Monday, 1 June 2020

Diagram as art-form

Peter Halley 1981

Diagrams can be used to demonstrate concepts as well as make data more understandable. Some abstract images such as Peter Halley's paintings were designed to function as diagrams, his work illustrating for example Foucault's ideas of the panopticon or how power works. 

Peter Halley: Prisons

Peter Halley, Two Cells with Conduit, 1987. Day-Glo, acrylic, and Roll-a-Tex on canvas, two panels, 6 feet 6 inches x 12 feet 10 3/4 inches (198.1 x 393.1 cm) overall
Two Cells with Conduit

In response to Baudrillard’s exploration of postindustrial culture, in particular its reliance on information systems, media representation, and an economy that privileges images, Halley moved on from prison diagrams to schematised depictions of enclosed spaces, linked to the world through a network of electronic and fiberoptic conduits. The division of Two Cells with Conduit into two rectangles suggests an architectural division as in two flats next to each other; the line below indicates the hidden, technological underworld of pipes, cables, and wires connecting them. 
Patricia Reed has recently produced a body of work designed to be diagrammatic representations of capitalist networks. I mentioned Hans Haacke and Mark Lombardi  in a recent post and Reed has in effect picked up their approach and moved it on as she looks at more overall conceptual issues rather than the very specific examples of networks that Haacke and Lombardi researched. She has also hosted a series of gallery talks whereby questions are asked of invited speakers, who are asked to open out and explore problems in an open ended way, much in the same way that her diagrammatic drawings do. Her practice therefore opens out beyond the diagrammatic and includes performative and relational practices. 





Although the sound is of poor quality this video is a good introduction to the way Patricia Reed works. 
Patricia Reed

Reed's work reminds me of the way several contemporary thinkers use diagrams to communicate their ideas. Compare her work to Kate Raworth's 'Donut Economics'. 



Kate Raworth wants to effect change, and so does Patricia Reed. The fact that Raworth is called an economist and Reed an artist doesn't matter to me, both use images to communicate ideas. 

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge: El Lissitzky 1919

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge by El Lissitzky is a Constructivist abstract work that is set out like a diagram, representing communist forces attacking the forces of reactionary white Russia. It could be argued that Patricia Reed's work has a historical lineage that could be traced back to Constructivism. 
Minjeong An: Self portrait as a diagram

An uses the conventions of technical drawing to create complex layered images of herself. (If you are looking at this on a large computer screen, it is well worth clicking on the image to blow it up in size, so that you can explore its complexity) These are representations containing both symbolic and real references to her life. It is interesting to compare her images with those of Luboš Plný, who uses anatomical diagrams as references for his own complex images. What Minjeong An reminds me of however is the importance of annotation and how it is done. 

Matthew Rangel

Matthew Rangel uses annotation within diagrammatic forms to add information to his landscape images, the diagram demonstrating its versatility and ability to become entangled in with other forms of representation. 

I have also made use of diagrams in some of my recent work. 



Life Hacks for a Limited Future

The diagram immediately above is based very loosely on an idea of a scarab beetle, and it attempts to help the Life Hacks group think about the opportunities and threats that face a group of people getting older. Sometimes the problem is to find a more 'mythic' or emotionally loaded image for my artwork as I'm attempting to communicate how people feel about things, but at other times when I'm working with a group of people to help sort out an idea, its more about trying to help people think. Neither is more important than the other, when I'm image making sometimes it has a more practical outcome and at other times the process of making images is more about opening up ideas. 

Diagram of a slave ship

Some diagrams are more emotive than others. The diagram of a slave ship above is a straightforward, plan, elevation and cross section, but it was images like this that were central to the abolition of the slave trade. The lack of emotion somehow seemed far more powerful as ammunition, it being hard to escape the reality of what life must have been like on boats of this sort, when you see clearly how much room each man had for the duration of a trans-Atlantic sea crossing. The meaning is the use. 

See also:


Sunday, 24 May 2020

Writing about drawing

There are as many ways of writing about drawing as there are drawings. Recently 'Soanyway' the online magazine had a call for entries for their LIQUIDITY >|< VESSEL issue, so I put something forward. It wasn't accepted but by writing the submission I had to formally organise some thoughts, which is always a useful exercise. The activity of writing a submission is nearly always rewarding and if it is rejected you can always use whatever it is you have written in another context, in this case as today's blog post. As a student it can be a good exercise and sometimes you find you have written something that you never expected yourself to write. 

