James Coleman lived and worked in Milan for many years. There he came in contact with artists associated with Arte Povera and produced his first works. These early pieces point to the direction of his future line of investigation, which focuses on what he calls ‘projected images’. The severity of these early works must be read in the context of investigations being pursued in the wake of Minimalism. In this light, the strategies the artist devised to engage viewers, his analyses of textuality, and even his determination to highlight the political undertones of all discourse—in contrast to the hypothetical neutrality proclaimed by orthodox Minimalism—all make perfect sense. James Coleman’s works from this period were based on parameters that were very much of the time: processes involving the compilation of information, selection and documentation, and in particular mechanisms—quotations, recordings—that allow the work as a whole to serve as a reliable representation of reality. Against this backdrop, Coleman soon turned his attention to a particular line of investigation; namely, the impossibility of achieving linearity in narrative, which always consists of layers and dispersed fragments, much like our memories. Coleman’s trademark slide projections, from pieces created in the mid-1970s to his more recent works, have generally been interpreted in light of these key ideas. In addition to his slideshows, Coleman has also created pieces based on tableaux vivants (So Different... and Yet, 1980) and theatre (Living and Presumed Dead, 1983–1985; INITIALS, 1994), works that allow him to explore the distance between life and its representation. Photograph (1998–1999) consists of a slide projection with synchronised audio that plays over scenes of a theatre rehearsal with a poetic text. The result combines images, words, and a blurring of reality and fiction that is provoked by the rehearsal scene, and which forces the viewer to tackle the difficult task of interpretation. In 2007 Coleman presented the first part of his trilogy Retake with Evidence at Documenta 12. In the film, a character speculates about the idea and meaning of justice in the Western tradition, calling into question the limits of power and knowledge. As for his presence in Spain, in 2012 the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía presented a complete retrospective of his work.
Andrea Aguado Alemany