- Nathan Coley born 1967
- Slide, 39 slides, 35mm, projection, shown as video, colour and sound
- Overall display dimensions variable
- Purchased 2021
Pigeon Lofts 1997 comprises thirty-nine photographic images, projected as a slide show with ambient sound, each depicting an example of a home-made pigeon loft, as built and used by those who keep pigeons – so-called ‘pigeon fanciers’. Depicted in both close-up and longer shots, and from a variety of angles, each of these crude constructions is unique. Often made from second-hand or found materials, they reflect the fabrication abilities, flair and imagination of the maker.
The work was originally shown in the group exhibition Glasgow at Kunsthalle Bern 15 March to 20 April 1997, alongside works by Louise Hopkins, Fanni Niemi-Junkola, Ross Sinclair, Simon Starling and Smith/Stewart. Here it was displayed as an installation with a slide carousel projecting the images onto a portable pull-down screen attached to a tripod stand. In addition, rows of chairs were arranged to face the screen. The overall effect was that of an instructional or teaching scenario. The accompanying soundtrack underlined this effect further. A voiceover describes the makeshift structures, but in terms of would-be products from an unspecified firm’s range of mass-produced, small-scale buildings, such as summer houses or conservatories. The spoken-word soundtrack intones about the various feature of the pigeon lofts, but without making any reference at all to their actual intended use. The work can also be shown as a large projection in a dark space with the ambient sound, but without the carousel, portable screen or chairs.
Coley’s photographic documentation of these ad hoc constructions contains many art-historical references, most notably perhaps to German conceptual photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher’s (1931–2007; 1934–2015) photographic project Anonymous Sculptures, an encyclopaedic inventory of industrial structures presented in a manner bridging photography and sculpture. In his essay ‘Mutual Contextualization’, the curator Ulrich Loock discussed how Coley engages critically with these references:
The decisive difference between Coley’s work and that of Bernd and Hilla Becher … is that his first step is to use a spoken word commentary as a framework for the photographs and only secondly does he put them in an art context … What is noticeably absent in the commentary is any statement about the function of these structures, which is, on the other hand, announced in the overall title of the work: pigeon lofts. If, however, this advertising message, which point for point misrepresents the reality of the structures documented by Nathan Coley, is seen as the presentation of a range of sculptures in public spaces, it functions as an ironic commentary on the assumptions inherent in that field. (Ulrich Loock, ‘Mutual Contextualisation’ in Glasgow, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern 1997 p.40.)
Pigeon Lofts exists in an edition of three, of which Tate’s copy is number two.
Coley works across a wide range of media including sculpture, photography, and film. Coley’s sculptural work often investigates the underlying political, social and ideological systems of communities. Curator Tanja Karreman has commented:
Nathan Coley's work is about the discrepancy between the built world of architecture and the city as it is actually experienced. He raises this issue for his viewers by dismantling situations – that is to say, buildings, areas and stories – or, on the contrary, reconstructing them in a different way. This is often not without fascinating effects, as in the work There Will Be No Miracles Here 2006, or his maquette – almost closer to an installation – Lamp of Sacrifice 2004, of scale models of all the religious buildings in the city of Edinburgh, brought together with one another in one vast collection. What is striking about his work is that in each situation he focuses on one detail, one word, one story, a missing link. In his work, sensitive to its context, he goes in search of that one element around which the rest of the process, and the realisation of the work, is developed. (Tanja Karreman, ‘Shrewd Architectonic Imperialism - the history of a brick, the end of an era’, https://www.studionathancoley.com/works/the-ballast-project, accessed 27 February 2023)
Glasgow, Nathan Coley, Louise Hopkins, Fanni Niemi-Junkola, Ross Sinclair, Stephanie Smith / Edward Stewart, Simon Starling; Interviews and Texts by Charles Esche and Ulrich Loock exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, 1997.
Nathan Coley: There Will Be No Miracles Here, exhibition catalogue, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2004.
Lisa Le Feuvre, Brian Dillon, Tom Hunt et al., Nathan Coley, Ostfildern 2012.
Tanja Karreman, ‘Shrewd Architectonic Imperialism - the history of a brick, the end of an era’, https://www.studionathancoley.com/works/the-ballast-project, accessed 27 February 2023
January 2019, updated February 2023
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