BY Chris Chapman in Frieze | 11 NOV 00
Featured in
Issue 55

I'm sorry, Dave...

David Noonan

BY Chris Chapman in Frieze | 11 NOV 00

Take-off and the climb to cruising altitude, and the descent and landing of an airplane are the two most risk-prone periods of a flight. In overly simplistic terms, take-off demands the most from an airplane in terms of engine thrust and structural integrity, while final approach and landing demand the most of the cockpit crew. About three-fourths of all serious accidents occur during these two relatively brief phases of a flight.


Looping endlessly, the scenarios of David Noonan's recent video installations play out narratives that have rupture built-in. The transmission becomes garbled and then cuts out; the oxygen shuts off; the petrol tank explodes - it's as though all technology must inevitably fail. But the cause is always unknown; was it built-in obsolescence, sabotage, or human error? The specifics of each particular narrative are opaque and the titles of the works give little away: M3 (2000), 100 mph (2000), Saturn Return (1998-99). We are presented not so much with excerpts from larger narratives, but moments of engagement in which anxiety is rarely apparent and the potential for disaster manifests itself in an un-spectacular fashion.

In 100 mph, a rally car chassis rolls continuously in slow motion like a series of Warhol silkscreens. But the repeated imagery generates an almost purely aesthetic effect. The rolling car - caught forever in the last moments before it explodes or comes to rest - takes on the hypnotising quality of a slowly pulsing strobe. Like the automatic beacon signal from the derelict spacecraft on planet LV-426 in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), there is something about the measured pace of this repeated action that calms the desperation of the actual content of the information.

Noonan's aesthetic employs a futurism that has been familiar in sci-fi since Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); but it is an aesthetic whose functionality is still representative of current technological realities - and contemporary visions of future ones. The installations, often created in collaboration with Simon Trevaks, incorporate elements that suggest props and film sets (spacesuits hung on a rail, a spaceship door fitted with a motion-sensitive speaker), as do photographs of the two artists in the studio, Noonan kitted-up and ready to climb into the fabricated car chassis, for instance. Like the faked Mars landing in Peter Hyams' 1978 film Capricorn One, the idea of fiction is always apparent, but so is a very real sense of illusion - the suspension of disbelief is somehow not required. The costumes and sets are composed of the very same materials - Mylar, plastic tubing, LEDs - as those of the real environments being depicted.

In Noonan's earlier work, all narrative is stripped back so we are presented with only the effect of speed and repetition: cyclists circling a velodrome, a skateboarder pacing a car, a figure in racing-bike gear dancing endlessly in reverse playback. In the recent work, it's as if the human protagonists are there to supplement the sets, props and special effects that constitute their environment. The promise of romance is always put on hold because the couples in Noonan's scenarios always occupy separate but parallel dimensions: an endless sequence of a night drive along a highway, projected on dual screens; the inability to communicate from the control room to another part of the spacecraft because of equipment failure. Noonan's own presence in these scenarios is underplayed; there is no evidence of panic although we can guess his mission is doomed. The de-pressurisation of his spacesuit, or the explosion of his rally car are signalled by a slightly furrowed brow and a concerned look, as though tapping the warning light on the control panel will set things right.

Sealed off from the airless environment of space, or the cold terrestrial tarmac, the interiors in which these narratives are played out are hermetic. The soundscape is ambient and even: the burr of tyres on bitumen, the hum of cooling systems or engines. The reflected light from control panel readouts, or streetlights, plays gently over the curved glass of visors and windscreens.

The utilisation of filmic techniques in contemporary art enables the deployment of multiple viewpoints and temporal narratives. Noonan's own integration of cinematic forms ranges from the measured pace and internalised dynamic of the Modernist formula (the slow zoom of Michael Snow's 1967 film Wavelength, for example), to the conventions of contemporary action cinema. This appropriation of filmic techniques serves to activate the sense of suspense - the climax is repeated ad infinitum, or endlessly deferred. The installations are closed-circuit systems within which kinetic and psychic energy is continually intensified, resulting in a spiralling effect that must, sooner or later, reach breaking point.