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David Noonan
A space odyssey

DAVID NOONAN and SIMON TREVAKS, 99, 2000, installation view showing video projections, wall painting, light, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, courtesy the artists.
Technology has become so powerful that the earth cannot limitlessly support human activities and desires. The earth is like a spaceship, a physically limited entity. In fact, due to space travel technology, we can now see the earth as an image in limitless space.
Fumio Nanjo, Biennale of Sydney 2000
The notion of spaceship as metaphor for contemporary human malaise is transformed in David Noonan's immersive installations, especially in his recent collaborations with Simon Trevaks. Noonan's fantasies of imagining the future draw with relish on the genre of science fiction, with particular attention to Stanley Kubrick's cinematic aesthetics. Even though 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968, a year before Noonan was born, the visions of an isolated world conceived by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke provide a backdrop for Noonan's recent video installations.


Whether through futuristic design or architectural references, Noonan displays an ongoing interest in prototypes. For example, his early monochromatic paintings of modernist buildings signal a preoccupation with failed utopias. The paintings refer to international-style buildings in the tradition of Le Corbusier - individual dwellings and public houses that were taken up and transformed by private developers in the years following the Second World War. Utilitarian public housing projects are represented in sombre tones. Although they heralded architectural optimism, in reality these buildings provided bland and impersonal living conditions.6 Noonan's monochromatic palette and inverted negative images are stylistic devices specifically used to signal a connection with modernist design and architecture.


Both Melbourne and Sydney versions of the installation centre on footage of a spaceman (Noonan) trapped in his helmet. Shot at close range, the spaceman stares intensely and somewhat blankly at the viewer. Digital codes are reflected on his helmet. He is pressed into the cockpit, his situation bringing to mind David Bowie's song 'Space Oddity'. Eventually blood spills out of the spaceman's mouth in a grotesque and violent gesture. This catastrophe is ambiguous in tone, its absurd repetition providing a tinge of humour. We are reminded of Dave Bowman floating before a lobotomising HAL in 2001, orbiting aimlessly and with a sense of doom. In this work Noonan rehearses man's vulnerability and fragility with a wry wit, fusing science fiction, technology and the fantastic with seamless ease.
Natalie King
This article appears in excerpted form.
You can read the article in full in the Autumn 2001 issue of Art & Australia.

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