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David Noonan creates imagery that evokes a sense of the otherworldly, where intimate moments of internal reflection intertwine with the performative in a filmic display of narrative. A heightened sense of ethereality is never far away from Noonan’s work. His exhibition, 'Scenes', at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), explored movements between time and space, various states of human consciousness and the sublime. ACCA’s voluminous exhibition space was the perfect location for this work which included plywood cut-out figures scattered throughout the space as well as screen-printed collages containing imagery of mime artists and theatre performers. The sheer height of the space, and the sisal matting that was laid over the floor, provided the work with both a scale and an overt materiality that enveloped the spectator’s field of vision, imbuing the work with an aesthetic clarity that was at once awkward and poetic.
The screen-printed collages that were printed onto linen and jute cloth framed the space and acted as allegorical vignettes frozen in time. Appropriating imagery from remnants of film, magazines and book archives, Noonan’s cut and paste strategy of image production has created photomontages that combine a cinematic quality with a dramatic play of light and shade. Towards the rear of the space a photomontage presented a group of performers in which one figure is dancing—her stance appearing incredibly gestural yet languid—whilst the others are in various states of embrace or highly stylised movement. There is an air of deliberateness to Noonan’s conceptualisation of this work as the edges of the printed cloth remain visible whilst multiple layers are superimposed over the top to give the work a heavily textural surface and a sense of visual depth. This handmade quality reinforces Noonan’s fascination with the fragmentary and often physical nature of creating collage.
One work in particular stood out for its sense of melancholy and vividness. Situated towards the front of the space, a screenprint of a female performer’s face sat almost quietly in the corner as other more dramatic gestures filled the space. The figure is overlaid with two flatly printed rectangular panels of jute, one that exhibits a modernist geometric pattern and the other a black void that displays her solitary right eye, leaving us struggling to see what is underneath this metaphorical mask. All that remains are her eyes and her silhouette—a wraithlike representation of something that once was there. Noonan has rendered this work with a heightened feeling of hopelessness as the subject’s presence all but fades away into the shadows, leaving behind only trace elements of her original self—identity is erased and all that remains is mere façade.
There was a connection and conceptual dialogue between the figurative collage works and plywood sculptures that were placed at irregular intervals in the space. The plywood works acted almost as sculptural representations of the figures in the collages, becoming a physical extension of the collages’ mise-en-scènes. There was a wonderful play on perspective as you walked amidst the wooden sculptures—as ghost-like figures intermingled with the spectators, suspended in a moment in time. From front on, these figures appeared decidedly flat and static, captured in between movements or perhaps in deep contemplation. But as we moved in and around them, equally sized plywood cut-outs attached onto the other side became apparent—a visible doppelganger that encouraged a visual double take. This sculptural simulacrum promoted a kind of surface play that provided the spectator with a slight frisson that was deeply unsettling yet entirely real.
‘Scenes’ may appear to acknowledge Nicolas Bourriaud’s notion of relational aesthetics, as Noonan does not seek to perpetuate a kind of utopian reality in the work, but rather creates modes of expression or ways of being that exist in the real and become a shared activity.1 Instead of exploring Bourriaud’s overly theoretical approach2 on how spectators engage with the work—which seeks to break down the private space with which we encounter a work, shifting it into something that is more a collective experience—Noonan is more concerned with being an auteur and storyteller, directing his cast of characters as they move in and out of moments in time and in and out of character. In 'Scenes', Noonan has created aesthetic and ethereal monochromatic imagery that is embedded with a delightful undercurrent of the unknown, leaving us, as spectators, in a state of mild bewilderment as we continue to search for something more.
1. Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Presses du réel, Paris, 2002, pp17-18.
2. David Noonan recently featured in the 2009 Tate Triennial titled Altermodern which was curated by Nicholas Bourriaud.