In Dialogue with Noel Hennelly
Noel Hennelly’s solo show at PeepSpace, wrapped up the first year of programming at this new venue in Tarrytown, NY, founded by artists Monica Carrier and Jane Kang Lawrence. The exhibit featured sculptures and wall pieces made of mixed materials, manufactured components, wood, metal, fabric, as well as painted and photographic elements. Hennelly’s work highlights the tension between the natural world and the urban environment, mediated by mythical language and devotional ideas as vectors for the way we perceive, process, and store memory and experience.
You see your process as a cross between construction and assemblage, using both found and manufactured objects. Let’s take a look at Stars Algonquin and Tir Na Nog – what is the idea behind them and what is your process?
The image of a slipper lobster had me remembering a night dive in Belize. Surrounded by black water in all directions save for what seemed to be a street light above. Instead, of course it was the full moon shining down through 40 feet of clear water. I thought of this creature and others that live on the ocean floor with their eyes fixed ever upwards. New Yorkers don’t get to see many stars, so whenever I’ve had a chance to get away from the lights and see a full sky of stars, it’s been very moving. Although I’ve never been to Algonquin Park in Canada, I imagine a spectacular sky. The articulated body of the lobster seemed to resonate with the bifurcated truck mirror, the surface itself resembling the reflective surface of the water from below. I’ve been using computers personally and professionally for many years. Incorporating the Monitor Mounts, besides resembling arms, bring technology and utilitarian design into the assemblage. The movability of the arm mounts starts to give it a sense of a living thing.
Tír na nÓg is an imaginary land in Celtic Mythology. In the Irish legend of Oisin, the hero encounters Niamh, queen of the land of eternal youth riding on a white mare. Suspended from a chrome stand, the rocking X shape has a kinetic quality, rolling on casters it seems to float above the floor. The piece is made from pine lath, oak hoops, and steel hardware. It is suspended on a chrome light stand by small rubber straps. By coincidence I finished this piece on my Dad’s birthday, he was born in Ireland, and always held a connection to that place and culture. In the myth, Niamh’s magical horse carries her to an island paradise and supernatural realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy. Its inhabitants are described as the Tuatha Dé Danann or the warriors of the Tuatha Dé, the gods of pre-Christian Ireland, who engage in poetry, music, entertainment, and the feast of Goibniu, which grants immortality to the participants.
Having lost my dad many years ago, I still like to imagine him in such a place. The pieces I work on sometimes fall together by combining two elements that were not initially intended for one another. I built the wooden structure first, and after a few weeks, the chrome stand which had been in the studio was not just a way of moving this large piece around without damaging it, but just worked so well that it made sense as a piece. The serendipity of my dad’s birthday, set off a connection to the myth.
Tell me more about your notion of mythical language and poetry in your work.
Like many of us in lockdown this past year, I’ve become an avid Netflix fan. One of my favorite shows is Universe, a documentary series on Astronomy. I’m always struck by the way Scientists use names drawn from mythology, from locating galaxies within zodiac signs. And the naming of stars, galaxies, moons and other celestial phenomena with names of goddesses and other mythological creatures. It’s as if the exacting observation of the natural world seems so enormous as to require that it be packed into a story, as a kind of suitcase for easy transport.
How do you see this exhibition in context of your overall work?
This show featured a pretty representative grouping. My work takes on a lot of different shapes and sizes, and I see them more effectively in combination than as single objects. I feel a lot of affinity for artists’ environments. I empathize with visionary artists in particular. I make things out of a need to do so— it’s in a sense an alternate universe, or toy world. My dad loved stage magic and was always collecting and planning stage shows. There was a point when I was in the studio and realized that I was in a poetic and indirect way completing his unrealized stage performance and the accompanying illusions.
All photo courtesy of the artist.
Noel Hennelly Solo Exhibition – FABLES PeepSpace Contemporary Art Project Space 92 Central Avenue Tarrytown NY 10591 @Peep_Space