Louise Noguchi has been working as a professional artist in the Toronto area since 1982. The work in this selection for CEPA spans ten years of her activity and bridges her earlier work in sculpture and installation with her current photo-based art. Materially diverse, her work reveals a consistent process of analysis, fragmentation, symbolization and reconfiguration through which Noguchi investigates the individual's relationship with nature, society and the media. She examines basic primitive relationships that are perpetuated by personal and public ritual. For example, while Blind, Evidence, Eden and Flora/Fauna concern nature and our relationship with it, the selections from the Compilation Portraits series literally weave together photographs of murderers or their victims and self-portraits of the artist in order to examine the role of the artist as spectator in the media. These two bodies of work are linked thematically in the underlying interdependence of parts that Noguchi both charts and investigates.
The idea of interdependence -- of mutually defining parts operating within the set structure of a system -- is one of the philosophical springboards of Noguchi's art. In the early 1980s she became interested in the hunt as a potent psychological metaphor. Primitive hunters would draw their prey, sketching an elaborate dance between two separate but linked partners. Because the hunter needs the hunted to define his or her role in the overriding dynamic of the system, and vice versa, their complicated interplay forms an indestructible unit within which limits play an important role. Noguchi inserts the figure of the artist into this dynamic to document the tensions and investigate the limits.
In the dynamic of the hunter and the hunted, concealment is power. Blind, an installation of enigmatic structure and imprecise function that thematically pivots around concealment and its psychological weight, uses a green tarpaulin as an element of camouflage and an indicator of the verdure landscape. The aged and weathered tarp covers a vaulted frame structure punctuated at one end by an open observation window and at the other by a false window creating the illusion of a mysterious third space beyond. As suggested in the title, the structure connotes subterfuge. With its links to the mythical 'primitive hut' the shelter provides a space for creative communal energy (Noguchi has used the table motif in other works to reference creativity). It differentiates nature and incursions upon nature. Blind is in nature, like nature, but separate from it -- a first line of defense.
Evidence is a grouping of seven photographs of different sizes, each framed in wedge forms titled into the viewer's space, which document a system of surveillance. Anecdotally, this work springs from an encounter that Noguchi had with a group of people who camped out seasonally. They placed mirrors of all kinds in the surrounding trees and natural areas to monitor the comings and goings of anybody or anything that entered their psychologically fortified environment. Noguchi's photographs show foliage holding mirrors, the mirrors displaying reflections of the surrounding natural environment. The work of art preserves two distinct realities: the terrain in the camera's viewfinder and the scene reflected in the mirror. The shifting and paranoid positions of the watcher and the watched co-exist.
Our fears, superstitions and desires having to do with nature get all wrapped up in the internalizing process of perception. Acknowledging that nature is not autonomous but contingent, Noguchi's works Eden and Flora/Fauna chart a perception of nature that includes desire. Eden is a convex mirrored disk bearing the word EDEN. Similarly, the piece Flora/Fauna is a grouping of mirrored disks of various sizes, two of which bear the words of the title. The mirrors are installed at angles to reference their contemporary use as surveillance mirrors and to permit a broad range of views. In Eden the negative space around the word has been sandblasted and made non-reflective. The words in Flora/Fauna are matte on a mirrored ground. The viewing experience is the same. Associations of the word (the desire for a perfect, untouched, 'pre-fall' nature of the biblical variety taken up in popular culture) are overlaid by the reflections of the surrounding environment. These works use reflection to differentiate between desire projected onto landscape and the viewed and experienced reality. Reflection translates a three-dimensional haptic experience into a two-dimensional visual or mental one. Noguchi's use of the mirror suggests the multiple, differentiated realities that co-exist: the psychologically fortified and internalized or distanced reality through the mediating device of the mirror (a symbolization of the idea of contingency) and the surrounding environment.
Noguchi describes the Compilation Portraits as being about the artist as spectator in the media. The media needs the spectacle and the spectator. Whereas a witness is one who furnishes evidence, a spectator only observes. Interdependent and mutually defining as in the ritual of the hunt, the spectator and spectacle are intricately linked. For these portraits she wove the warp of her own image with the woof of the other -- the murderer or the victim. The weaving process is a metaphor for building. Vitruvius, whose ancient De Architectura is the oldest surviving work of western architectural theory, wrote that the Greeks wove the walls for their first structures. Thus the textile of woven surface is a pre-architectural organizing device or gesture. Noguchi's woven pictures are not quite a new image but a compilation that preserves the limits (if not the readability) of the two separate identities.
There is no personal autonomy in these schemas; rather, personal choice is subjected to external forces. While Noguchi is concerned with identity, particularly the events, circumstances and belief systems that make us who we are, she does not present the individual as being shaped by powers of self-determination. Instead, the individual exists in tension with external forces that ultimately shape it. From this point of view, she can elaborate on the precarious nature of personal choice.
Karen White is an independent writer and curator based in Toronto.
Louise Noguchi is a visual artist living in Toronto. Her work has recently been exhibited at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; the Canadian Embassy, Tokyo; and the Power Plant in Toronto.