Electrons don't have scars
On the 1st of August I read the following:
“Today is the first of August. It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But, I remember what it said on one rejection slip: 'After a heavy rainfall, poems titled 'Rain' pour in from across the nation.” Sylvia Plath, 1960.
Like many, I was very grateful for the beautiful sun-filled weather that accompanied the first lockdown; in certain parts of the outside world, amidst nature, there was shelter from the Covid storm. Breathing air that felt clean and safe, and having time that could be, with a little discipline, free from news updates.
For good and ill the Sun has shaped human consciousness fundamentally. A gigantic chemical reaction unfolding 8.317 light minutes away from us, it is also a symbol and a metaphor for much that we hold dear. Life-giving but also, as we understand now, life-threatening. (I love its range.) If light is a symbol for much that is positive, what does that say about the night? About the beauty of darkness? The Sun’s hold is inescapable, its metaphoric capacity powerful and far reaching. Humans have been making the Sun, light and darkness, meaningful for tens of thousands of years. With our hands and minds we transform the world into human-shaped narratives. Interpreting, changing and making the universe into an image we can discuss and understand to an amazing degree, but often, according to our desires, our needs. But the universe; countless suns; our Sun; nature; disease, exist relentlessly, at timeframes utterly different to our own. And they will continue well beyond the life span of our species.
We’re self-conscious creatures inhabiting an indifferent, vast universe living on a tiny, enormous planet under a single sun. Art, like any form of critical thought, can be a way to test the parlous state of feeling that life may well mean only what we decide it means. We’ve worked so long on constructing ways to humanly inhabit this planet, we hardly see that they are distinctly human ways. We are so natural and yet so brilliantly unnatural too. Some of the realities that we have invented I like and some I don’t. Humans are good at making ourselves feel important. I’m more interested in what it means to inventively appreciate being unimportant.
Art has a way of generating proximity and connection across societies, cultures and through time. In general it generates strange intimacy with the madeness of the human world and space to appreciate dissonant, difficult times. The future is starting to press again, to feel like there might be room for art and for more than the essential work there.
I’ve made paintings of suns and of hands before. The subject is off-puttingly freighted with symbolism - is there anything fresh to say? It feels like an odd thing to do, to paint something you should never look look at directly. This affords scope for invention.
A Dublin based artist, Isabel Nolan’s work includes sculpture, textiles, paintings, drawings, photography and writing. Approaching large ideas at an intimate scale, her work focuses on the fundamental question of how humans bring the world into meaning. How we make, (through science, politics, agriculture, religion, etcetera), reality happen. Examining the knees of a sculpture, the status of a Palaeolithic artefact, or a solar storm in the 19th century, Nolan looks for the ways we can like, or even love, the difficult and complex human world we’ve made. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at Grazer Kunstverein, Graz; Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin; London Mithraeum/Bloomberg Space, London; Mercer Union, Toronto, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.