"Still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. [...] All things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle."
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book II, 14. 170-180 A.D. Translated by George Long.)1
Thomas Nölle’s Musa series takes the banana plant as a source of aesthetic, formal and conceptual associations, rather than as an object of representation. Two cyclical processes see their deepest meanings intertwined in this body of work: the spiral of life; and the circular time of real stories. Like them, Nölle’s photographs generously reveal (in a way that few artists are able to accomplish) how each stage of the vital process experienced by living beings in perpetuating their species is accompanied by a specific aesthetic: at times organic and sensual, at times unusual and phantasmagorical.
The artist’s capacity to capture specific and unique moments, and the particular characteristics of the many features of material used, allow him to subvert the imperious condition of the representation of the technical image, making it possible to more fully explore the pictorial quality of the surface, the sculptural matter, and the play of light, shadow, texture and colour. In this way the work shuns the typical notion of photographic memory, hindered by its reliance upon visual anthropology, so as to create aesthetic and poetic memory based on a highly personal style.
Each piece in the series is presented as an allusive field (Barthes), open to the imaginative faculties of the spectator. The work does not wish nor seek to represent or portray something specific; rather, each photograph offers the observer sensorial input, so that Musa x paradisiaca has more to do with sensibilities and perceptions than with judgements. The series is set apart by the magical potentiality of its compositions, the tactile quality of the surfaces, the pleasant sense of colour, its exuberant luminosity. All told, we are referring to the seductive gesture, as articulated according to the principle of delicacy (Sade): "As a principle ‘delicacy’ is neither moral nor cultural; it is a pulsion… a certain demand of the body itself."2
Each piece in the series manifests itself in turn as a temporary field, linking together what is transitory with what is fragile and ephemeral. Jorge Luis Borges begins his History of Eternity (1936) asking himself if eternity might not be "a splendid artifice that liberates us, if only fleetingly, from the intolerable oppression of time.”3 A few lines later Borges confirms his intuition: "For us, time is a jarring, urgent problem, perhaps the most vital problem of metaphysics, while eternity is a game or a spent hope.”4 Moving through the complex hypotheses set forth on the subject from Plato to Nietzsche, Borges concludes that the least frightening and melodramatic way of interpreting eternal repetitions, indeed the only one imaginable, is to conceive of them as similar rather than identical cycles.
In this sense, the regenerative capacity of the banana tree—that herbaceous plant Carl Linnaeus denominated musa (from the musaceous genus), and whose etymology refers back to the Greek root mousa—celebrates this eternal though ever-changeable return. The spiral of life, implicit in the work, articulates with equal emphasis the paradisiacal nature of birth and our consternation for decay. The aesthetic symmetry of some of the photographs has the virtue of bringing out the vigour of the former while tempering the excess of the latter. In some images, the gaze reveals the very innards, the naked, fleshly body, its fluids and its skin. In the exaltation of natural force, a certain sentiment of the profanation of mysteries is enlivened: to see the unrepeatable. Just as with the decaying process of organic matter, Nölle is able to extract the vigour of the colours and forms, here sculptural, there surprisingly anthropomorphic. These are strange entities with their kaleidoscopic styles, though their organic essence is never lost. Each awakens a myriad of associations, their polysemic character giving rise to each image’s magical essence.
This work thus makes claim to the real possibility of rebirth: re-originating in the physical; returning in upon itself, a crossing of the frontier towards a new horizon. Its vertex is the confluence of an organic factor, vital space, and a civil and political condition: Musa is an elegy to resistance.
1 Cited by Jorge Luis Borges in Historia de la eternidad. Madrid: Alianza, 1999, p. 111.
2 Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms, trans. by Richard Howard. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1985, p. 175.
3 Borges, op. cit., p. 10.
4 Ibid, p. 13.