In the whites of time’s eye

In the whites of time’s eye

Artist Lucie Noel is known for her installations dominated by white and the cold.  The result of her recent residency in Paris is a series of drawings on calquer paper, torn delicately by hand and arranged into two or three layers. This allows the light itself to sketch new, rougher, more disturbing contours.

1. A halo of white

The white in her works speaks of snow and cold—no surprise, since Lucie Noel is Norwegian. Any attempt to deny one’s origins is generally futile, and this is never truer than when working with memory-based imagination as Thune does, with drawings depicting the leafy density of an imaginary garden gripped by cold.

Garden! This simple noun resonates as both a programme and a promise. Thune's is neither the green garden of childish romance nor the garden of paradise, but an unruly garden wilderness sheathed in the first frosts. All is white, so white that this transient state in which everything is frozen might be a door opening onto the page of life's great dream. This garden haunts her memory. But what makes it so alive in her, in all its whiteness, is the uncertainty of the memories that populate.

We often pretend that our memories are accurate, but precise memories are the invention of detective novels. Rather, memories are blurred masses which convey variable elements, each coming from different, unsynchronised layers of memory through which we travel with no command of our direction. Lucie Noel's frozen garden does not so much carry the weight of one memory or another as it reveals the misty, thick, translucent white halo, with its indistinct contours of blurred mass, that is the stuff that dreams are made of. And it is in this that we like to ensconce ourselves:  Rather than suffering from reliving a dream, we can live through dream.

This series of drawings is powerful because of its ability to mobilise the essence of dreams. By playing with traced lines, transparencies and cut-outs made by hand in the flesh of the paper—all awakened by the light that threads its way between the different surfaces—Lucie Noel creates resonance between both what is  – the eternal present of the present—and what is not  – the indefinable shadow of the past.

2 Aesthetic of the alter ego

There are leaves and branches, flowers and seeds, lines that define limits and lines left open, shapes that seem full and others concave. There are torn edges that make shadows flicker and black lines seemingly haunted by a symmetry which they sometimes manage to achieve. And there are large areas free from any hint of shape, acting like a pause before the world’s next breath.

In places, a magical balance appears, the memory of an ordered world in this lattice work of wild grasses. But in either case, what counts, what shores up the drawing and constitutes the secret web of dreams and memory which is the drawings’ true subject, are the shadows, and the shadows of shadows, and the shadows that make shadows of shadows.

The aesthetic dimension of Lucie Noel's work is underpinned by what appears to be lucid, in-depth reflection, a meditation on the alter ego, on the shadow lurking behind the shadow. That is, on “the forgotten” in its various guises, inasmuch as this alone anchors memory and allows it to form.

Then there is the question of limits, of line, shape, and tearing. In these drawings, limits are literally stripped bare. It is as if the garden were seen in a state of weightlessness.

So Lucie Noel’s view – and we are indeed dealing with a sort of "vision" – is that to draw this garden with its translucent layers is to explore thought itself, its hidden mechanisms, its unknown machinery, its shady areas, which at once so frighten and fascinate us.

After studying the interplay of this disordered multiplicity over and over, a potential symmetry emerges, somewhat vague and indecisive, but symmetry nonetheless. In other words, what strives to come to light through these layers of frozen white, through all the lines and tears, is our own alter ego.

In any case, that is what we are waiting for, what we end up hoping to see burst out of the blurry background of layers which echo each other, coming up between the lines, through the tears, as if it would eventually burst out of the wall or table on which the drawings are displayed.

This alter ego is ours not as an individual, or person, but as a living structure in constant evolution. That is what this garden embodies, the garden covered by being frozen under the white veil of dreams in order to see clearly and thus to understand. Slow reflection transforms into a life-saving vision, and the organic meets thought. Thought is the result of the organic, and despite its best efforts, thought cannot forget that it is made of the threads of nature, and in it nature’s breath lives on.

To draw, meditate, paint, or create is to try and reach, on canvas or paper, the breath of nature that lives on in us in a state of memory, ready to awaken, but which we all too often ignore.

Lucie Noel has chosen not to ignore it. She invites us to rediscover the white of invented origins. When looking at her drawings, we find ourselves on the garden's threshold, ready to take the decisive step that will carry us from the nightmare of darkness to the white dream of time, which we now can dare to see.

This article was published on Sunday 30 September 2012 in the magazine TK-21 la Revue, Arts, cultures et societies, in Paris.  The text is written by Jean- Louis Poitevin, an art critique / philosopher that lives and works in Paris.  The text was written in French, this is a translated version.