“I’m terrified”: The artist who put up a huge sign for refugees at sea to read | Art

Pabove the west alley in Newhaven, visible to both refugees at sea and those walking in front, is a huge message written in the bright lights of a fair held up by a scaffold five meters high. “You can imagine what you want,” says the text sculpture, one of six Glasgow-based artist Nathan Collie who are currently installed in various locations in the Sussex landscape.

“This is the end of the glide,” says Collie of New Haven, “where people go on picnics with their cars – and it’s very deliberately facing the water.” brings thousands of people from places outside continental Europe. “Of all the locations, this is the most politically charged,” said the 54-year-old, carefully choosing his words in his bright and calm Whiskey Bond studio, a joint workspace at Speirs Locks on the Glasgow Canal.

The words are taken from a quote from playwright George Bernard Shaw about the origins of the work, but, as with all of Collie’s textual works, it is the setting that adds its own wash of meaning. The idea – for people to go so far, to seek refuge, to take the risk of traveling across the English Channel, which is known to be dangerous – is to imagine a better life and want something for your children that is more than you have at the moment. He paused and ran his hands through his hair. “Like most people, I am horrified that as a country we have forgotten the way we became great – through immigration.

I Don’t Have Other Land of Cars has been installed in Charleston. Photo: Keith Hunter

Coincidentally, the sculpture was first unveiled on the day Interior Minister Priti Patel announced plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. “I wondered what her parents – fleeing persecution in Uganda – had in mind – for their children, for their daughter. Commissioned by Sussex Modern and the largest outdoor exhibition of Collie’s work ever, the series includes a new work, I Don’t Have Other Land, which is set in Charleston, the former home of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

Collie’s material lies in the ordinary and the heard, the idea of ​​the finished, something taken from one place and repositioned elsewhere. In this case, I Have No Other Land was a line of graffiti he found on a wall in Jerusalem in 2005. As always, there are many interpretations and Collie will not prescribe one over the other, although there is playfulness to this position: you think you know what a work of art is for, it will fall from your fingers, ”he says slyly.

Public space – both as a physical reality and as a concept – is important to Collie’s work. So how has the pandemic that so restricted human movement affected his practice and the wider public understanding of shared arenas? He “secretly loved” the first block, he says, acknowledging that it was “the first time I’ve stopped since I graduated.” That was 30 years ago at the Glasgow School of the Arts. He is encouraged by the fact that the parks near where he lives, on the south side of Glasgow, “have never been used again since they were designed by the Victorians” – especially by young people.

“I’m very happy to be anonymous”… Nathan Collie. Photo: Murdo McLeod / Guardian

He believes that working from home, as well as the restrictions on blocking, have raised questions about who owns and how we use the space, which is home and not. He calls them “those other arenas where we gather and where there are rituals and rules, even if they are not recorded. We are too close to really understand it, but there has been a reassessment of the space that is not controlled by trade, the church or the railways.

A former Turner Award nominee whose works are stored in private and public collections internationally, Collie emphasizes his own privilege as he criticizes the “stagnant funding” of the arts in Scotland and calls for a zero-tax policy on cultural workers, as is the case. in Ireland.

“The visual arts, especially in Scotland, are absolutely on their knees,” he said. “This is also due to the fact that there are years of artists based in Scotland who have boxed over their weight – it is believed that everything is fine. But there are fewer opportunities than when I graduated. “

Collie likes to say that the sculpture has its own needs, insisting that he is “quite happy to be anonymous.” Ideally, he believes, the sculptures should be “long enough to disappear before they are finished.” Take the dog for a walk. For the first few weeks, that’s all you see, but over time you stop noticing. “Then they were taken away and they became visible again:” This thing is gone. Can you remember what he wrote?

He continues: “All this is happening because it is not personal space. Not controlled. It’s not like the supermarket. It’s not like your phone. These are different negotiations. “

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