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The Cuckmere Valley in Sussex, with a sculpture by Nathan Coley displaying the words 'A Place Beyond Belief'

Nathan Coley: Tentative Words Change Everything

Until 29 August, discover six works by Turner Prize-shortlisted Nathan Coley presented in extraordinary places throughout the Sussex landscape.

From 2 April 2022, six illuminated text sculptures by contemporary British artist Nathan Coley will be on display at surprising locations in and around the Lewes district of Sussex, forming Tentative Words Change Everything: an outdoor exhibition featuring some of the artist’s most important works.

Coley’s text sculptures have been exhibited in varied places across the world over the last 20 years. Whether in a gallery in a former Nazi swimming pool or on a remote Scottish island, both the sculpture and the site are changed through their partnership.

Now installed throughout the Sussex landscape, closer to each other than they have ever been, the works find themselves in fresh dialogue with their new locations and audiences. Sculptures face out over the Channel towards France, and peer over historic towns. Others sit in churchyards, vineyards and atop a derelict modernist car park. A new commission is installed at Charleston, the former home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

Constructed out of scaffolding and illuminated light bulbs, the text sculptures recall a sense of wonder and fairground impermanence; an anonymous voice proclaiming a message that is both immediate and elusive. They challenge us to look again at the world around us and – ultimately –  at ourselves.

The works can be viewed in one day, or over several months. They can be seen in any order, at any time of day. For a truly special experience, we recommend viewing the sculptures in the half-light of dawn or dusk. Though please do bear in mind when planning your visit that some of the sculptures are situated in fairly remote locations, so it’s always good to take a friend – just to be extra safe.

Where to see the exhibition

Map of East Sussex displaying sculpture locations
Credit: Studio Makgill

1.St Mary’s Church, Glynde

Title: YOU CREATE WHAT YOU WILL

Year: 2014

Previously exhibited:

Folkestone Triennial, 2008
ACCA, Melbourne, 2011
Kunstmuseum Kloster unser Lieben Frauen, Magdeburg, Germany, 2015
Lund Cathedral, Sweden, 2018

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”  George Bernard Shaw, The Serpent, ‘Back to Methuselah’ (1921)

The name ‘Glynde’ comes from ‘Glind’: the old Saxon word for an enclosure. The Trevor family have owned the estate here for over 300 years. Dr Richard Trevor—who was Bishop of Durham between 1752 and 1771—demolished the medieval building and commissioned the architect of the Bishop’s Palace in County Durham to design a new church. It was built by John Morris, a builder from Lewes, in the style of Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.

With thanks to Revd Peter Owen Jones.

What Three Words location: emeralds.verbs.crass

What’s nearby: Glyndebourne, Firle Beacon

 2. Rathfinny Wine Estate, Alfriston

Title: A PLACE BEYOND BELIEF

Year: 2012

Previously exhibited:

Haunch of Venison, London, 2012
National Gallery of Kosovo, Pristina, 2012
Kunstverein, Freiburg, 2013
NDSM Werf/ Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam, 2013
Brugge Triennial, 2015
Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, 2020

A young woman tells a story of travelling on the New York subway some weeks after 9/11. A Sikh man, a Black woman with a baby and a train full of fearful commuters are involved in a confluence which stretches their collective sense of perception, trust and humanity.

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.

The Cuckmere Valley was drained in the Tudor times, and man-made ditches line the valley floor. Apart from a small number of sea defences beneath the coast guard cottages, the cliffs are being allowed to erode naturally. Rising global temperatures and sea levels will eventually cause flooding of the valley, creating a salt marsh.

What3words location: finds.clown.clouding

What’s nearby: Long Man of Wilmington, Seven Sisters and Friston Forest

3. Junction Road Car Park, Eastbourne

Title: WE MUST CULTIVATE OUR GARDEN

Year: 2006

Previously exhibited

The Lighthouse, Glasgow, 2006
De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, 2007
George Square, Edinburgh, 2007
Il Palio di Parte Guelfa, Florence, 2008
Nuit Blanche, Paris, 2008
Marabouparken, Stockholm, 2010
Perth Cultural Centre, Perth, Australia, 2012
CAG, Vancouver, 2013

The 18th century satire Candide by Voltaire follows the journey of a disillusioned young man. The character meets kings and queens, a politician, a thinker and an artist on their travels before announcing in the final line: “we must cultivate our garden”, as if advising others to act practically and not optimistically when faced with similar disillusionment.

