The weakened eye of day
July 29 to October 2, 2016
B.C. Binning and Alvin Balkind Galleries
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents a major new body of work by Irish artist Isabel Nolan, conceived as a single project across successive evolving presentations at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Mercer Union, Toronto and CAG.
Nolan’s work encompasses text, sculpture, drawing and textiles, and often begins with the close scrutiny of individual literary or artistic works, or evolves out of consciously erratic and diverging enquiries into the aesthetics of varied fields. Ranging from cosmology, to theories and systems of medicine detailing the makeup and workings of the human body or to illuminated manuscripts, all provide potential stimuli for investigation. The exhibition takes its title from the English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush (1899), in which the sun, described as “the weakening eye of day”, is a dismal star drained of its force by a gloomy pre-centennial winter afternoon. As the sun’s gaze weakens, so flags the spirit of the poet who, until interrupted by birdsong, sees only the inevitability of death in the cold world around him. The show thereby examines how light manifests as a symbol in our thoughts, obsessions and pursuits, and oscillates around a series of ideas as a material account of the known and unknown strangeness of the world, from the formation of the planet’s crust to the death of the sun and the enduring preoccupation with light as a metaphor for truth, hope and optimism.
Writing is an important tool for Nolan, and at the beginning of the show, a single sculptural form appears perhaps as the protagonist of an improbable story. Rock founded place (2014) is a large-scale scrolled text written by Nolan that imagines the viewpoint of the oldest rock in the world, whose exposure to deep time and the precariousness of existence is profoundly different to our own. In this world, time, knowledge and forms of life are recognizable yet play utterly different histories and roles than in our own civilization.
Throughout the exhibition, individual pieces unfold to both seduce and disarm. Nolan uses this as a device to cause us reflection upon our relationship to light as a means by which the world is framed. She provides opportunities to reveal the contingency not only of our own world, but also of our myriad ways of knowing and being in it. Underpinning this is a desire to examine and capture in material form the occasions of intensity that can define our encounters with the objects around us; inexplicable and unsettling moments that leave us with a heightened awareness of what is means to be alive. For the artist this exploration happens through making things; whether these things are sculptures, textiles, photographs or texts. Monumental or intimate in scale, they are presented to us as tentative and precarious markers of the experience of our place beneath the sun.
Across all spaces at CAG, discrete works trace a progression reflective of different human attempts to understand our place in the universe. From Rock founded place we might move to consider a small-scale abstract painting such as Dreams of no thing, no time (2014), the enigmatically diagrammatic steel construction Somewhere between Andromeda and Vulpecula: Sky Atlas (2014) or Fourfold sorrows (Jesus you look so sad) (2015), an impressive woven carpet connecting wall to floor. Contemplating these and other pieces such as the collection of brightly coloured ceramic vessels, Nothing new under the sun (2014), all combine to reflect Nolan’s interest in the way colour and light are used to express religious or spiritual sensibilities. Elsewhere, the intimate drawings Based on my recent observations (1–7) (2014) and the large-scale photograph The view from nowhen (2014) are informed by modern cosmology, wherein scientific theories and technologies articulate our contemporary relationship to the universe. And as we meander through the space of the gallery, we are finally confronted by what at first appears a somewhat surreal image, this mural of two donkeys photographed in Bully’s Acre, a former public cemetery located near the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin. Referred to in myth and folklore from around the world as well as embodying different symbolic references in classical and ancient cultures and across different faiths, these donkeys provide a provocation that cannot be met: a stubborn and inscrutable view from a world that can never be fully known.
As with all of Nolan’s oeuvre, the works in The weakened eye of day reveal, through their very subjective and intimate nature, the arbitrariness and inherent absurdity of attempting to tackle the enormity of these subjects through the process of object making. Yet the objects are made and for Nolan they also find, with varying degrees of (un)certainty, their place under the sun.
Originated by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, this new selection of work for the exhibition is presented in collaboration with Mercer Union, Toronto and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver.
The exhibition is supported by the Culture Ireland programme for 2016 celebrating Ireland’s Centenary.
We also acknowledge the generous assistance of Kerlin Gallery, Dublin.
Isabel Nolan lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. Recent solo exhibitions include Mercer Union, Toronto (2016); Launch Pad, New York; Kerlin Gallery, Dublin (2015); Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2014); The Return Gallery, Goethe Institut, Dublin; Musée d’art Moderne de Saint-Etienne (2012); The Model, Sligo (2011); Gallery Side 2, Tokyo (2010); Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin; ARTSPACE, New Zealand (2008); Project Arts Centre, Dublin (2005). Nolan represented Ireland at the 2005 Venice Biennale in a group exhibition, “Ireland at Venice 2005”. Other recent group shows include Lofoten International Arts Festival (LIAF), Svolvær, Norway; Artspace, Sydney (2015); Wallspace Gallery, New York (2014); Palais de Tokyo, Paris; David Nolan Gallery, New York; Villa Datris, Fondation pour la Sculpture Contemporain, France; Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork (2013); EVA International, Limerick (2012); Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh (2011); Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2010); Accademia d’Ungheria, Rome; The Daejeon Museum of Art, South Korea; Bielefelder Kunstverein, Germany; Limerick City Gallery of Art, Ireland; AkkuH, Hengelo, The Netherlands; Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris; Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, Northern Ireland; SMART Project Space, Amsterdam (2009); Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Stroom Den Haag (2007). Work is held in public collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art; The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin; Allied Irish Bank; Arts Council of Ireland; Kildare Co. Council and various private collections in Europe and USA. Nolan is represented by Kerlin Gallery, Dublin.
