their careers. And I think that these criteria might be used also to evaluate art in the past.

These first months of study have been challenging and required time, patience and a lot of hard work. The most difficult task has been to get into the habit of accurately referencing all sources, something that I was not used to. A skill that I need to improve is to organize my study priorities more efficiently as I do have a tendency to get sidetracked and lose precious time. This clashes with my desire to deepen my knowledge of art movements and artists but I shall have to find a better balance.

I decided early on in the course to keep a learning blog instead of a physical log and I don’t regret this decision but I see there are differences. What I miss is the spontaneity linked with a physical log, since it seems almost unavoidable to be more self-conscious when posting on a blog that is open to the public, and I do wish to keep it public as I would see it as pointless to keep a blog private, being the very nature of blogs communicative.

Also in my blog I tend to include less images and ephemera like exhibition tickets, short notes taken on the go etcetera than I would in a log, partly because I am afraid to infringe copyright laws and partly because being public a blog feels less intimate and more formal. And I do set myself the goal to let my hair down more in the future!

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Conclusion – Some notes at the end of Part 1

These first months on the course have been a real journey, I would say more than I expected. I started this journey in July like someone who has more or less always intensively enjoyed art but did not not have any formal tools nor had ever studied it in earnest and/or according to a method of learning.

To me art had always basically meant painting and sculpture, mostly modern and contemporary, with an occasional foray into other media and in design. One day, on reading Chapter 2 of  Art History: the Basics  I clearly realized that my appreciation and understanding of art had been mostly of a formalist aesthetic nature – the enjoyment of a composition or of a colour scheme – with little thought given to the reasons behind a piece, its context, or the political and social environment in which it had developed.

And in these months I have come to know that approaching a piece involves a lot of work and study, as well as patience, dedication and time. It has been quite hard but also very rewarding and I noticed that I have already started to see exhibitions with a different spirit now that I am beginning to understand what to look for.

Looking back at the artists I had a chance to study within this course some of them have certainly resonated with me.

First of all Duchamp. I loved him already for his innovative mind and wild freedom of expression but I had not fully grasped how fundamental and revolutionary he has been as an artist, how many seeds he has sown that are still alive and inspiring today, a full century later.

Katie Paterson is a contemporary artist that I find particularly engaging  emotionally and not only conceptually. As I said when I considered Vatnajökull (the sound of) and her other pieces I have been entranced  by her rich inspiration and the poetic strength of all her projects: everything she does seems simple and powerful at the same time, her ideas forceful and realized with an apparently effortless economy of means.

Alighiero Boetti and Nathan Coley have inspired me in other ways. As different as they are, I admire the capacity of both to develop a concept fully and deeply, their willingness to explore their personal vision along several pathways and reflectively develop it layer after layer through the years, and so to create both of them a body of work that is consistent, coherent and truly meaningful.

Also Longplayer by Jem Finer, although really a difficult piece to study, is very interesting. It was the first time that I have been confronted with such a complex sophisticated work combining a great number of media, subject matters, locations, elements, possible interpretations. I think that this is contemporary art at its best: it is conceptual, emotional, collective, multi-layered, multi-media, open art, it may be experienced in a plurality of ways and locations, it is almost mind-boggling in its multiplicity I think.



Pooke, G. and Newall, D. (2008) Art History: The Basics. [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 04.08.16, pos. 973-1349)



Case study ‘A Place Beyond Belief’



Fig. 1 A Place Beyond Belief,  Prishtina, 2012

Initial response and first questions

My first response to the piece is a series of questions. What am I looking at? Where is it? What does the text refer to? Religion? The word belief and the church on the background seem to lead in this direction. Is this installation temporary or permanent? The scaffolding would indicate a temporary structure. I enjoy the contrast between the white lights and the dark blue sky, but of course this would look different in daylight, perhaps less dramatic, it would possibly get lost in the daily environment and activity.

I cannot say that I ‘like’ this piece straight away, but by now, since I started the Creative Arts course, I have come to know that when confronted with a contemporary art work I have to be patient with myself and take the time to look and think through different layers, to try to get to the core of what I am seeing.

So I am now zooming in on the image in front of me and considering the questions to ask in more depth.

First comes the text: is there really a religious meaning to it? For a start, linguistically it looks ambiguous or at least open, because a place that is beyond belief may be amazingly good, or amazingly bad, or perhaps even a place that cannot be imagined, an unreal place. It seems like a statement, without a verb, but what exactly about? Or is it an invitation, a call to something?

The scaffolding: is it an integral part of the piece, contributing to it as a whole, or is it only a support? Was it chosen because of convenience being light and easy to move, or for other artistic reasons? Perhaps because the artist wanted to give a sense of something provisional and impermanent, or fit his work into a contemporary everyday frame.

The place: is this piece site-specific or movable? And if it is site-specific what are the reasons for choosing this place?  The presence of a church?  It being a special place for other reasons? The apparent emptiness all around it? This is a question that I think cannot be answered without looking at contextual information.