Submission title: ‘An Oak Tree’

How the submission related to the set theme.

‘An Oak Tree’ is a short story that reflects upon the drawing of a glass of water, using a dip in pen and oak gall ink on paper, a technique that has been used by artists for many years. Drawing using liquids is very different to drawing using solids, the act of shaping a drawing being as much a product of material possibilities as of the drawer’s intention. Exhibited at the Rowan Gallery in 1974, Michael Craig-Martin’s ‘An Oak Tree’; a glass of water on a high shelf, was a conceptual art piece. Drawing at the time had seemingly become redundant as an art form; contemporary art ideas appeared to have separated themselves from material making. 


Michael Craig-Martin: ‘An Oak Tree’

An oak tree

Encounters between things are always interesting, especially if things can never touch each other in reality. There are events that we as human beings think about as encounters. However this is because our thoughts are structured in an encountering manner in order for us to operate in particular ways. Ways that in relation to other things and how they commingle and become entangled with the world, are strange and materially confusing. I'll try and explain what I, (as a moving bag of water with hard bits inside), mean in relation to what something that isn't me might experience. 
As part of the act of making a drawing, I am holding in my hand a half full glass of water, looking at its particular ability to refract light and cause a slight distortion of the world that passes behind it. I dip my finger into the water and feel its cool dampness, and as I place the glass back down onto the table I hear a reassuring quiet thud. However, all of these actions are a complex and very convincing fiction, played out for my benefit by my own brain.
There is no such thing as a direct encounter between myself and this glass; the colours I see refracted across its surface are my own invention, photons of light have no colour, just as sound waves have no sound, coldness has no temperature and chemical molecules no odour or taste. But it does seem to me that I am touching this glass, how else could it be defying gravity and floating above my drawing table? Most of the mass of the atoms that make up my finger ends is concentrated into various nuclei and the same situation exists for the glass I’m holding. Surrounding these many and various nuclei is empty space, except for where electrons orbit around protons and neutrons. As they do so we can count them. The number of electrons surrounding a nucleus depends on the element and here are two shells of spinning bodies, one consisting of four electrons and another with two, a sign of the element carbon. Each carbon atom can form bonds with up to four other atoms simultaneously and is ripe for joining in with the development of complex molecules such as those that fingers are made up of. But silicon is also present in this situation and it is much more commonly available than carbon, so perhaps we are looking at a nascent life form, as well as a developed one. These subatomic particles also have a negative charge; stubborn by nature, they are only attracted to particles with an opposite charge, and are repelled by similarity.  This prevents electrons from ever coming in direct contact with each other. It could be argued that their wave packets can overlap, but they can never touch; the electrons in these fingers repel and are repelled by the electrons in the glass. This glass is actually levitating using a wonderful conjuring trick designed by the glass and the human's fingers in conjunction with each other, a collective mind / body mass, engineering a moment of fantasy. Touch is something else’s repulsion, a repulsion from an electromagnetic field permeating local spacetime is psychologically perhaps difficult to cope with, especially that Pauli’s Exclusion Principle is also at work. Electrons know where every other electron is, and they try to avoid each other as much as possible. Pauli, a standoffish individual, was responsible for the fact that some humans think they know why ordinary lumps of matter are stable. He suggested that atoms occupy a volume and cannot be squeezed too closely together, which could have been related to the fact that he had problems with his own body image and had no friends. However attracted these fingers are to this glass, I’m not sure they want to be responsible for its collapse; all I can say is, it does seem to me to be a reasonable presumption that in my world two solid objects cannot be in the same place at the same time. I usually think of other things as being separate from me. I like the distance perception and consciousness appear to offer me, they make me feel special, a distinct being that can have encounters with other things, I like to think I have agency.

I’m pretty old fashioned and still use the same type of dip-in pen and ink to write and especially draw with, that I was introduced to at my junior school. I intuitively feel as if there is a sensitive and yet straightforward encounter between the ink and the paper as I put my thoughts down. Today I am using water-based ink on paper as my preferred drawing material. I categorise my mark making materials into those that flow in water as if in a primordial sea and those that are scraped off of hard surfaces like some form of geological attrition. When I choose ink as my medium, it can feel as if I am working with something akin to my own life-blood. However I am aware that I can use metaphor to fool myself and that illusion is very much to do with relative scale.

