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Subversive inclinations

Nathan Coley At the Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, until 19 July, with an accompanying monograph (£15)

Nathan Coley's practice is figured on public art works, directed at, and generated by, aspects of architecture and urbanism. His work researches the nature of place and people's connection with it. Much of his exploration is through a subversion of accepted architectural language and ways of describing architectural intentions.

The pivotal installation in the show, The Lamp of Sacrifice, is a remarkable assembly of some 286 'places of worship'. Taking the addresses of all 'places of worship' as listed in the Yellow Pages for Edinburgh, Coley produced a scale model of each. The pieces are simply wrought, devoid of an architect's self-conscious and over-concerned modelling. They immediately distance themselves from an architectural sensibility.

Coley does not try to recreate a miniature world or, worse, to entertain or amaze. The models are made in a manner which is unnervingly direct, fabricated from raw card and retaining pencil construction lines. They hold the imagination, with a dignity and presence which, given their straightforward execution, is alarming to the architect's eye. Unlike the RA or RSA summer shows, there is no place here for the virtuoso architectural model, that suffocating display of mere facility.

They are firmly in the realm of art. They constitute a complex reading of place, in this instance Edinburgh as defined by a group of buildings, which, while no longer commanding the cultural landscape, still define the city through their physical presence.

Coley is well known for a series of installations titled Lectures, which are also unsettling for an architect. A room is set up, as if for a lecture; slides are projected onto a screen; an educated voice is heard. The lecture is about the Villa Savoye; the slides, though, are of a typical, banal, suburban house. The two seemingly opposing elements are connected via Coley's piece, and the sense that the result is believable is troubling. Subverting an architect's typical methodology - the engineered photographic image, the suave, practised talk - Coley unearths a deeper conversation, about real people's dreams, their 'dream homes.'

Coley's most public work was as the unofficial artist at the Lockerbie trial in the Netherlands. Again, he turned the normal official artist role on its head.

Instead of recording or commenting on the trial, or on those directly involved in it, he became concerned with the location and the chance factors which placed Lockerbie on the world map. The work became a further exploration of what constitutes place; for the duration of the trial a small part of the Netherlands became Scotland.

Coley is one of several influential and internationally recognised artists - Douglas Gordon, Christine Borland, Ross Sinclair et al - who have risen to prominence from the Glasgow School of Art. They are all articulate, urbane and professional.

They move easily and surely, confident in the value of their view of the world, sharing a natural wit and scepticism.

Among them, Coley is humorous yet serious and subversive, exposing a situation through disconnection and displacement.

Neil Gillespie is an architect with Reiach & Hall

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