14 May - 20 June 2009

In my last review for Artinfo I said this about Rose Nolan:

“…Rose Nolan’s “detail, My Scrap/Note Collection” and “It’s Okay To Be Alright” look like a quick attempt to come up with a spoof of a Barbara Kruger work, but Nolan’s reputation and the execution of her final works, outside of this show, are obviously not the result of a few minutes thought and work. “

This exhibition amply displays the conceptual depth, textural execution and contextual utilisation of space and architecture of Nolan’s works. The viewer enters the space through “Tunnel/Tent Work – HARD BUT FAIR/POINT LESS”, much like a lamb to the slaughter through an abattoir race. (Up close, the thick splashes of red paint are suggestive of congealed blood.) Only when the viewer emerges from the confinement of this extremely long piece, (it is not possible for two people to comfortably pass by each other within it), does the text become visible from the outside. Even then, the piece is positioned in such a way that the words “point less” can only be viewed with difficulty by those who persevere with walking back along its length. Michael Graf has said of Nolan’s work, ‘Looking and reading can feel like similar acts, but Nolan’s work often compels us to flip between one and the other’, this is one such instance, in my view, where looking and the positions from which one is forced to look have the ability to distort the message received by simply reading. The text has combined a contemporary commonplace with what at first appears to be a negative dismissive judgement. However, the separation of the words “point” and “less”, when located on a tent like structure which is literally full of holes, promotes multiple meanings. The structure is flimsy like a tent, but would also leave a person passing through it open to attack and judgement. It put me in mind of another commonplace about people in glass houses, (this would appear to be the glass house after the stones have been thrown). Such commonplaces can fall down under any sort of logical scrutiny, which is it, “hard” or “fair”, surely they are mutually exclusive?

The tunnel itself, therefore, becomes what is “hard but fair”, because it exposes the attacker to attack, and thereby teaches the attacker to “point less”, (at others), so that the message becomes a positive one. If the comparison is not insulting, it is a similar reversal as in the Anton Corbijn video for the Depeche Mode song “Useless”. In the video an “end of the world is nigh” figure appears carrying a placard separating out the word “useless” into “use less”, so that a positive message of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” variety is produced. Alternatively the messages in Nolan’s work could be seen as either the flip sides of each other, given they are on both sides of the tunnel, or as equally full of holes and flimsy in their absolute nature.

Other works cause physical discomfort in the viewer, such as “Placard Work – AWKWARD”, which works both literally with the text, (it is awkward to read because the text is on its side and also at a considerable height above eye level), and also suggest, by the medium of a placard, that protests can cause awkward positions for viewers of the protest. (Not to harp on the Depeche Mode video, but the protestor is ignored by the band and his message rejected literally by his “use less” flier being screwed up and thrown away because such ideals are described as useless in the lyrics of the song.) Other works may reveal further meanings for a viewer with a familiarity with Nolan’s oeuvre. One of these is “R U OK”, which again seems immediately familiar to the most infrequent user of text messages, however, given previous works such as “RN 4 ME” have referred to Robin Nolan – perhaps this is a hopeful request for interaction between Robin and “you”? As has also been noted by Graf, (in relation to a different show), the relative size of this work in the context of the larger and more forbidding works which surround it, render it less reassuring than it might otherwise be.

There is much to draw from these works with patient contemplation, given the interaction with previous works it is suggested that this is mandatory viewing for anyone wanting to gain an understanding of Nolan’s work as a whole.

By Brenton Lochert

Brenton Lochert

Brenton is a freelance writer, art collector and lawyer. Once upon a time he completed an Arts degree where he became fluent in art theory speak.