In order for the ink I use to ‘stick’ to the paper, or at least appear to be attached to it, certain things need to align, such as polarity. For instance I am using water based or hydrophilic ink; a polar ink, not to be confused with Noodler's Polar inks, of which I am very fond of the brown.  I choose certain types of paper because the surface is smooth enough to allow me to move the nib across the paper without it getting caught in the grain, but textured and thick enough to allow me to add further diluted ink, if I feel the need to embellish the drawing with a tonal wash. However my thoughts about why I choose paper are very different to the ink’s affinities.
If you pour mercury over paper it will not wet it, mercury's surface tension is so great it adheres to itself. But if you pour water-based ink onto paper it will wet it, because the surface tension of water is much less than that of mercury.  But this is not always the case. For instance, if water soluble ink comes into contact with lipids, (organic compounds that are insoluble in water, such as fatty acids or grease), the water molecules become more attracted to each other than the lipids, and will therefore, like mercury run off the paper and leave it dry. When ink is drawn onto a surface that it doesn't like, it aggregates, clumping together to avoid all interaction with the surface. In this case the term ‘like’ being both a foster parent of metaphor and feeling.
The ink has a certain flexibility of movement, is mobile in its solvent, and will remain so until the solvent evaporates. Whilst its mobility is active one can engage with the ink via a mediator, which is in this case a nib made of a 14 carat gold alloy, a substance that like glass, will not chemically interact with it. Water allows the ink to form in solution, it acts as a carrier and when its job is done it evaporates away. Water is a life-enhancing medium, as the carrier for blood, it not only gets nutrients and oxygen to cells and transports waste products away; it also carries the white cells that protect us from diseases. Water supports the making of the complex molecular bonds that are needed to create amino acids within an animal body, the chemistry of which being not that dissimilar to that which allows ink to stick to paper after the water evaporates. It is in the spaces between surfaces where we will find ink's direct encounter with paper, but human eyes will never be able to see it. When ink does favour the substrate or surface that it has been applied to, it will attach via inter-molecular forces, such as h-bonding, London dispersion, and most interestingly, van der Waals forces. Johannes Diderik Van der Waals, a human with a large family network, realised that forces arise from interactions between uncharged atoms or molecules, leading not only to such phenomena as the physical absorption of gases, but also to a particular understanding of universal forces of attraction between macroscopic bodies. Indeed it has been argued recently that gravitational force is actually van der Waals force; gravitational force being related directly to quantum mechanics, the networks of quantum fluctuations of electron clouds in atoms both holding everything together and creating space-time. The behaviour of sub-atomic forces and the fact that these are shaping everything we do is  unseen because our viewpoint is focused on a human scale. Just as our eyes are only tuned to a certain part of the electromagnetic spectrum, all our other senses are operating within very narrow perimeters. The fingertips holding this pen can feel the difference between a smooth surface and one with a pattern embedded into it of only 13 nanometres deep. However the edge of our ability to judge surface change is nowhere near the diameter of an atom, which ranges from about 0.1 to 0.5 nanometres, a scale far beyond our perceptual abilities. Therefore the idea of an encounter that includes direct contact is just that, only an idea, one that has been developed by our brain’s idea of a sense of touch. Touch is only understandable in the space between the smallest thing we can grasp and the largest, we are all though touched by the sun and its chemical processing continues here on Earth.

