Closing this weekend at the Contemporary Art Gallery is Nathan Coley's solo exhibition, Knowledge, Kindliness, and Courage. 

Nathan Coley 28.10.11 from The Honour Series 2012 Courtesy the artist and Haunch of Venison, London

Represented by Haunch of Venison in London, Coley's practice typically engages with architecture and other public spaces, and how it comes to be lived through and inhabited in contrast or conjunction with the ideology that is latent within it. For his Vancouver exhibition — his first in North America — Coley has full reign over the CAG's conjoined galleries, and has also created a site-specific public installation on the roof of the newly-refurbished Pennsylvania Hotel in the Downtown Eastside. 

We Must Cultivate Our Garden springs directly from the last pages of Voltaire's Candide, as Michael Turner states in his review for Canadian Art. "What to make of this advice? Are we to consider it in light of Candide’s biting satire, or take it at face value?" Turner asks. "If Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a metaphorical garden of humanity, what actions might be taken to cultivate it? One reading could begin by equating optimism with the market speculation that has had a hand in the neighbourhood’s dereliction. Another could just as easily equate that optimism to the potential for its residents—the homed, the homeless and those somewhere in between—to form the kind of Edenic paradise that the young Candide was cast out of."

Within the gallery walls, however, questions about optimism remain unasked. Instead, we encounter redactions and erasures in such a way that Turner describes as "desecration" and Robin Laurence, writing for the Georgia Straight, calls "unsettling". Unnamed is a sculptural installation comprised of several gravestones removed from the cemeteries where they had previously laid. The names of the deceased have been beveled out in long, censored rectangles, leaving only sentimental inscriptions and dates of life and death. Laurence writes, "By removing the gravestones from their original settings and obliterating the names of the people they were intended to commemorate, Coley evokes a disturbing condition—not simply of displacement but also of disappearance."

On Saturday, January 19th, CAG director Nigel Prince will be giving a talk and guided tour of the show at 3pm. This event, as all guided tours are at the CAG, is free and open to the public, and will be quite the opportunity to gain insight on this evocative body of work from one of Vancouver's most prominent artistic figures.