Thursday, 13 December 2018

William Kentridge in Manchester



I went to see the William Kentridge exhibition, 'Thick Time' over at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester last week. Every time I go to see a Kentridge exhibition I find something new to think about and something else for me as an artist to aspire to. There are very few artists that I can revisit over and over again and still find myself engaged and thinking about how my awareness of the world changes as I look at it through his lens. This is not to say that his work is great or profound, just that the way he struggles to put together narratives about his own experiences of the world seems to chime in some way with my own. I'm older than he is, but only by five years, so my upbringing, although far away in the English Black Country, was in some ways similar. He was though from a very intellectual and well connected family; Clement Greenberg came to tea at Kentridge's family home when William was a young man, and I think it probably took some courage to not be directly influenced by Greenberg's powerful modernist doctrine. I had to reject Greenberg's ideas as anti-working class via a different route, but both of us needed to find a way of saying things about the world by using metaphor. Art for a long time seemed to reject narrative and analogy. These were things I always wanted art to include, but I spent many years having to fight for some sort of acceptance that what I was doing was ok, that it could be seen as legitimate fine art practice. Even now, I sometimes get accused of being too illustrational, but it doesn't worry me any more, I just get on with what I do. 


From 'Thick Time'

Kentridge uses metaphor in a layered way and this time I made sure I sat in with his animated installations long enough to see them through and to get an idea of what they were like if you moved into different positions to listen to them as well as watch them unfold. In doing this you get a better idea of the correspondence between the processes of his making and processes we find in the world itself. He has said himself that drawing is analogous to thought, and that for him, "the activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are and how we operate in the world". More recently his drawing concerns have moved on from being a type of thinking, (epistemological research) to becoming much more about a state of being, about worlds that are places to inhabit, as well as a process out of which worlds arrive. (Ontological investigations). He has also commented that we "actively construct our world as we go through it", something that is also  what we do when we draw. 


Thick time

The processes that Kentridge uses such as animation or printmaking are also metaphoric; animation moves through time and therefore appears to Kentridge as a medium ideally suited to dealing with history. Printmaking pushes information from loaded plates onto paper proofs, the press squeezing the ink into the papers operating as some sort of 'proving' process as well as 'proofing' process. The texts about his practice, all state that Kentridge is working through his South African trauma. I'm not sure what I'm working through, perhaps it's the British post industrial and post colonial loss of identity and the realisation of what it is to live in a multicultural society in a time of global warming. Or perhaps it's just that I have dreams and need to get them out of my head. When I make animations I'm not using them like Kentridge as metaphors for historical change, I'm trying to deal with change as a process that simply unfolds as part of the everyday, as well as realising that so much of what we do is repetition, this is why I try and make my animations looped. 


A dog with eyes on its body

This dog was the first animation I ever made, I know it's really basic, but the fact that the dog keeps running, keeps trying to get to the edge of the frame, but never quite gets there, was what fascinated me and this was what I decided was the deeper metaphor for myself, not an ever changing history but a sense of Sisyphean activity endlessly repeated. 

Neither man nor bird

In this case I tried to draw an animated image whereby man's aspirations, in this case to be able to fly, prevents the bird from taking its natural course. By one trying to catch or control the other, neither is able to do what they need to. The man endlessly stuck trying to hold on to the bird, hoping it will lift him off the ground, the bird struggling to fly, but being held down by the weight of the man. It's very crude, and I learnt this crudity from Kentridge, it seemed to me to be the only way to avoid having my work being compared to the sophistication of modern CGI animation techniques. This image is simply an animation made of a very quickly put down set of drawings, executed on several sheets of A4 tracing paper, with a dip in pen and a little ink wash. As the washes were added the paper crinkled up, and it is this crinkling that makes the background tonal changes. The drawings were not even laid on top of each other to ensure a smooth transition from one frame to the next, I just drew them in a line, one after the other. At the time of drawing this image I felt that the rough stupidity of human actions could not be over estimated and I haven't changed my mind. Kentridge's images are less pessimistic than my own and he has a sense of history leading towards a better life, something I'm not so sure about. Showing alongside the Kentridge at the Whitworth was another wonderful exhibition of Goya and Hogarth prints. Both artists were grim chroniclers of human folly and I see no reason to disagree with their take on things, we still repeat the same mistakes and I'm sure both Goya and Hogarth would recognise the base elements of greed, xenophobia and hatred that continue to exist, even when economic conditions are such that so many more of us now exist above the poverty line. 

