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Dr. Alison Ainley, Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom.

The work embodies light – it can lead us to the source of our own.  The experience of uncertainty which Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes as ‘l’entre-deux’ 1, the betweenness of interrelating subject and object, one body and another, is relevant in the work of Ciarán Lennon.  The request to ‘think otherwise’ to established modes of perception cannot be easy, and in the case of an aesthetic, rather than wholly philosophical request, is both uncertain and difficult.  Limits, whether of morphology, perception, philosophical ways of thinking or aesthetic paradigms, establish themselves only to be transgressed.   The borders of solidity are much more tentative than a boundary edge’.   A mystery which is at once familiar and enigmatic’2, a strange adhesion of steer and visible’ is to be found here, uncovered perhaps.  ’It retreats in the measure we approach-this withdrawal is not nothing, but neither is the thing itself’3

An invitation that simultaneously unsettles cannot be taken lightly.

The maps of perception we take for granted are those of the spatio-visual field in which we cast our own shape(s).  At the threshold of such maps, there is a conjoining of familiar and strange, as we readjust the unfamiliar into our existing world view, a process of adequation’.  Paradoxes of incongruity may only arise in the disordered or disordering ‘limit experience’, the de-centred, defective, excessive or vertiginous moments of loss or displacement.  But from here, perhaps the initial framework itself might be re-addressed.  Oliver Sacks suggests ‘one has to go through from the inside, in one’s own person – the radical collapse of experience, of action, of elemental space and time’4 – in order to re-create the enigma of these maps of perception.  The disturbance of the shaping co-ordinates of reason, space and time can set up ‘a vibration of tissues’, zones of porous expectancy where ‘a sort of strait between exterior and interior horizons gapes ever open.’5  Such disturbances might be construed as an immensely personal, meditative, aesthetic experience.

A peripheral lesion in the right brain hemisphere can lead to a bleeding out of vision through scotoma, ‘blindspots’ of undecidable co-ordinates which makes it possible or difficult to reconstruct the bodily image as a whole, and co-extensively, the everyday world.  It is left uncompleted; or ghost limbs are ‘filled in’, as with amputee’s; or else there is the fluttering ‘cinematic de-temporalised incoherence of a migraine aura’6.  The unmeshing of such co-ordinates has a paralell in Lennon’s vision, where, he suggests, we can never see ourselves or paradoxically, we are always seeing ourselves.  We are our own blindspots. The impossibility of representing what we see may seem to be a form of impairment, but it is thought such ‘impairment’, perhaps, that certain truths may appear.

The tensile flexing of limits, of geometrical shape and the limitations of a space, and formalism are gathered towards a meeting of differences, and put to the test.  The limits are tested, and through testing, persuasively re-cast.  The revealed – concealed folding provides the spatial variations around which turn the works’ dynamics.  Lennon uses rhythm on the surface to beat out the illusion of depth, and at this massy size the descriptive becomes literal, ilusion finds its physical correlation.  ’I had the idea of trying to paint a diasy with a six-inch brush’7, he says.  A basic solidity provides the tension to re-assemble the line and plane pivots – and our own maps of such pivotal dynamics, too.  Observation cannot remain at a distance here.  To Lennon, Munsell’s colour system best describes subtractive and additive colour, i.e. colour as material (subtractive) and colour as light (additive).  He chose the Munsell descriptions-hue, value and chroma (H, V and C) – as a thematic device to help order the sequence of paintings.  A vector referent can be produced for any given colour, the precision of such colour variants conversely indexing the multiple dimensions from surface into the interior of the globe, which allows a colour to be reproduced.  While this science of colour is never intrusive, perhaps eventually it can be linked back to a ‘depth grammar’ chromatic aquisition, a corpereal resonance similar to the identification of linguistic potential and stages of development that are physiological, perhaps even biological.

The work embodies light – it can lead us to the source of our own.  The experience of uncertainty which Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes as ‘l’entre-deux’, the betweenness of interrelating subject and object, one body and another, is relevant in the work of Ciarán Lennon.  The request to ‘think otherwise’ to established modes of perception cannot be easy, and in the case of an aesthetic, rather than wholly philosophical ways of thinking or aesthetic paradigms, establish themselves only to be transgressed.  The borders of solidity are much more tentative than a boundary edge.  A ‘mystery which is at once familiar and enigmatic,’ a strange adhesion of ‘seer and visible’ is to be found here, oncovered perhaps. ‘It retreats in the measure we approach – this withdrawal is not nothing, but neither is the thing itself’.  An invitation that simultaneously unsettles cannot be taken lightly.