The fact that we can think of ink as being like blood is not too far-fetched, iron gall ink, a brown-black ink made from iron salts and vegetable sourced tannic acids was the standard drawing ink used in Europe from the 5th century to the 19th century, and has remained in use by many artists. The ink flows well, dilutes to give a very subtly coloured brown wash, and most importantly adheres firmly to a wide variety of paper and velum surfaces. Iron sulphate added to tannic acid has a very strong chemical affinity with cellulose fibres; this affinity operating both at a molecular level and as a narrative arc. The oak galls that are used to obtain the tannic acid, being a result of animal/vegetable interaction; wasps leaving the galls behind on being able to fly. The wasp larvae on hatching modify the oak leaf to develop the gall form, a structure that protects the developing larvae up until their metamorphosis into adults. The tannins produced by this animal/vegetable interaction, combined with inorganic iron oxide then come back into contact with another animal at the drawing stage. A dipped into ink gold alloy nib, holding onto liquid via surface tension and moved across the surface of the paper in conjunction with organic matter creates new forms as it does so. As these forms are realised, so is a physical bond between the paper and the ink, an attachment so strong, that the only way to erase a mark once this ink is dry, is to sand the whole surface down. At a sub-atomic level intermolecular bonding between electron rich donor atoms and electron poor receptors has taken place, this alongside a van der Waals interaction is a model that can result in both new inorganic and organic molecules, but in particular is at the heart if the building of drawings, DNA and proteins.


The nib begins its journey across the paper, the eyes guide the hand and the hand holds its nerve. The glass is half full, its shadow falls softly, a sfumato over the edge of the paper, as morning sunlight glides through the window and shadows the nib’s movement. The lines are thin, they are a tentative trace of a very delicate set of individual instances of a human's interest, a subjective, conscious experience. 


See also:

Why ink sticks to paper
Uncertain certainty 
More on writing about drawing



Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Hands, Hygiene and Hope


Washing the hands is another powerful visual trope that has emerged during this pandemic. 

One set of associations that are especially potent for the English speaking world are those of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, who whilst sleepwalking in her chamber, tries to rub the stains of murder from her hands , crying out, 'what, will these hands ne'er be clean'. The 'Out damned spot' soliloquy now being used directly with images of hand washing, making a very timely point.




However for Lady Macbeth, ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’. While soap can eliminate the virus, it cannot help mitigate the psychological aftermath of murder, some types of contamination can never be washed away.

Washing is an ancient trope and is often associated with religious ritual, as in, 'Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!'  (Psalm 51) This brings me to my second set of associations; hand washing is very like hand wringing and hand wringing is very closely associated with putting your hands together for prayer. 


From hand washing

via hand wringing


To praying

As John Wesley pointed out cleanliness is next to godliness, 

Prayer is often used to form a connection with invisible forces, to remove sin or to seek divine intercession. Hand washing is used to restore hygiene and to remove the traces of an invisible virus, whilst hand wringing is seen as a symptom of distress or it can be a feigned exhibition of distress. Many people with OCD are washing their hands over and over again, another symptom of distress; others are now praying to God to relieve them from the affects of a pandemic lockdown, there is a deep need to find comfort in times of distress and it emerges in different ways. You could argue that what prayer does is provide hope for those who have no other resources to turn to, a sort of last chance saloon; of course for the believers in religion it is a first, rather than last port of call. 


Durer

We have an almost subconscious collective mythic memory of the black death or plague that spread throughout Medieval Europe. It was spread by the bacterium yersinia pestis. Necrosis of the hands and feet being one of the common symptoms, the image below being the hand of someone who recently caught the plague from an infected rat.

Hand of a plague sufferer 

It is easy to see why the idea of a dark evil stain, could become associated with disease. However as a visual trope it has more recently become associated with Halloween make-up.

Hands made up for Halloween

There is though a very short step from the mock horror of zombie movies, into the visual reality of pandemic death. 

Ritual purification in Bali

In order to get rid of illness there are many bathing rituals. In Balinese culture, flower baths were used as healing rituals, designed to help both body and spirit. These have now being mainly turned into tourist attractions, but at one time they were an essential and integrated part of a whole body system of ritual cleansing. Ritual purification requires a follower of a religion to be free of uncleanliness, especially prior to worship. Ritual purification may also apply to objects and places, it is not just something reserved for people. Although not identical to physical dirtiness, ritual purification is often focused on removing body fluids and stains, all of which are generally considered to be ritually unclean.

Washing facilities outside the Blue Mosque Istanbul

When I was in Istanbul I was fascinated to see the importance placed on pre-prayer washing, something that is central to the preparing of oneself for an encounter with God in prayer. The whole body is made supplicant in Islamic prayer, which reminds us all of the reason for both kneeling and putting hands together in Christian prayer. Body and mind are supposed to be united in belief. 