As to the type of art this piece might fit in, I think in general terms definitely Conceptual art, but also Light art, Textual art, or more specifically Light or Text sculpture – but are these perhaps only subgroups of Conceptual art? more research on this – and even Land art because the piece seems to interact strongly with the place.

All in all and before getting more information I think the text DOES refer to religion, not to a specific religion but more to religiousness, or to a human religious feeling that goes beyond the different faiths.

I am uploading a collage of pictures of commercial signs from various origins as a contextual visual note to me. These are everyday neon signs, while Coley’s text is written in light bulbs, but I think there is some common ground or at least a possible connection.


Fig. 2

Contextual information added


Fig. 4 Nathan Coley speaking about the origin of his work A Place Beyond Belief


After looking into the information and the images on the artist’s website and listening to his monologue on the original idea for A Place Beyond Belief the initial picture gets more focused and richer and I am slowly beginning to get a better grasp of what I am looking at.

The installation in Prishtina was disclosed to the public exactly on September 11th in 2012, thus connecting it explicitly to 9/11 as confirmed also by the artist who in his monologue recalls the words said by a woman travelling in an underground train in New York just a few days after the terrorist attack, that ‘for New York to move forward and be the great and beautiful city that it once was, New York had to find a place beyond belief.’ (Fig. 4)

It seems to me that in this context the words ‘a place beyond belief’ refer to something different from religious values, something that has more to do with the positive search for shared human values that go BEYOND religious, social, political and race differences. This human effort and hope may include religion but can also be thought without it.

In this respect I have given a first look to the other works by this artist and found that he has dealt with the religious theme in several occasions. I shall get back to these pieces at the end of this blog post.


Fig. 3 A Place Beyond Belief, Prishtina, 2012

It is interesting that this installation, whose initial inspiration was born from the tragic events of 2001  in the USA, has been conceived and mounted with another place in mind, Prishtina, in a totally different political and social context. So it was thought as site-specific but has broader associations. In Charlotte Higgins’ words, ‘placed here, the phrase loses its original context and goes out into the world to find a new life.’ (Higgins, 2012).

If I look closely I see that the illuminated text has been placed close to a church, but I now know that it is a church that was never completely built and is already partially destroyed and that in any case it was seen as a symbol of religious interdivision and ethnic conflict. So this is a point in common between 9/11 and Kosovo: in both cases religion has been misinterpreted and abused to bring destruction. Perhaps ‘beyond belief’ could be seen as a call to go beyond bad religion.

The place in which this piece has been installed is also far from beautiful: on the front an empty unkempt ground with scrubby grass and scanty trees, on the back anonymous buildings finished off by ugly aerials on the roof, on everything a sky that is half grey half yellow. I see now that the unpretentious scaffolding fits just perfectly there, it naturally belongs there. And it seems to me that exactly because the context is dreary the text gains power and calls for attention: there is hope, there is a way to slowly gain back control if we stay human. As Nathan Coley succinctly says: ‘It’s somehow the hill beyond the hill you can see’ (Nathan Coley, cited in Higgins, 2012)

Thinking about contextual information at this point I really see that it is not only useful but really essential to get some understanding of a contemporary piece like this. And I am also starting to think that if a viewer does not put in some personal effort when confronted with a contemporary piece perhaps it does not make sense to see it at all and very easily the viewer will  go home with nothing of value gained. So yes, I believe that some appreciation of context is a necessary ingredient if one is to be left with something on a personal emotional or intellectual level.

Beside Prishtina the installation has been put up in other locations, in 2012 in London at Haunch of Venison Gallery together with other works by the artist in a major solo exhibition (Jenkins, 2012), in 2013 at NDSM-Werf in Amsterdam, on a concrete plinth in the water (NDSM, 2013)  and in Bruges at Triennale Brugge in 2015 (Triennale Brugge, 2015), every time in different contexts that opened the work to new meanings and interpretations.

In 2013 the structure was installed at Kunstverein in Freiburg, Germany, in a minimalist gallery environment (Kunstverein, 2015) : only the text on its scaffolding at the centre of a white walled room space with nothing else around it. I think that in such an empty context the piece is of course deprived of all its other place specific connections but on the plus side it gains a stronger presence and acquires a clear universal value: no religious associations anymore, no local surroundings, only a powerful and energetic message. My only doubt is that without a preliminary investigation into this forceful piece, in this type of context a viewer would have been thoroughly left to her or his own resources for its interpretation. But perhaps this was the intention of the artist.


Fig. 5 A Place Beyond Belief, at Kunstverein in Freiburg, 2013


Other works by the artist

A Place Beyond Belief is not the only light and text sculpture created by Nathan Coley since the artist has used texts in several other works he has installed. His texts are taken from different sources, for instance from something that he has heard like in A Place Beyond Belief, or from literature like he did for the 19th Biennale of Sydney in 2014 (Fig. 6). In this particular case the text You Imagine What You Desire is a quote from a work of playwright George Bernard Shaw (The Serpent, Pt. I, Act I in Back to Methuselah, 1921): ‘Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.’ and had been chosen as the title of Sydney Biennale in 2014.

