Shauna McCabe


Dreaming depth, we dream our depth. – Gaston Bachelard

Like the light emitted by the distant star formations that are his frequent subject, the work of John Noestheden conveys a sense of constant relay, as if each image is one moment in a age-old dialogue playing out over time. In Noestheden’s visual practice is an ongoing investigation of visualization itself and its relationship to our knowledge of the world, transposing evidence of science’s pursuit of perfection and highly accurate long-range vision into forms that confront us with the precariousness of all representation and perception. Absorbing existing visual artefacts in compositions that emerge from the transformation of the old, his work effectively collapses present and past, self and otherworldly, proximate and distant, inner and outer experience. Each composition does not stand alone, rather picking up the dialogue and moving it forward, underscoring the reverberation of representation and the repeated echoing between new images and those with ancient sources. 

The quest for explanation in astronomy has been satisfied through the ongoing illustration and visual modelling of actual objects in deep space, attempts to order and represent the unseen that extend back to the earliest mapping the stars. Focusing on these ways of representing and expressing the universe, all of Noestheden’s work entails ultimately an “imaging series,” as he has titled a particular sequence of drawings derived from the transcription of minuscule star and star grouping illustrations found in astronomy books. By means of conscious acts of regeneration—from microscopic to macroscopic, two to three-dimensions—built into his creative process are tensions of control and its abandonment, as factors such as photographic inaccuracy, imperfections in printing process, photocopier “noise,” and error of perception and handwork become intrinsic elements of the representations. The resulting compositions of patterned dots, structured lines and geometric shapes seemingly suggest a calculated regularity and scientific precision. Yet whether the letter pressed transcription of Pi, the copied transposition of enlarged sections of Van Gogh’s painted sky, or the Apian Series in which half tone dots in a reproduction of the 1531 star charts of the Renaissance astronomer are the basis for a drawn grid subsequently superimposed with a further pattern of colour based on Pi, variability and inconsistency are constants. 

The ciphers to these buried codes may not be obvious, but throughout his minimalist work Noestheden underscores the unreliability of scientific language and its ways of seeing, reinforcing a scepticism of scientific effort to remove doubt from conception and apprehension of the universe with its repeated obsolesce of older theories and replacement with new ones. And yet within the geometries, he does seek an unquestionable truth, one based on the phenomenology of light, and an understanding of the architecture of seeing based on a contiguity between the intangible and the imaginable. The bounded invented universes of the Mirror Series and the dense constellations of silver crystal arrays of the Diamond Drawings are not maps of the cosmos, but reflections on its representation, bridging science, poetry and philosophy in an effort to address the vulnerability of visualization of knowledge and its interpretation. It is in these deep spaces in which randomness discloses its patterned behaviour that we tangibly touch infinity. Holding every story and projection—scientific, symbolic and metaphoric—for Noestheden what is “out there” is inevitably a reflection of aspects of being human, a space of the inseparability of the world of reality and world of dream.