Goya

Hogarth

If you can, do go to the Whitworth to see this. Kentridge has used several different ways of installing video projections as well as using sound to add emphasis to his narratives. He also has large textiles and cabinets of drawings on display, so there are various ways of dealing with presentation for those of you interested in moving image and sound art, as well as excellent work using more traditional formats. 

William Kentridge: tapestry


See also:








Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Drawing sound: Spectrograms, vibration and religion

A visualisation of the word 'heard' spoken by an Australian English speaking male.

Everyone remembers that moment when the teacher's chalk made an awful screech as it was drawn across the blackboard. It just for a moment resonated with the board and produced a sound that went up under your fingernails and hit some spot in the back of your head and hurt you. Those moments are important to recall because they remind us of how sound and the body are inseparable, just as light directly affects us, sound and its vibrations tune us into the rest of the world. Sometimes a sound will cause the hairs to stand up on the back of your neck, the latin word 'horreo', from which we derive the word 'horror', used to mean to dread, shudder or bristle. Adorno states in his Aesthetic Theory, that the first sign of the world having an emotional effect upon us is goosebumps and it could be added when the hair stands up on the back of your neck. I.e. aesthetics begins in bodily responses. 

Visualisation of OM

Eastern religious cultures have understood this for thousands of years, and so has Western Christianity, but because Eastern religions have seen great value in a body/mind interconnection they have tended to celebrate and use this understanding to deepen a connection with the world, whilst within certain areas of Christian thought the deep sensual links made by sound were seen to be so transformative that they could distract attention away from thinking about the suffering of Christ, therefore in Church music certain sounds were forbidden. (Pope Gregory banned the use of the augmented fourth, "diabolus in musica") However because of its vibratory possibilities this particular sound was often used in Hindu musical structures and is essential to the sound structure of certain chants. For instance, the resonant chanting of 'OM' it was believed, attuned its chanters into the deep rhythm of the world itself. Timothy Morton recognises this experience as being that of 'the hyper-object', something that can 'only be detected as a ghostly spectrality that comes in and out of phase with normalised human spacetime.' (Morton, 2013, p. 169). 

Think of your breath as the air of the world being pulled into your body and then it being pushed out in such a way that your body shapes it into a vibrating pattern. This sound pattern mirrors the shape of your chest-throat-mouth and as it goes out into the world it sets up resonating vibrating patterns with all of the other objects it encounters. Like a blind man riding a bicycle and whistling, this sound locates you in the world, but also dissolves you back into it. 


Robert Morris: Box with the sound of its own making: 1961

Within the art world it was John Cage that opened out for us the importance of these things. His pupil, La Monte Young seeing the implication of Cage's teaching realised that if all things had their own resonant patterns, perhaps instead of seeing musical instruments as things humans played, they could be seen as objects that humans could interact with, and in doing so help release the possibilities inherent in their physical construction. Robert Morris had already intuited this type of idea with 'A box with the sound of its own making', but La Monte Young took this even further with 'The well tuned piano' a piece he began in 1964 and first performed 10 years later. 


La Monte Young: 'The well tuned piano' 

Marian Zazeela often worked in collaboration with La Monte Young, she used slides of still images and coloured gels that were blended in very slow dissolves from one to the next in order to create optical effects that were designed to mirror the effects being made by La Monte's sounds. 


La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela: The Black Album

Marian Zazeela: Untitled 1967

Dream House: Young and Zazeela

Young and Zazeela were key figures in that hippy movement that sought to liberate us from the world of post war realities and at the time in the 1960s they seemed to offer a much more spiritual response to the growing spectre of consumerism than 'Pop Art' and the mirroring of consumerist products that it was offering. However, unfortunately, (in my mind) it was 'Pop Art', Andy Warhol and his progeny Jeff Koons, that went on to dominate the future concerns of the art world. Warhol was easy to 'get' and spiritual concerns worked directly against the might of the capitalist project.