The maps of perception we take for granted are those of the spatio-visual field in which we cast our own further pulsations of a depth of body, ‘wild being’8.

This complex figuration finds a precedent in Giotto’s challenge.  Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) created a new figure.  In his works we recognise the transformatory moment when the old narrative of Byzantine flatness had to be tied to a new figurative approach.  Lennon aspired to something of such momentous transformations.  His full-bodied calligraphy, drawing spatio-temporal events in paint, creates a narrative – a non-literary narrative – but no less exciting for that.  This is the drama of its event.

In her essay on Giotto, Julia Kristeva suggests ‘Giotto’s Joy’9 is the phenomenological marking and blurring of colour, sense and limit.  The problem of representation becomes an experiential site of excess that is felt in the very bodily folds of being.  Such excess is the means to re-create, and so to re-work, its own pre-conditions.  For Kristeva, Giotto’s small variations of volume and colour entail transitive shifts, differences which are harmonised and yet conflictual, serene and yet antagonistic.  This ‘chromatic working… erases angles, contours, limits, placements and figurations, but reproduces the movement of their confrontation’10.  Topologically, such variations might suggest ‘differences which throb into the third dimension’.

Giotto finds such a spatial-chromatic dimension in Mary’s virginal/maternal body, in the Annunciation, which is also evoked in these works.  This moment, which transgresses the carnal and spiritual, marks points of intersection between visible and tangible and the penetration of angelic, exquisite light, luminous yet opaque – transfiguration.  In a striking way, Fra Angelico’s Annunciation of 1487 we can see the angel’s wings as a mediation, breaking ecstatic light into our conditioned visual field and so into the spectrum we can see.  Lennon’s intervening painting in Scotoma II/H has a space of intervention that is also an interface, a traversal of these dimensions: again, the bridge ‘between’ the density of its facing canvases.  The narrative theme of the Annunciation, once the norm, has in Lennon’s version an oblique, indirect presence and yet paradoxically a more immediate presence, in the form of painting itself.

But what does it mean to think the sacred and religious in our secular and profane context?!  The relation of the individual to the sacred theme in Western classical art may have been determined by socio-political factors, but it could, nevertheless, find its own place architecturally; the fresco wall positions itself in situ.  We are missing such consecrated architectural spaces.  But in this sense, Lennon’s large canvases are their own location.  The public nature of the large size (mural scale) is paradoxically more intimate, bringing the painting closer and filling the field of vision.

Renunciation of traditional figuration based in science leads to a locale where we might – potentially – grasp or recall a ‘different’ sensibility.  Not from the first a painting of, but and enactment about, complex variations of time and space.  This locale is something like the intimacy of another body, articulated in the dimension of the general, an almost primordial re-defining of sensibility.  The implications of this exploration are still hesitant and to be developed, resistant and never reductively intellectual.  The tremulous experience of such a return is to re-think what it means to engage with the visible, participation in a ‘tactile palpitation, of which the eye is a remarkable variant.’  Lennon’s work here is complex and difficult, vunerable too – being both tentative and solid it conveys a sense of inwardness and exhalation, of the oscilating nature of breath flexing in and out.

Alison Ainley, Cambridge, 1992

Alison Ainley is currently lecturer in philosophy at Anglia Polytechnic University in Cambridge.  She has studied art at Leeds College of Art and Philosophy and literature at Warwick University, and has also taught Philosophy at University College Dublin.  She has written on French feminism and contemporary theory and published poems in the Erick Gregory Anthology.

Footnotes:

1.    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ‘The intertwining, the chaism’, ‘The visible and the Invisible’, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1968, pp. 130-155, p13

2.    ibid, p.130

3.    ibid, p.146

4.    Oliver Sacks, ‘Without a leg to stand on’, London, Picador, 1989. p. 156

5.    Merleau – Ponty, p. 153

6.    Sachs, p. 146

7.    From conversations with Ciarán Lennon

8.    Merleau – Ponty, p.139

9.    Julia Kristeva, ‘Giotto’s Joy’ in ‘Desire in Language’, a semiotic approach to literature and art, Oxford Blackwell, 1980, pp 210 – 236, p. 231

10. ibid

11. ibid