What a difference a new occasion makes. The last installation of You Imagine What You Desire was over 17,000 km away at a Biennial in Sydney. Now it appears in a festival in Brighton.
But geography is the least of it. In Sydney it was on a gallery facade; in Brighton it is in an ancient church. It’s from the streets of a big, young city to a reflective space in a small, old world one.
So what gets imagined in a church and what gets desired? Well, heaven obviously, but also hell. It is the go-to place for imagining the outcomes of our actions, for guidance in the way we live our lives.
You might ask why anyone would desire a burning pit. But perhaps we like to be kept in line, on some level. And a sense of justice is useful to both society and the individual. So why not.
The builder’s scaffold which holds these letters is blunt about this. It too is utilitarian. And here it tells us that imagination and desire are the pole and grip structure of our morality.
But a scaffold is temporary and the fairground lights remind us there are plenty more things and people to desire in this seaside town of ours. Out there, on the pier, desire is still a thrill ride.
There are lots of risks, but few spiritual consequences on the pier. It is a very modern institution in that way. So Coley brings the amusement park into the last place you might expect to find it.
After all, Saint Nicholas’ is the oldest church in town. The pier may be one of our best known landmarks but, until now, the twain have never met. They have to turn off the lights during worship.
So, apologies to Sydney, and all future venues. But this really belongs in Brighton, and you can’t say that about too much art. More is to be desired, even if it be hard to imagine.
You Imagine What You Desire is a HOUSE/Brighton Festival co-production and can be seen at Saint Nicholas’s, Brighton, until May 24 2015.
Read my review of Nathan Coley at Brighton Festival on The Arts Desk.