Consumerism has by now become the dominant factor in society and I believe it is time to revisit work such as that done by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, especially now that digital technology is reshaping our vision of what things are and could be. In many ways new technology opens doors into areas of thinking that were not available in the 1960s, especially the way that it allows us to see sound and hear vision. We are also living in a time whereby we need to think more about how humans interact with the world and if we are to release the possibilities inherent in more sensitive interactions, we also need to remind ourselves that we ought not to be to profit from these things, but to establish our interconnectedness with the world and the wider web of life. 

In a previous post on Eye Music I looked at historical examples of artists trying to visualise sound and the book 'Thought-Forms', by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater was introduced as a key text. However since the advent of digital technologies everything that enters the digital world is convertible into anything else. After all for the computer it's all a matter of switches being in a particular pattern of ons and offs.  Translation, something we have also looked at before, is done all the time because of the nature of the medium, everything becoming a pattern of ons or offs and in the case of a visual representation of a sound we now have a wide range of differing software packages that can generate spectrograms. spectrogram is a visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies of sound signals as they vary with time. Spectrograms are sometimes called sonographs, voiceprints, or voicegrams. When the data is represented in 3D plotted graphs they are sometimes called waterfalls and in that simile we have a connection that reminds us that everything is interdependent and that all is movement and vibration. A form, like a waterfall when looked at closely becoming empty, emptiness when explored becoming simply gaps in the pattern. I'm told that this situation is dealt with in Buddhism by the Heart Sutra. In this sutra we are reminded that any philosophies or expositions as to the nature of the world are mere statements about reality, they are not reality itself, and that the ultimate truth is beyond mental understanding.


The Heart Sutra
Avalokiteshvara
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realisation
he overcame all Ill-being.
“Listen Sariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.
“Listen Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Purity,
no Increasing no Decreasing.
“That is why in Emptiness,
Body, Feelings, Perceptions,
Mental Formations and Consciousness
are not separate self entities.
The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena
which are the six Sense Organs,
the six Sense Objects,
and the six Consciousnesses
are also not separate self entities.
The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their Extinction
are also not separate self entities.
Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being,
the End of Ill-being, the Path,
insight and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.
Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.
Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions
and realize Perfect Nirvana.
“All Buddhas in the past, present and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment.
“Therefore Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a Great Mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the True Wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”


But we still suffer. In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T S Elliot writes; 'But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen', images of this sort remind us of how patterns can be found in everything and that life itself can be visualised as the woven thread that follows our passage through time. Prufrock was however still suffering, his nerves jangled as he he saw their pattern. As we can see, poems can be visualised, but in this translation some things are lost and others gained.

Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland' by Theodor Fontane: re-visualised

Theodor Fontane's poem becomes a new object, its internal links revealed to suggest a new organic reality, still dependent on the original poem but a new thing in its own right that reveals a totally different series of associations never apparent in the linear narrative of the poem. Gradually text becomes vibration pattern, like the sound of many voices mixing, a hum of sound that is an essential part of being both sender and receiver. 

Words in space are now part of the data stream and the data stream threatens to reshape us as its algorithms respond to our needs and desires and begin to both feed us and shape us at the same time. If both digital and analogical drawing is seen as vibration patterning it can be seen as an area to fuse together thinking about our interconnectedness with everything, we just need to find better ways of understanding how to use both old and new drawing technologies.



Heike Weber


The work of Heike Weber in many ways harks back to the images Bridget Riley and Marian Zazeela developed during the 1960s, working in an immersive installation direction, her drawings cover floors, ceilings and walls. You can see a connection in her work with the surfaces of geometric patterns developed in Islamic art and you get a feeling that work of this sort has many more possibilities for reflecting on ideas concerning pattern and space. 

Islamic tile pattern

The sound/art genre Black Midi so called because there are so many notes in each piece that a score would look nearly black if it was set out as traditional sheet music, is an area where you can find contemporary approaches to sound/vision mixes and interestingly a lot of these results are collective, like the Islamic tile pattern a product of many minds rather than an individual. 


