Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Why draw in other terrains?

Why draw in other terrains? A simple question, but one I feel compelled to address now we have initiated this project and blog.

As an artist, my interest is in material and tactile engagement, intimacy, the relationships we have with objects and people, more specifically, in drawing’s capacity to embody these experiences. An interest in how we how we can see the invisible or render an unseen feeling tangible has led me in the past to work with medical researchers, archaeologists and costumes curators and conservators.

 That this would be fruitful was based on an assumption that drawing can be a process of looking, noticing evaluating, empathising and of working out, in other words, drawing enables us to ‘see’. (we have already cited Ruskin’s idea that ‘sight is more important than drawing’).

This led me to question what this type of seeing might share with other research professionals that are required to look closely, examine and handle material objects. And how, though analogy, might forms of drawing be developed that transcribe, record and communicate these different material experiences.

Drawing can also be a form of touching. As Tony Godfrey writes:

‘Whenever two objects or two materials meet...evidence of their meeting is left behind. To examine such drawings is to excavate, to muse over activity in the past. They present us with the archaeology of acts of touching’.[1]

From the drawn mark we can interpret gesture or touch and in this is read subjectivity of the drawer.[2]

If we accept this, and it is reasonable to do so since the weight of a mark, its speed, pressure, direction can be gleaned from the drawing, it follows that an experiential encounter can be embodied in a drawing. So drawing can present us with a record of touching and given drawing is ultimately a medium of analogy, the type of ‘touching’ used in a drawing can mimic or echo a touch seen or felt in life.

So what do I get from drawing in other ‘terrains’?

Drawing with syringe

Some benefits are obvious, such as straightforward borrowing of materials or tools – drawing on litmus paper or the archival tissue used to store garments, drawing with a syringe.

Learning to use ultrasound

Then there is specific knowledge about a subject which can suggest how a subject might be depicted, for instance learning how to operate an ultrasound machine and how the image is derived from reflected sound waves informed the making of drawings which reflect light.

Refelctive drawing of interior of garments made after spending time learning about ultrasound imaging
 Then there is the challenges it presents to me, as an artist with nothing but a notebook confronting unfamiliar subject, being restricted by the conventions or protocols of that environment to draw in a particular way (for instance, in costumes archives this in a small notebook, in cold conditions under supervision, with limited time using only pencil).
Notebook pages with shorthand notes for garments

Notebook of transparent pages made while garments were unpacked and unwrapped

Drawing made on archival tissue then waxed

This includes the challenge of trying to capture both subject and the experience of viewing it. Problems are presented , for instance how to capture the sense of a fluid and unfixed ultrasound image which shifts and ebbs in front of you in a drawing on paper ?

Or how do you draw the experience of not being able to touch or capture the sensation of touching something you shouldn’t?

Garments brought out of storage stacked between tissue

 Or depict the fact of an object being hidden from view? Specific graphic practices are needed to cope.

  Over time with accumulate experience, these become more efficient and refined.

Scrutiny of historical garments

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I’ve found that identifying parallels is a useful means of reflecting upon drawing, its capacity and usefulness. I can view my drawing practice, through the lens of another discipline. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this objective per se, but through identifying shared ground, helps me to notice what was going on as I made a drawing, the decisions I made, the relationships within the drawing.

Patina Intimates, invisible drawing grease on paper 

For instance prompted by observing the restricted light of the archives and the use of light within medical technologies of microscopes and x-rays, it dawned on me that light is a substance to be negotiated in drawing. Thus emerged invisible drawings illuminated by light and reflection.

[1] Tony Godfrey, Drawing Today (Oxford: Phaidon, 1990) p.9.
[2]  Berger’s argument that to some extent all drawing is an autobiographical record of the maker. See Berger Permanent Red ( London: Methuen,1969) p.24

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