Nathan Coley’s illuminated text work We Must Cultivate Our Garden (2006) is now on display on the North Landscape of Tate Modern.
The electric lightbulbs of Coley’s work spell out a phrase that is both a spectacle and a public statement. Standing in the landscape outside Tate Modern opposite the high-rise buildings in the City of London, the words seem to be urging us to act.
Nathan Coley takes his words from the satirical novella Candide (1759) by the French writer and philosopher Voltaire (1694–1778). Voltaire’s story of a young man who travels the world in search of happiness concludes with this ambiguous sentence. Coley has commented: ‘I think my work has a sense of politics and a sense of the world and also a kind of sense of humour.’
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We Must Cultivate Our Garden was purchased with assistance from Tate International Council in 2019. The current display is supported by Dasha and William Shenkman in memory of their mother Belle Shenkman (1928–1995) and by Tate Enterprises.
Nathan Coley lives and works in Glasgow and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2007. Recent and important solo exhibitions include The Page Gallery, Seoul (2023), Charleston House and Sussex Modern, Sussex (2022), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2017), Parafin, London (2019 and 2017), New Art Centre, Roche Court, Salisbury (2016), House Festival, Brighton (2015), Pier Arts Centre, Orkney (2013), Kunstverein Freiburg (2013), Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2012), ACCA, Melbourne (2011), Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2004), Centro Cultural de Belem, Lisbon (2001) and the Westfalischer Kunstverein, Munster (2000).
Notable group exhibitions include ‘Utopias’, The Whitworth, Manchester (2020), ‘Stories for an Uncertain World’, Edinburgh Art Festival (2019), ‘Possibilities For a Non-Alienated Life’, Kochi Muziris Biennale (2018), Aarhus2017 – European Capital of Culture (2017), ‘Actions - The Image of the World can be Different’, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge (2018), ‘Age of Terror - Art since 9/11’, Imperial War Museum, London (2018), ‘Glow’, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2016), ‘Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick’, Somerset House, London (2016), Bruges Triennial (2015), ‘Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland’ (2014), ‘You Imagine What You Desire’, 19th Biennale of Sydney (2014), ‘Mom, Am I Barbarian’, 13th Istanbul Biennial (2013), ‘Tales of Time and Space’, Folkestone Triennial, UK (2008), ‘Days Like These’, Tate Triennial of Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain (2003), and in the ‘British Art Show 6’, BALTIC (2005).
Nathan Coley’s works are included in many public and private collections worldwide.