Optimism, a plea, true love, desperation..? Forever is too big an idea for one word. Nolan’s banner which cascades down the wall and across the floor turns the unfathomable idea into a veritable waterfall: never-ending, relentless and beautifully overwhelming.
In another version of the work ‘forever’ paraded monumentally along two gallery walls in floor-to-ceiling sized block letters. It has also appeared minutely, quietly: painted onto small Hessian pennants in the phrase ‘forever, a really long time, until I die.’ While the former scale suggests Nolan’s infatuation with the utopian rhetoric of revolutionary proclamations, the latter whisper comes from a more personal place: the artist’s private thoughts, doubts and hopes. I think the artist deliberately invites us to stand on this border between public and private, and to wonder, remember, and perhaps to hope.
Melbourne-based artist Nolan created Forever during her residency at Elam School of Fine Art in 2002 and it was first exhibited at the Gus Fisher Gallery the same year. Though Nolan’s practice spans more than 20 years, her career has recently been on a new rise, with invitations to exhibit in the Biennale of Sydney and the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art in 2006.
Nolan is known for her text banners, pennants and wall paintings, made with their agit-prop modesty (from everyday materials: paint and cardboard or Hessian). They communicate in simple and evocative phrases and hark back to utopian hopes for a revolutionary new order. Like Soviet agit-prop (a contraction of ‘agitatsiia’ and ‘propaganda’) Nolan’s banner seems to cajole and persuade. However, though she quotes the styles and manners of the Russian Constructivists and Futurists of the early Twentieth Century, the message seems to be more poignant than when art was harnessed to transform the masses.
Does a utopian hope rise or fall on the letters she has stacked into the Forever Banner? I only know what to think if I ask how I love you: ‘truly, madly, deeply?’ If I love you like this and say so, I may be taken as a fool – naïve and ignorant that I am simply re-using romance novelist Barbara Cartland’s famous phrase. Or worse, I may be taken as miserly, as knowingly shipping my feelings in used crates. If I say I love you truly, madly, deeply, I must whisper these words with such tenderness – with such unselfconscious spontaneity – that their pre-worn attributes don’t clang around the room and drown me out. Nolan’s banner whispers too, so as not to appear forever foolish or artless.
Previously Published in Contemporary Art + Objects, 3rd April 2008, Art+Object the 21st Century Auction House, Auckland, pp46-47.