Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Freedom from words

Isabel Nolan: Trance in Inaction
12 September - 18 October 2008

Isabel Nolan is an Irish artist currently spending some time in Auckland, working in the Museum and apparently studying its large collection of lichens. Especially interested in drawing she seems to work in a varied range of graphic media, plus fabric and embroidery. As the included animated video shows, she is an exceptional writer. In fact, her language skills make her visual imagery seem comparatively ordinary. I think in fact it is.

Nolan is interested in the state between sleep and wakefulness, that almost narcoleptic transition where you are almost unconscious on your feet, though still aware you are not, but experiencing hallucinations. However the video deals with another area, a series of letters from somebody wishing to withdraw from social contact and its accompanying speech, and then from all language, including traces of the written. Her remarkable epistolary text shows us somebody scrutinising her own interiority, trying to determine the essential elements within the self after discarding possibly irrelevant ingredients like linguistic or social components.

If Nolan’s character seeks a voluntary isolation that is free from words, that state (taking all the works as a cohesive installation) doesn’t help the resulting images. Her delicately coloured pencil drawings that are mystical in content, her (ironically?) cut-out words and neuronlike watercolours, don’t have a compelling placement on the page and deliberately look unfinished. They seem academic as referencing pointers, vague quotations serving as faux art brut, but not rivetting as drawings. They are the opposite of say, Antonin Artaud’s famous drawings, which through lacking in technical facility, have great power through his positioning of lines and shapes. He was obviously a man who was wide awake (in pain even) when making them, while Nolan’s are deliberately soporous. Her work is meditative but consciously lacking energy. Very precise, but strangely dull and cramped. Anality and stasis: hand in hand.

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