You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.
Euphoria, she says.
If the new scientific theories stemming from the most sophisticated technological research are to be believed, it is from the very chaos of the universe that a natural order emerges.
However, this order includes an unforeseeable instability from which a new natural order is constantly being organised. And if our understanding of chaos theory as developed by the respected but by no means revered American scientist Benoit Mandelbrot is correct, the symmetrical order of fractal geometry generally observed in the deep nature of things is unstable and would thus appear to generate new forms. In the final analysis, no structure, however regular it might be at any given moment, however stable it might appear at the same time, can resist a force of change, an energy present in nature, in macro and microcosm, capable of modifying it at any time. As such, there seems to be a real chaotic state from which would appear to emanate not a natural order, but a number of relative orders none more stable than the next.
Could one extrapolate and imagine that, apart from the results of natural disasters, every disorder in the world is also due to a fundamental instability of which the human being, as a biological but nonetheless conscious entity, is itself the unconscious victim? Without stretching the hypothesis that far, a simple glance at the human world and its history reveals more imbroglio than harmony, more trembling than stability, more madness than wisdom, more selfishness than generosity, more competition than agreement, and, in a word, suggests a temporal progression of constant change and continuous instability.
Contrary to these expressions of disorder, have the visual arts not vainly but indefatigably tried since the first traces in prehistoric caves to build a universe, a world where everything certainly appears alive, moving, perpetually redefining itself, but harmonious and adapted to humanity?
This idealised view corresponds neither to scientific investigation nor to daily reality, yet it pursues its dream, especially in artistic expressions, in a thousand ways, vituperative or pacifying, and a thousand styles, including that of Noëlle Koning.
On first encountering Noëlle Koning's paintings, the eye is thrown off-track. It capsizes. And the disturbed but intrigued mind detects nothing there but a destructured space, especially since the tonicity of the colours, their energy, leads the gaze from one place to another, preventing it from focusing, as if the stability imposed by the suspended pictural state, only were an illusion. Only resulted from one of those powers that painting holds: to give the impression of stopping time, in order to fully enjoy a dearly bought moment of balance; a lull when the most improbable formal and chromatic correspondences1 suddenly materialise and the most fleeting illuminations2 laid in colour bloom in one of those moments of poetry that, here, recall Baudelaire or Rimbaud in the same quest for impossible harmony.
Still on the first encounter, the challenged eye constantly craves to decipher, pierce appearances and mysteries, or prevent itself from being overcome by these baroque unknowns with their fairy-like tonalities, often dancing as if they wanted to be a somewhat more imperceptible, even impertinent. This enterprise is all the more difficult that her recent works come very close to non-figuration without one knowing exactly whether the distance is created to evacuate all the details, whether we have a consequent dislocation of the uncontrollable maelstrom, or else a categorical denial of this oppressive reality which one never completely manages to shake. No doubt the three causes combine in a somewhat revolutionary awareness of introducing movement leading to desired but half unhoped-for harmonies. Perhaps, as in fractal theory, there are there hidden underlying harmonies, « invisible to the eyes » and essential, as Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince would say, which the artist seeks incessantly. Unless one is approaching there the « question of the formless », as Bataille put it, and that in the end, the instability noted by scientists is in action there, too, generating new forms, new spaces. Finally, too, the conjugation of these data in modes and times constantly freed from restraint join in painting the secular question of composition, i.e. of creation, of giving form to a still unrevealed world, an amalgamation of visions and thought, memory and imagination. It is this chaos which the artist organises in a combat excluding neither pleasure nor violence, neither calm nor storm.
To consider only modern painting, even though the XV century before the great discoveries is richly instructive in the field, one may refer to the extremes of the methods used in pictorial composition. That of Mondrian's rigorous to the extreme gradually eliminated any relation with images taken from mundane realities, preserving only a rigid, rectilinear and angular structure, affording itself nothing but the fantasy of rare colours refused by a Pollock atomising this reality in black. In the perfect baroque of his recent paintings, Franck Stella, who has passed from order to disorder, combines the most diverse, the most scattered elements, taken as much from painting itself as from the most diverse fields. The trace of the gesture or brush on the one hand, the exploded fragments of an unspecified object's banality on the other. For example, that of a François Rouan crossing a cut-up figuration into perturbing braid-work, that of the cubists or that, between figuration and abstraction and supposedly more random, of the fabulous removers and shredders of posters who were, among others, Mimmo Rotella and Raymond Hains.
