The images in David Noonan’s exhibition ‘Markus’ suggest a drama class at a progressive school, or a therapy session at an institute for troubled pre-teens. Here, a group of children parade in lumpy layers of clothing, as though when presented with the dressing-up box they had decided to wear its entire contents...
Exhibition Dates: 3 April – 26 April 2008
Of all adult fears, the fear of children is among the most complex. We do not fear children as children fear children, although we might remember, sharply, an older child’s taut menace, or talent for mendacity. Rather, it is threaded through with tenderness, a measure of guilt (is this really the best world we might bequeath our sons and daughters?), and the uneasy knowledge of our own eventual death. If our children signal a future, it is one we have helped shape, but one that we will only momentarily glimpse.
The images in David Noonan’s exhibition ‘Markus’ suggest a drama class at a progressive school, or a therapy session at an institute for troubled pre-teens. Here, a group of children parade in lumpy layers of clothing, as though when presented with the dressing-up box they had decided to wear its entire contents (we might think, here, about children’s propensity for excess, about their exhaustive temper tantrums, or the way in which, unchecked, they’ll eat every cookie in the jar).
Each of them seems to want to make their meagre bodies bigger, bulking up in a parody of adulthood, or else to protect themselves against some fierce, undefined danger. There’s something larval about their appearance, and we might read their costumes as pupae from which they will eventually emerge transformed into creatures of unexpected, butterfly beauty. Right now, though, they exude an odd mixture of comedy, tragedy and threat. In one piece, they cluster together, their bent backs recalling variously a herd of cattle stupefied by a thunderstorm, a provisional bivouac got up in a parental basement, the labouring peasants in Jean Francois Millais’ painting The Gleaners (1857), and a coven of witches gathered around a belching cauldron. In another, a boy (the titular Markus?) has fashioned himself a balaclava-like mask from a swatch of flower-sprigged netting that suggests bank robbers and Black Ops commandos, but also a bridal veil, and the agitated twitching of suburban curtains. We’re left wondering whether the boy intended his headgear to broadcast such mixed signals, or whether, in this world of his and his companion’s invention, gender ambiguity takes a backseat to other, ineffable concerns.
Displayed around a large mat laid on the gallery floor (an awaiting or abandoned stage?), the works in Noonan’s show might be thought of as stills from a film, or frozen moments from a theatre performance. A potential narrative, or at least a point of dramatic tension, is proposed by the images of several adult faces, painted so that, whether they are inverted or not, they appear to be ‘right side up’. Thus chins stand in for noses, creased foreheads for frowning mouths, and shirt collars for pointed, foxy ears. Despite, or perhaps because of, the kiddy-pleasing quality of this illusion, it prompts a certain disquiet. Who are these Janus faced grown ups, and what are they doing in this child’s world, with its child’s rules? Are they teachers, policemen, or Pied Pipers? Or are they sacrifices, decorated by small, smooth hands and offered up to the future? Noonan has described these works as ‘punctuation’, and in many ways punctuation is something adults visit on the breathless, incoherent babble of childhood experience. We insert pauses, parentheses, and the occasional full stop. Then we stop, and our children carry on, their pupae shed, their wings buoyed by our final, faltering breaths. Perhaps, in the end, the painted faces – with their simultaneous smiles and grimaces, their cheerfulness and fearfulness – belong to us, the grown ups, the soon to depart.
David Noonan has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions over the last decade, including a major solo show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2007), and important group exhibitions in New York, Chicago, London, The Netherlands and the Istanbul Biennale (2001). In September 2008 he will be holding a major exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery in London and will be exhibiting at the Gwangju Biennale. A new monograph on Noonan’s art titled ‘Pagent’ was launched in New York earlier this year. Noonan’s work is held in important private and public collections in Australia and overseas, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. David Noonan has been represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery since 1999.