Black Midi selection


The internet itself can be seen as a pattern and as we enter into cyberspace, this post being one tiny vibration in this digital pattern, perhaps this is a glimpse of how in future artists may begin to visualise both electronic and spiritual realities.  

A visualisation of the Internet


Some technical information that might be useful if you are thinking of using sound visualisation techniques.

A sonic visualiser is a program that is used visualize the sound spectrum (a more detailed explanation can be found here). Additionally, there are also programs (such as Coagula and Metasynth) that allow users to easily convert any image into an audio file (you can even find a video tutorial on YouTube).


Oscilloscopes have long been used to turn sound wavelengths into graphical images and they are the precursors of spectrographs. 

Oscilloscopes used to called oscillographs because of the way they were used to visually represent varying signal voltages, they operated by providing a two-dimensional plot of one or more signals as a function of time set of against a graph.  Signals (such as sound or vibration) are converted to voltages and then displayed. 


Oscilloscope

Oscilloscopes are used to observe the change of an electrical signal over time, which can be described by a shape that is continuously graphed against a calibrated scale. The oscilloscope can be adjusted so that repetitive signals can be observed as a continuous shape on the screen. A storage oscilloscope allows single events to be captured by the instrument and displayed for a relatively long time, allowing observation of events too fast to be directly perceptible.

Special-purpose oscilloscopes may be used for such purposes as displaying the waveform of your heartbeat as an electrocardiogram, a reminder that the body is controlled by a pumping heart and that a messy wet sticky thing lies at the centre of all this technological information. 
An electrocardiogram


https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/pgwbnb/a-brief-history-of-artists-turning-pictures-into-music-and-vice-versa



References



Adorno, T (2013) Aesthetic Theory London: Bloomsbury p.331

Morton, T (2013) Hyperobjects London: Minnesota Press








Sound is materially invisible but very visceral and emotive. It can define a space at the same time as it triggers a memory -Susan Philipsz

Euler spirals and road design

A French Curve

For a few years we used to give out to all incoming students wooden French curves. These were laser cut by college technicians during the summer recess and were included in the fresher's pack. However I never saw any students using them and I have noticed that they are no longer given out. Perhaps what was missing in the pack was any information as to what French curves were used for and why. When I was a technical draftsman they were essential if you were to draw smooth curves and in particular if you were to develop a curve that gradually moved away from a straight line, in such a way that there seemed to be a smooth inevitability to it. This was because French Curves were based on the Euler spiral, a curve that has a curvature that changes linearly with its curve length. (Euler spirals are also called spiros, clothoids, or Cornu spirals) 
There are lots of applications for Euler spirals, usually as transition curves and you tend to meet with them in real life situations such as driving on the roads or riding in trains. Both being situations where a sudden tight curve would be very dangerous.

I have posted on mathematical shape before and will continue to do so whenever I come across what I think are interesting facts about certain types of geometries, topologies or patterns and this particular property of curve, one that has a curvature that begins with zero at the straight section (the tangent) and increases linearly with its curve length, is visually reminiscent of the Bezier Curve that we looked at a while ago.

On railroads during the 19th century, as speeds increased, the need for a track curve with gradually increasing curvature became apparent. Euler spiral forms were seen as the answer to these increasing speeds and by the time these forms were formalised for the railways by being published by Higgins in 1922, several different mathematicians had laid claim to their properties, including the Italian mathematician Ernesto Cesàro who gave the name ”Clothoid” to the curve in response to its double spiral shape, naming it after Clotho one of the three Fates who spun the thread of human life, by winding it around the spindle.



The Euler or Clothoid curve

Humans were soon too develop other fast forms of transport and automobiles would need roads and when roads were linked up, if the traffic was not to come to a complete standstill, they would need roundabouts. 
Engineers developed a range of forms, each one based on the Euler curve, to visualise their road designs and these designs when isolated from their function are rather beautiful images. The evolution of interchanges and the emergence of the plated road interchange is particularly interesting. 

The first complex roundabout system to use Euler curves was the cloverleaf interchange.