Are you a teacher seeking to develop work with your class based on our exhibitions? Or are you planning a field trip and would like further guidance?
The CAG offers engaging arts learning for students from K-12. Our school programs involve an interactive guided tour of gallery exhibitions and the option of thematically connected art making. Rooted in enquiry and discussion our education programs invite students and teachers to creatively explore visual art materials and processes as well as critically reflect upon the power of contemporary art to engage diverse themes, perspectives and complex ideas.
Our school programs are designed to meet the areas of learning identified in the BC Education Ministry’s Arts Education curriculum.
1 hr. – $50.00 (maximum 30 students)
The guided program for students from K-12 involves an insightful, inquiry-based exploration of the exhibitions allowing for creative learning and developing key transferable skills such as problem solving, communication and literacy.
Guided Program + Art Making activity
2 hrs. – $90 (maximum 30 students)
For the guided program combined with art making activities in response to our exhibitions for students from K-12, in-depth tours of current exhibitions combine with workshops investigating the techniques, medium and practices of the work on display. These workshops enable meaningful dialogue to emerge developing critical thinking, making and understanding.
Considering spending a full day with your class in downtown Vancouver? We are in close proximity to a range of other cultural organizations that also offer school programming.
For more information or to book a program for your class, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 604 681 2700.
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Exhibitions for 2016/2017
The CAG exhibits national and international artists that work with a diverse range of media, processes, and practices offering an important opportunity to engage with current ideas and issues.
Isabel Nolan: The weakened eye of day
July 29 – October 2, 2016
Isabel Nolan’s exhibition is an unfolding story of light as a central metaphor for truth and optimism. This exploration of our place beneath the sun includes text works, sculpture, ceramics, drawings, paintings and photographs.
Guillaume Leblon: UNTANGLED FIGURES
October 14, 2016 – January 1, 2017
New York-based French artist, Guillaume Leblon creates fictional spaces through sculptures made with familiar everyday objects. A figurative presence is suggested through imprints, clothing and other remnants.
January 13 – March 19, 2017
U.K artist Haroon Mirza makes immersive kinetic installations that deal with the distinctions between noise, sound and music. For CAG plant forms and solar panels are used to explore the interplay and friction between sound and light waves and electric current.
Capture Photography Festival
March 31 – June 18, 2017
We will curate a group exhibition as the feature show for The Capture Photography Festival including local to international artists, more details to come.
I’m used to the routine of exhibitions. I choose my path around the gallery and take my time approaching, examining, engaging each artwork. I’m always careful to maintain a specific breadth, and to never lean over pieces or on walls.
However, observing the process of unpacking the 16 works for Isabel Nolan’s exhibition, “The weakened eye of day,” was a wholly new experience of encountering art. While the critical process of reading and looking is something that I’ve become comfortable enacting, the practical matter of condition reporting was unfamiliar territory. I watched as each work was handled and turned in the light so as to spot any tears, rippling, lifting or indentations. Gloved white hands smoothed out surfaces, gently brushing away lint and other specks of dust.
It’s a task that takes extreme attention to detail and a methodical manner of analysis. Unpacking the six large crates in the gallery took two days. The bubble wrap, foam peanuts, plastic sheets and polyurethane was gathered, folded, labelled and kept in order, so that re-packing would be more efficient.
While several of Nolan’s works in the exhibition are built of sturdy steel, ceramic or wool, a few pieces are of a more delicate nature. In particular, Here (anchored in oblivion) was a work that took the most careful consideration to unpack. Placed on top of a styrofoam block and cushioned with gallons of peanuts, the work had to carefully be lifted upward out the crate. Though the sculpture has a core of metal mesh and armature wire, the exterior is made with fragile jesmonite and plaster bandage.
The asymmetric form is reminiscent of nascent organisms born following Nolan’s origin story of the universe (a poetic fiction which can be read in Rock Founded Place). The work rests on the concrete floor of the gallery, just balanced enough to maintain its upright stance. The fleshy, pale pink colour seems raw and vulnerable in the open space.
Seeing Here (anchored in oblivion) unpacked and being prepared for display was a sharp reminder of the ultimately fragile nature of objects. The gallery setting so often feeds into the mythos of the art world, an image of things that are glossy, revered, protected. Observing from behind the scenes created a fissure in the folly. Objects, indeed art, can be damaged or broken.
Isabel Nolan, ‘The weakened eye of day’ is on view until October 2, 2016.