Whether or not you are religious, there is a very important truth underlying these issues and that is that the mind and body are one unified thing and that physical actions are both a product of the mind and mind builders. Lady Macbeth's difficulty in washing her hands clean is clearly a deeply mental issue, not a physical one and our daily hand washing rituals in defence against an invisible virus, will also be building unconscious mental constructions as well as ensuring clean hands. 

See also: 










Friday, 15 May 2020

The virus is looking at you


Emission theory or as it is sometimes called extramission, extromission, or extromittism theory, is the proposal that visual perception is accomplished by beams emitted by the eyes. I was reminded of this when looking at an old poster for the International Hygiene Exhibition of 1911 and another series of corona virus connections started to form in my head. As I'm locked down and not allowed to go out and talk to anyone about these thoughts, I'm afraid they are coming out as a blog post again. There is a sort of method in my madness, I'm still trying to communicate something about how artists think. My thinking starts with seeing something and it is through analogy and metaphor that that initial perception grows into an idea for an art piece. You could look at what I'm doing as an aspect of artist's research as opposed to or in contrast to academic research, i.e. intuitively skipping from thought to thought, rather than objectively analysing data and verifying sources. 

The International Hygiene Exhibition was a world's fair exhibition that was focused on medicine and public health. Hygiene centred around cleanliness was in 1911 still a very new idea, an idea that was at the time influencing many other areas of public life, not least art and design. It was one of the driving forces behind the Modernist obsession with clean white walls and uncluttered surfaces, germs could hide in decoration, but not on the clean, flat surfaces of abstract machined objects. It has been argued that the abstract art made for Modernist interior spaces was therefore made as a direct consequence of the new awareness of hygiene. It was only in 1847 that the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelwis when investigating childbed fever, found students who assisted in childbirth often did so immediately after conducting autopsies. He instituted a strict hand washing policy, and deaths from childbed fever very quickly diminished. A few years later, another physician, John Snow realised that London outbreaks of cholera seemed to be clustered around a particular water pump, on removing the pump handle, the spread was instantly contained. He had already recommended that water be "filtered and boiled before it is used" But Snow's 'germ' theory of disease was not widely accepted until the 1860s, when the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch became more widely known. Pasteur had placed a drop of blood from a sheep dying of anthrax into a sterile culture, and allowed the bacilli to grow. He repeated this process until none of the original culture remained in the final dish. The final culture produced anthrax when injected into sheep, showing that the bacillus was responsible for the disease. It was Joseph Lister that worked out the implications of these discoveries and in the 1860s he introduced the idea of sterile surgery, using carbolic acid as an antiseptic to sterilise surgical instruments. As you can see from this very short introduction to the need for cleanliness in hygiene, by 1911 the idea of invisible germs had taken hold, (it was not until the 1940s that the electron microscope was developed and a virus was seen for the first time) and the existence of a powerful but unseen agent was now seen as a reality that could be effectively dealt with by sterilisation and cleanliness. 

The word 'hygiene' like many made up words comes from the Greek, and entered English via France in the late 17th century. Hygeia was the Greek goddess of health, daughter of Aesculapius the god of medicine. Statues of Hygieia were during certain rituals covered by women's hair and articles of clothing, but to what effect I'm not sure. She is also often depicted feeding a large snake, a creature she no doubt inherited from her father. 


Hygeia goddess of health

Aesculapius the god of medicine always carries a staff entwined by a snake. The significance of this is complex. Partly a symbol of renewal, or rejuvenation, (snakes shed their skin) it is also a symbol of life and death, healing implies illness, this ambiguity reflected in the ancient Greek word 'pharmakon' meaning both 'drug' and 'poison'. Snake venom was often prescribed at the time as a healing elixir, something that might have been a little like the use of peyote or ayahuasca, vomiting and hallucinogenic experiences purging both the mind and the body. The old 'snake-oil' salesmen were still in existence at the end of the 19th century, a common belief in many cultures was that snakes boiled in oil, formed the basis of a powerful cure all remedy. 
Staff of Aesculapius

Because of the new focus on cleanliness, the great hygiene exhibition of 1911 was sponsored and organised by the German businessman and wealthy owner of the company that manufactured Odol mouthwash, he was of course eager to educate the public about advances in public health procedures, especially if they included mouth hygiene. 