Cloverleaf Interchange

First patented by Arthur Hale in 1916, the smooth curved slip roads allowed traffic to leave and merge with fast highways with minimum speed changes. However in the USA in particular traffic density continued to increase and more complex forms were needed. 

Stack interchanges were then developed and these had a much higher capacity when it came to dealing with high volumes of traffic. However they are very expensive to construct due to the complex nature of their interconnections.



The stack interchange

The turbine or whirlpool interchange was the next development, needing fewer levels than a stack interchange and therefore being cheaper to build. 


The turbine interchange

The latest development is the Pinavia road interchange, a form that eliminates the central cross layering of construction, so being even cheaper. 



Pinavia road interchange

All of these complex geometries are in use and many of you will have driven through them without realising what they looked like from above. I love their forms and in the same way that complex geometry lies at the centre of Islamic design, I would suggest that it is geometry that gives meaning to our present day urban infrastructure. We tend to forget the work of engineers, people that use their knowledge of geometry and mathematical form to ensure that our built environment is fit for purpose. I would suggest that their use of geometry serves a higher purpose than just function and that engineers are also aware of aesthetic values and embed them into their designs. 

I have also looked at principles of road roundabout design before. For instance Piet Hein used the shape of the super-elapse to design roundabouts, which was his way of calming traffic and also allowing for a smooth transition from cars moving in straight lines into tight curves. A range of related mathematical shapes of interest can be found here. 

Whether we are looking at Bezier curves or Euler curves the relationship between straight lines and circles is expressed via an understanding of tangents. More precisely, a straight line is said to be a tangent of a curve y = f (x) at a point x = c on the curve if the line passes through the point (cf (c)) on the curve and has slope f '(c) where f ' is the derivative of f




As it passes through the point where the tangent line and the curve meet, called the point of tangency, the tangent line is "going in the same direction" as the curve, and is thus the best straight-line approximation to the curve at that point. 

There are of course many other uses for these curves that are derived from the various ways that tangents can be developed, but I think it is interesting how many have been used to develop our fascination with transport, whether it is designing the smooth shapes of the cars themselves, (Bezier curves) or the roads that they travel on. 

However there is another aspect to Euler curves and that is that when visualising 3D shapes that have been formed by hand, the aesthetic of rightness that I have also discussed before,  comes into its own. These curves give much better predicted results when trying to visualise what's missing in old broken pottery. Perhaps at a deeper level we intuitively understand these types of forms and make them because our own hands and arms are attached to fixed lever points and operate within the limits of similar curves when trying to make things. 


Using Euler curves to predict what the gaps represent in a broken statue

See also: Abstraction, metaphor, mathematics and creation 

Hogarth's line of beauty and other aspects of flowing lines

Saturday, 1 December 2018

On horizontality, the body and other things

Trisha Brown: Performance drawing

Trisha Brown: Walking on the wall 1971

To work horizontally, flat on the floor, or make your work against a vertical, on a wall or an easel, was at one time a vital issue and one that was used to develop a narrative about the objectness of art objects and the performative nature of making marks. A decision to work horizontally as opposed to vertically, was part of a call to eliminate from painting its role as a window on the world. Wall mounted images it was argued at the time, fell into the trap of the picturesque and the horizontal seemed to offer an opportunity to escape this trap. Painting, it was argued, was a physical act, something that belonged to the axis of dance and paradoxically the book, another art form that was usually approached in relation to the horizontal. This argument was one Rosalind Krauss formulated in the text she jointly wrote with Yve Alain Bois, 'Formless, a user's guide'. In this text Jackson Pollock's decision to move from the wall to the floor as a place to work was cited as a seminal act in the ongoing process of moving away from seeing the painting as being about spatial representation, one which was itself prompted by Pollock seeing the Mexican mural artist Siqueiros working on large banners on the floor of a warehouse.