Within this range, among these eminently plural relationships, divided between construction, obliteration – the temptation of white or monochrome –, deconstruction, uproar and balance, Noëlle Koning has been developing in some recent works something approaching, in their blazing reds, colour for the sake of colour. Is it the attempt, or temptation, to reach the essence of things but without ever completely denying them?
Between permanent chaos and passing turbulence, she composes a world of coexistence that it would be naive to believe merely pictorial. There, alerted seismographs will perceive destabilising tremors, and the architects of Utopia will see the scaffolding of an ideal tower of Babel; as for the cocooners, while venturing through the labyrinths of planes, depths and hidden forces, they will probably discover a haven of peace, just to be certain that it can exist there, someplace. Work of cohabitation, this painting sets itself up in the shared torment of pleasure and suffering, warm solar flashes and pangs, repeated rebellions crushed against the wall of incomprehension and impotence to change the world. And yet, painting is believing: forcing destiny, pacifying the elements born of rips, those of papers, reflections of an acuter interiority, porous to a thousand aggressions, just as the base is impregnated with colourful fluids in its most intimate fibres, front and back.
In this respect, thanks to the folding and through the fluidity of the colours running through the upper base until they spread into the second one located below, the occasional double use of the surface and obverse of the same image once again recalls fractal division as much as it induces a mirror effect in multiple directions, projection and reflection of self and/or the world – not to mention that this practice combines the consequences of transparency, seeing and passing through, as though a beneficial filter or purifying test were necessary.
These composite paintings, stubbornly attempting to create a coherent world, are driven by vital energies, formal forces, and rare chromatic ardours. Painting is boldness, built by associating rips, by pushing the forces of colour often to their most extreme. Contrary to the likes of Jacques de la Villeglé and Mimmo Rotella, who take glued and superimposed posters and rip them until an aesthetically satisfactory image is obtained, Noëlle Koning develops a new world by inducing already ripped papers to find a common turf, while banking on their affinities. She adds one visual field to another. Bit by bit, she constructs a universe of ratios, no doubt seeking cohesion, order – not Mondrian's too regular version of it, but an order that is always a little chaotic as if it were effectively inscribed as such in deep nature according to Mandelbrot, certainly imperfect but having to do with rehabilitation, sharing, even a certain happiness which, she says, could go so far as reaching euphoria in the final achievement of a new step in this pictorial journey. An order which would be an aspiration towards an ideal to be reached and at the same time knowing that, without (any) doubt, Sisyphus will nevertheless win again.
Using chaos to overcome it by creating one's own personal, plastic, visual, mental and probably psychological universe: such is the artist's intention. Never clearly figurative unless in forms of accumulated differences, contrary to Arman's repetitive ones; never completely abstracted, either, Noëlle Koning's painting opens the way to a multitude of interpretations which will depend on the spectator's perception. But her own world, divided between a controlled violence, an overflowing energy, and a determination that shoves aside obstacles and leaps over ordeals: la souffrance, c'est donc avant. (suffering, it is therefore before), she says, Avant de peindre (…) Avant quand exister devient tout simplement insupportable (Before painting (…) Before when existing becomes quite simply unbearable) is a dream to build anew every time, with tenacity in the knowledge that its temporary achievement is part of a giant puzzle, a puzzle of life whose final image she does not know.
It does not matter if the momentum is sometimes interrupted, if the rhythms are always syncopated, if haziness dominates, if the scale ends in nothing – nothing is worked out in a day, nor in one, two, or three times. What counts is cohesion, the burst of light, the ceaseless movement, the energy, the heat and the power of works which make them into « dancing stars », scintillating, the generosity of the image proving that a harmonious world full of life and happiness exists. It does not matter where: meanwhile, it is there, in the vibrating, thrilling, tense canvases, sensual because irrigated by anger, rebellion as much as pleasure, by the intensity of living. Places of connection, balance, shocks and meetings, where, she says: mon esprit peut divaguer sereinement (my spirit can serenely wander).
(1) In reference to the sonnet of the same title, Correspondances (Flowers of Evil, Spleen and Ideal, IV) in which Baudelaire took as a starting point Swedenborg's theory of correspondences, which claimed that invisible relations between things and beings ultimately give meaning to the apparent chaos of the world.
(2) In reference to Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations, texts of great freedom and formal invention inhabited by surprising images, of blinding flashes blending the imagination and captured visions.
Text extracted from Monograph Noëlle Koning, Didier Devillez Éditeur, Brussels, 2006.