Michael John Whelan
Understanding Magnetism
September 10 - October 20, 2012

I would be ignorant as the dawn That merely stood, rocking the glittering coach Above the cloudy shoulders of the horses. -W.B. Yeats

GREY NOISE Dubai is pleased to announce Michael John Whelan’s first solo exhibition in Western Asia.

The natural light surrounding us is emitted from a sphere made up of plasma interwoven with magnetic fields. Imbued with magical qualities by ancients, the naturally occurring lodestone was used to guide the builders of temples and shrines. Animals with senses far superior to our own, use internal magnetoception to perceive direction, altitude and location. Seafarers have used a magnetized needle on a pivot to improve the safety and efficiency of travel. Between 1989 and 1991 the driverless maglev system M-Bahn connected three stations in Berlin over 1.6km of track, gliding on a cushion of this invisible force. Our very atomic structure functions under its influence. As one of the primary universal forces, magnetism is connected to what we do and what we are. Understanding magnetism is understanding a part of us. Our sciences, our transport, our magic. Our striving for perfection and our understanding of ourselves.

Michael John Whelan works predominately in video and photography and most recently in film and drawing. For the exhibition Understanding Magnetism, Whelan presents all new work, including two moving image works, photographic prints, polaroids and drawings.

“By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieu under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action.”
-Walter Benjamin, The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, 1936

Titled after the opening line of Samuel Beckett’s novel Murphy, (1938) The sun shone on the nothing new is a HD single-channel video installation. By recording the daily and usually overlooked event of a sunrise and displaying it in real time, Whelan challenges the viewer with an 88:00 minute long moving image work.

For this video work, Whelan systematically researched locations that would facilitate the undisturbed recording of a commercial aircraft set in a rural landscape. The fixed camera position enhances the sense of slowness necessary for the work. As the camera, artist and viewer become silent observers, the plane itself becomes a measuring stick for the advancing light while opening dialogues about duration, journey, transport, technology and modern life. The accompanying soundtrack permeating the gallery is constructed from ambient recordings made after the filming and after the plane had departed. In essence we are listening to an airport without the airplane.

Another moving image work titled A Perfect Circle presents images of scientific experiments, societal systems, nuclear experimentation, transport infrastructures and modern life in post war Europe – all sourced by Whelan from 1950’s-70’s educational film documentaries. They are spliced together and then etched almost violently with a similarly sized circle, scratched into each individual frame (7,200 in total). This performative and personal goal to create a perfect circle on each 16mm frame is never reached. Instead the circle takes on a comical presence within the moving image - an organic testament to the beauties of imperfection.

To coincide with the exhibition the artist’s edition War Notes will be available.


Born in 1977 in Dublin, Ireland. Michael John Whelan lives and works in Berlin. He received a BA in Fine Art from IADT-DL, Dublin in 2002 and an MA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2004. Recent exhibitions include: The Birth and Death of Stars, Boetzelaer Nispen, London; KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen, Hannover; Artissima 18, Italy (with Grey Noise, Dubai); Taste my photons, Noorderlicht Gallery, Groningen; Under the receding wave, Kunstverein Bochum; Cinematic, Kunstverein Bremerhaven; Where Gravity Makes You Float, Grimmuseum, Berlin. In 2005 he was the recipient of the Clifford Chance/University of the Arts Sculpture Award. His work is in a number of public and private collections.

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