However for myself, it's something that takes me back to being a child. Back then, we never did drawings on vertical surfaces and if we did we were told off. Drawing was done, like reading in books, on flat horizontal tables or on the floor. I still feel safer and more comfortable working on the horizontal, even though today I work between both, sometimes pooling ink on the floor and at others working across a wall surface, so that I can stand back and see what I'm doing. You can move around a drawing on the floor and the idea of top and bottom can change as you revolve around the drawing, its making therefore supportive of changing spaces, rather than you having to respond to a set vertically orientated direction. Most of my best work has emerged from working on the floor, there are so many more angles to discover, each new angle opening out a fresh possibility in terms of spatial representation. 



Pollock's decision to work on the floor made his physical relationship with the act of painting much more important, it was easier to see the artist as some sort of performer. Indeed as Harold Rosenberg stated back in 1952, “Since the painter has become an actor, the spectator has to think in a vocabulary of action: its inception, duration, direction—psychic state, concentration and relaxation of the will, passivity, alert waiting. He must become a connoisseur of the gradations between the automatic, the spontaneous, the evoked.” 

There is a complicated relationship between movement and its representations. In the middle of this complication is the fact of horizontality, the surface we walk upon and of course also dance upon; the ground that has always been there to support us.

My cousin as well as my mother and father were all very serious ballroom dancers. Victor Silvester's 'Modern Ballroom Dancing' was a key text for this and the diagrams were fascinating, even for someone like myself that had two left feet.



Victor Silvester: Diagrams from 'Modern Ballroom Dancing'

When learning ballroom dancing small drawings were often made to explain particular moves, they were similar to the drawing below by Barry Gasson, which was used to get his students to understand a heel turn.


Barry Gasson: Sketched biro diagram of a heel turn


Because of this early awareness of the link between learning dance and diagrams, my thinking about horizontality was already embodied and included movement. When later I was to make technical drawings in the steelworks these drawings were either done horizontally or at various angles using an angled drawing board, they were never made in the vertical plane. The drawings themselves were often representations of how to do something. Such as in what order a particular set of bolts needed to be undone and put back in when you were undertaking a repair. So the technical drawings I was doing were also in many ways representations of possible movements, this time sequences of movements that needed to be undertaken in order to achieve a better relationship with a piece of complex machinery.






These 'how to assemble' technical drawings were what I was mainly doing before I left the steelworks, and my making of them coincided with the introduction of the Maynard operation sequence technique, so it was a good time to go, because what had been a useful skill in that it helped new workers understand how to do something, was now being used by management to develop a set of procedures that got each job done in the fastest possible time. The introduction of this began an erasure of long developed skills in 'feeling' for a machine. My drawings were initially done in consultation with old hands, who could tell you the best way to do something, but they also recognised when it wasn't possible to do something in a certain predictable way. For instance a certain bolt might be more worn than others and therefore it needed to be taken out first. A holistic approach was needed and one that recognised the knowledge in the body, one that allowed someone to just feel for a few protruding bolts and 'know' which ones to deal with first. Men (and in those days it was just men) and machines grew to know each other and over time I began to recognise the 'dance' that we were developing. One that began on the ground and moved up ladders and onto gantries, as overhead cranes came to a stop and we had to quickly get them running again. 



Image result for trisha brown
Trisha Brown: Drawing: foot rotation
Trisha Brown the dancer joined Robert Dunn's dance workshop in the early 60s and very quickly came across Dunn's use of Laban notation, not just as a way to record dance movements but as a way of generating or implying ideas for movement. Dunn had understood that graphic notation and movement invention were for Laban inseparable and had embedded these ideas into his choreography teaching. See a detailed documentation of the issues here. Brown took on the implications of this even further and saw that not only could a diagram be an instigator for particular movements in dance, but that the dance itself could lead to drawings which could themselves be seen as physical diagrams of what the body had been doing. 


Laban with an example of his notation system developed in the 1920s

Labanotation in use

How to graphically represent change in effort

As you can see from the photograph of Laban and his system above, the method of transcribing movement was paradoxically linked to the vertical, hence the introduction of a more horizontally orientated system, in the 1940s, Benesh notation.



