Fabled Sea I
Object Box, 15 x 15 cm, 1995

Thomas Nölle. The poetic of combination

"One time Chuang Tzu dreamt that he was a butterfly that fluttered about happily and knew nothing of the existence of Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he awoke: once again he was the true Chuang Tzu. But was it Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or was it the butterfly that was now dreaming it was Chuang Tzu, in spite of the great difference between them? This is what occurs when things change.”

The Dream of the Butterfly, by the Taoist master Chuang Tzu (365–290 B.C.), places the understanding of change in the balance between what is possible and what is impossible. In change we find the essence of the formation of things and beings. The certainty that everything that exists changes is accompanied by the mystery that surrounds this process. The continual movement from one state to another, like a closed circle in a series of uninterrupted stages, is at once perceivable and unintelligible. We change, and everything else constantly changes in space and time.

Change, process and relation are key characteristics of the work of Thomas Nölle, always appearing on the edge between the visible and the intangible. In his collages, boxes of objects, assemblages, mosaics, environments and installations, the artist continually plays with the idea of mutation. Many of the elements he employs, especially in the mosaics and assemblages, are objets trouvés discovered on beaches or in habitual urban and industrial surroundings, all of which have gone through a process of deterioration, corrosion and metamorphosis as brought on by the action of time and by the waters of the sea. They have been broken up and polished by the artisanal movement of the waves, which transforms them into a type of archaeological material. Decontextualized and recombined by the artist, these objects take on new meanings; they are mutated and transformed.

The poetic of combination in the work of Nölle stands out for its predilection for the metaphorical synthesis of contrasts and complements. Coinciding in the same space and on various information levels, we find, for example, the signs of the grottos of Lagoa Santa with Dürer’s studies of proportion, medieval diagrams by the philosopher Raimon Llull with computer graphics, or African images with celestial maps. Stopped watches, faded portraits, chips, worn-out pieces of glass, deteriorated plastics, sectioned maps, shells, archaic drawings, pieces of aluminium cans –all of these fragments find “their” place in the mosaic of time that the artist proposes.

Albert Einstein once stated that time is a form of relation. It is this organic way of focussing in on the relation between things that gives Nölle’s work its conceptual, social and critical dimension. The past becomes present, while the present reveals the future. Human errors in history re-emerge in the expectation of what is to come. There is no narration, yet neither is there abstraction. It is up to the observer to relate the juxtaposed fragments with each other and reconstruct the discontinuous messages, in a reading that is as individual as the experience of a poem.

As in The Dream of the Butterfly, evidence of the impossibility of the certainty of human knowledge, the impossibility to unerringly encompass the truth and reality of things (and as a consequence of facts) emanates from out of Nölle’s works. Through his work, Nölle reflects upon the instrumental means of knowledge as developed over history that has made societies more complex, though unfortunately have not made them wiser. Only the wise, like Chuang Tzu, have understood the paradox that wisdom is bound to the knowledge that we do not know. All of the rest of us live within the absurd illusion of the progress of knowledge, all the while destroying the foundations of humanity and nature.

Claudia Giannetti

© Giannetti


Fabled Sea II
Object Box, 15 x 15 cm, 1995
Fabled Sea III
Object Box, 15 x 15 cm, 1995
Tiempos dispersos I
Mosaic, 24 x 24 cm, 2002
Bulb Fiction
Assemblage, 36 x 25 x 20 cm, 2000