Coley decided to divide Shaw’s text into parts and to install them separately in three different locations in Australia: You Imagine What You Desire and You Will What You Imagine respectively on the façades of the Museum of Contemporary Art like the title statement of the Biennale and of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the third You Create What You Will as the Eastern Apron of Cockatoo Island (Biennale of Sydney, 2014).


Fig. 6 19th Biennale of Sydney, 2014

I think that his idea to divide the quotation into three parts does much to strengthen his invitation to use one’s own creativity and resources to build a new world, and that this message mirrors his previous one A Place Beyond Belief in interesting ways and makes it more powerful and clear, particularly so when considering other texts of his like We Must Cultivate Our Garden, There Will Be No Miracles Here, Heaven Is A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens. Together all these messages launched year after year by the artist make a strong connected statement and reinforce each other giving life to an ongoing conversation with the viewers.

In 2015 Coley reinstalled the first part of the text, You Imagine What You Desire, in an old church in Brighton, again generating new meanings for the text set as it is this time in a religious context. And at this point I am curious to see where this work will go afterwards and how it will subtly change depending on the location.


Fig. 7 You Imagine What You Desire, 2015, at St Nicholas of Myra Church, Brighton


I shall now briefly look into another of Coley’s works, a particularly complex three-part installation he created in 2006 at Mount Stuart in the Isle of Bute in Scotland (Schlieker, 2006 and Gale, 2006): the first piece consists of three hardboard models of places of worship, a synagogue, a church and a mosque all three dazzle-camouflaged  with a stripe pattern used on ships during World War I and II.


Fig. 8 Camouflage Mosque/Synagogue/Church, Installation at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, Scotland, 2006

The second piece is a light sculpture set in a clearing on a scaffolding spelling out the text ‘There Will Be No Miracles Here’, which is very recognizable as Coley’s work.

Fig. 9 There Will Be No Miracles Here, Installation at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, Scotland, 2006


The third piece, of which I could not find a picture, is in Gale words: ‘The most powerful piece in Coley’s installation … [It] requires you to enter the house, which is the legacy of that renowned scholar and theologian the 3rd Marquess of Bute. Here, before the altar, sits a glass display case mounted on a wooden plinth. Inside is a silver casket, shaped like a heart and with a lid bearing a fine engraving of the crucified Christ and the words: “Thy wounds are my merits”.


This is too complex an installation to be examined even shortly here and it would certainly deserve a study on its own (perhaps in the future). There are many elements to be investigated: the use and the interpretation of the religious buildings, the intent and the meaning of the war camouflage, the text, the association of the various parts in this particular place, the relationships between religion and human values and  much more else. I read also that Coley is an atheist, and this element should be further investigated too.

So even if reluctantly I must stop here at this point.



List of illustrations

Figure 1 Coley, Nathan A Place Beyond Belief, 2012 [illuminated text on scaffolding, 6m x 7m x 3m] Installation at National Gallery of Kosovo, Prishtina At: (Accessed 28/09/16)

Figure 2 Commercial signs on the road

Figure 3 Coley, Nathan A Place Beyond Belief, 2012 [illuminated text on scaffolding, 6m x 7m x 3m] Installation at National Gallery of Kosovo, Prishtina At: (Accessed 28/09/16)

Figure 4 At: (Accessed 29/09/16)

Figure 5 Coley, Nathan A Place Beyond Belief, 2013 [illuminated text, scaffolding, 5m x 5.2m x 5m] Installation at Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany At:

Figure 6, Coley, Nathan You Imagine What You Desire, You Create What You Will, You Will What You Desire, 2014 [illuminated text, scaffolding, various dimensions] Installation at different locations At:

Figure 7 Coley, Nathan You Imagine What You Desire, 2015 [illuminated text, scaffolding
5m x 5.2m x 2.5m] Installation at St Nicholas of Myra Church, Brighton, England At:

Figure 8 Coley, Nathan Camouflage Mosque/Synagogue/Church, 2006 [painted hardboard, 85cm x 82cm x 69 cm, 36cm x 61cm x 41cm, 91cm x 53cm x 33cm] Installation at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, Scotland At:
Figure 9 Coley, Nathan There Will Be No Miracles Here, 2006 [scaffolding and illuminated text, 6m x 6m x 4m] Installation at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, Scotland At:



Bibliography (Accessed 29/09/16)

Higgins, Charlotte (2012) ‘Nathan Coley’s Kosovan sculpture: a beacon in bulbs’ In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed 30/09/16)

Jenkins, Maia (2012) ‘Nathan Coley: A Place Beyond Belief at the Haunch of Venison’ In: The Upcoming [online] At: (Accessed 30/09/16) At: (Accessed 30/09/16) At: (Accessed 30/09/16) At: (Accessed 30/09/16) At: (Accessed 3/10/16)
Andrea Schlieker, Andrea Negotiating the Invisible At: (Accessed 4/10/16)

Gale, Iain, in Scotland on Sunday, May 28, 2006, At:… (Accessed 4/10/16)