Benesh notation of a gymnastic routine

All of these things are for me a sign of the growing importance of the body when thinking about how to approach drawing. Not just drawing but the way we think we think is being questioned here. I'm going off on one of those side tracks again but bare with me. Over the last few years we have become more and more aware of how complex our body systems are and how deeply interconnected the phycological is with the physiological. For instance there is communication between the bacteria in your gut and your brain, and this communication is linked to both psychiatric health and intestinal disease. Our host bacteria can influence how the brain is shaped for learning and memory. It has also being theorised that when new material enters the gut, our bacteria is sensitive enough to be able to communicate with it. In some way it can 'know' things about the previous life of the new food that has entered the system. This is a deeply profound idea. The thought that your gut will in some way 'know' whether your food's previous existence was a good one or a traumatic one, leads us to rethink the implications of that old aphorism, 'You are what you eat'.  

Add to this the way our language is itself linked to the body, "I hope you are able to digest this information'; 'can you grasp what I'm saying?' and the idea of embodied knowledge becomes not just a vague thought, but a real touchable and useable thing. Our assumed superiority over other animals and our celebration of our own brain power, can be put into a different context. Our over reliance on brainpower has prevented us from using or even being aware of many of our other faculties. We hardly use our noses to navigate the world any more, but thousands of years ago we would have needed our olfactory senses all the time in order to select and check out what we were eating and whether or not food was in the vicinity. Above all, we are hardly in touch with our bodies, we have forgotten to 'listen' to them, we don't know how to smell illness or feel for a cure. As we forget our own bodies, so we forget the impact of other things. We forget to speak to the wind as it passes around us, we forget to address the plants that feed us, to sing with the birds as they wake us or to commune with the rocks on which we walk. 

In order to attune ourselves to our bodies we need to be 'grounded' and this may mean that we need to develop more of an awareness of the horizontal. By working against vertical surfaces we begin to separate out the frozen mark field, from the act of movement. We separate the result from the doing. You stand back and judge what you have done, rather than immerse yourself in the doing. 


It all begins here
When you made your first drawings I suspect you were simply lost in the making and now you are 'grown up' you are supposed to put away childish things and analyse what it is you have done, but as Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist on growing up.”

By withdrawing from the world we have developed a powerful set of tools that can dissect this world and extract from it the things that we want from it. However, would we do this to our children, would we dissect them in order to extract from them what we think we need? 

Some of my more recent posts have been about certain approaches to philosophy and politics and I have been muttering about whether or not politics can be made to work with certain philosophical viewpoints. I think as I keep returning to similar issues that I am gradually getting to what is perhaps the crux of the issue. Why do art? What use is it to make drawings or any other art form? 

If I think back to making those 'how to assemble' technical drawings it was pretty clear what they were being used for, and because they had a clear purpose, they were quickly taken up by the then powers that be, as a way of showing workers how to work faster. So something that began as a way of understanding a process and communicating that process to someone else, became a way of supporting the standardising of procedures as set out by management. 

The meaning is the use said Wittgenstein, so perhaps my more recent writings about how my drawings have been used need to be revisited and further unpicked. 

Garry Barker: Drawing and Allegory 




My artwork is a reflection on what I think the current feeling tone is in relation to our 'condition'. In the drawing above I was trying to visualise the paradox of our desire for constant success, of always trying to climb the ladder of achievement, but not realising that in reality there is nowhere else to go. No matter how hard we try to climb up, we always stay in the same place. We are in reality always here on an earth that we have forgotten to look at because we are so busy trying to climb away from it. How images like this are used, I'm not sure? It is an open ended question, hopefully it helps some people think about the situation we are all in, but it is unlikely that I will be given any clear feedback as was the case when I worked making 'how to assemble' drawings. 


This cocky human came from a series of drawings whereby I was wondering whether or not anthropomorphic images might help us become more sympathetic to other non-human points of view. But whether or not these images are in fact useful I don't know and have to rely on instinct or some sort of inner trust to have the confidence to keep making them, each time I make a drawing I am like most artists, looking for that image that might actually communicate something useful to another human being. The fact that most of my images are made horizontally suggests that I also need to consider the performative aspect of this in more detail, but the most important thing is that I can still after all these years get lost in the making. 




Drawing and Dance

Buster Keaton making a comedy routine look like the best dance/art combination ever!