In May 1849, the railway arrived in Eastbourne and transformed the town. The Junction Road signal box is Grade II listed, one of only two surviving Saxby and Farmer Type 5 signal boxes in the country. The Junction Road car park dates from the 1960s and is not listed. Between 1958 and 1964, a direct Glasgow to Eastbourne sleeper train operated.

Presented in partnership with Towner, Eastbourne.

What3words location: terms.unique.paint

What’s nearby: Towner Eastbourne

3. Brack Mount, Lewes

Title: HEAVEN IS A PLACE WHERE NOTHING EVER HAPPENS

Year: 2008

Previously exhibited:

Folkestone Triennial, 2008
ACCA, Melbourne, 2011
Kunstmuseum Kloster unser Lieben Frauen, Magdeburg, Germany, 2015
Lund Cathedral, Sweden, 2018

Heaven is a wooden roof or canopy over the outer stage of an Elizabethan theatre. In 1982, a prominent US Baptist claimed that Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ contained satanic references leading to it being played as evidence at the Consumer Protection and Toxic Materials Committee of the California State Assembly. Heaven is newly ironed cotton sheets on a freshly-made bed. Heaven is a famous gay nightclub in Villiers Street, London. ‘Heaven’ is a song by Talking Heads.

Lewes Castle was built as a Norman motte-and-bailey fort but, unusually, had two mottes. The area between Brack Mount and the motte on which the later castle was built is the interior courtyard, known as a bailey. It has been the site of a bowling green since 1640, but because the green is so uneven, the players use a jack with flat sides to stop it rolling.

What3words location: dolls.electric.broke

What’s nearby: Depot, Malling Down Nature Reserve

5. West Beach Promenade, Newhaven

Title: YOU IMAGINE WHAT YOU DESIRE

Year: 2014

Previously exhibited:

Biennale of Sydney, 2014
House, Brighton, 2015

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”  George Bernard Shaw, The Serpent, ‘Back to Methuselah’ (1921)

The River Ouse used to flow into the sea at Seaford, two miles east. In 1539 a cutting was made for the river, and the new haven was formed. Newhaven has one of the few sandy beaches in East Sussex, but it has been closed to the public since 2008. Above West Beach is the Newhaven Fort designed by 22-year-old Lieutenant John Charles Ardagh of the Royal Engineers to protect Britain from Napoleon III. It takes four hours to reach Newhaven from Dieppe by boat.

What3words location: firmly.applied.wildfires

What’s nearby: Seven Sisters and Friston Forest

6. Charleston, Firle

Title: I DONT HAVE ANOTHER LAND

Year: 2022

A new commission by The Charleston Trust

In 1916, the writer David Garnett and his lover the painter Duncan Grant were conscientious objectors to WWI, and their relationship was criminalised. David wrote to his mother: “Vanessa has taken a house in Sussex and a farmer Mr. Hicks will employ Duncan and me and will teach me farming”. The “Vanessa” of his letter was the artist Vanessa Bell, and over the following six decades Charleston became the rural home of the Bloomsbury group, transformed into a modernist work of art by Grant and Bell.

‘I dont have another land’ was a piece of graffiti found on a wall in Jerusalem in 2005.

In the Charleston context, do the words speak of something more universal, or more specific? Do we read the work as a reference to the people who created a home here, or to contemporary global or domestic politics?

What3words location: twist.recent.prouder

What’s nearby: Charleston, Firle Beacon

See Tentative Words Change Everything until 29 August 2022

The exhibition is free to view.

Follow @SussexModern on Instagram.

Photo: Keith Hunter

The exhibition is funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund as part of a wider project to promote Sussex as a place for high-quality wine, world-class culture and breath-taking landscapes.

The UK Community Renewal Fund is a UK Government programme for 2021/22. This aims to support people and communities most in need across the UK to pilot programmes and new approaches to prepare for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.  It invests in skills, community and place, local business, and supporting people into employment.   For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-community-renewal-fund-prospectus

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