Our present obsession with sparkling teeth is still served by Odol, and if you look carefully at the label you can see a radiating gleam of freshness, a sparkle that people now want to enable them to take smiling selfies and which is used to advertise the whitest of white teeth. That educational investment into oral hygiene that the wealthy owner of the Odol company took back in 1911 has really paid dividends. 


The gleam that radiates out is of course taken from that most important symbol of life and goodness, the sun. Its rays illuminate everything and are a source of all wellbeing and life. 

Solar deities, sun gods and sun worship can be found throughout recorded history.  Even Christmas  Day being on the 25th of December is on that date because early Christians needed to replace the festival of Sol Invictus with a celebration of their own. The rays of the sun were seen by neolithic peoples in Britain and Ireland as being very special, and on certain days they would be seen to enter sacred sites as moments of spiritual illumination. Witness the continuing mythic power of Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland. 


Rays of the sun penetrate Newgrange


Invisible rays pass through us all the time, Euclid and Ptolemy both claimed that vision worked by little flames exiting the eyes, traveling on rays, scanning objects in the visual field, and traveling back to the eyes to report what they had detected. (Somewhat like Superman's heat and x-ray vision) This would seem to me to be little different to Jack Kirby's idea of the Fantastic Four being penetrated by cosmic rays, these invisible rays affecting their body chemistry in strange and fantastic ways, metamorphosing them into new super beings.

The origin of Marvel Comic's the Fantastic Four

Invisible penetration by rays is miraculous and transformative; something that radiates out from supernatural beings or entities. At the moment of the Annunciation, Mary is in effect made pregnant by God. In the painting by Fra Angelico below, God is represented by the sun, the rays of which penetrate Mary. The Feast of the Annunciation is on the 25th of march, an approximate date for the northern vernal equinox, nine months before Christmas Day, the ceremonial birthday of Jesus. 


The Annunciation: Fra Angelico

Once Mary is changed by God's penetration, 'the immaculate conception'; she is herself elevated into the status of a divine being and she can also emit transforming rays. 
Mary as the mediatrix, or mediator between humans and the divinity

Rays of light appear to radiate from Mary's hands, an alternative extramission theory, touch from a distance, one that has also been seen in comic books. If the good and pure can radiate healing energies, evil villains can too, Dr. Doom radiating destructive energy from his hands, another comic-book human altered by cosmic rays, but this time with a mind focused on destruction. 


The eye in the poster for the hygiene exhibition, is meant to represent the all seeing eye; 'the Eye of Providence'.  Based on the idea of the all-seeing eye of God, the rays of light emanating from the eye in the past represented the eye of God watching over humanity, in this case the poster is now meant to suggest hygiene has replaced divine providence. Science superseding religion as humankind's saviour, is now watching over humanity and it is the role of business to provide the necessary services and goods to ensure that these benefits are made available to all. 

The Eye of Providence as printed on the American dollar bill

Emission theory, or the idea that seeing is accomplished by beams emanating from the eye, continues to exist as a powerful idea, although proven by science many years ago to be a redundant theory, it still works as a concept and lies behind many of the ways we think about things intuitively. 

Emission theory is as a concept closely tied to the idea of the sunburst. Invisible rays spread out from a defined centre. God has been described many times as the centre of a sphere, as in this typical ancient explication; “God is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.” God and the sun were for thousands of years and across many cultures one and the same thing. Science tells us that the universe explodes into existence from a single point, a big bang, the effects of which we inhabit now. 

A graphic representation of  sunburst 

A graphic representation of the mutation and spread of a virus

Graphic representation of the big bang

God sees everything, the all seeing eye's extramission vision like Superman's, can pass through everything, but if one invisible entity can do this perhaps others can too. Our greatest fear at the moment is corona virus, the invisible demon is spread amongst us, not so much by rays emanating from the eyes but by invisible droplets coming from a sneeze.


In science the great unknowns are at the moment dark matter and dark energy, we have been living amongst these things from the beginning of time, the known universe we now know to only be about 5% of what is out there. We are constantly penetrated by the dark rays of unknown forces, in the past we used various religious or spiritual understandings to cope with the fact that death sometimes arrived out of nowhere, and whoever we were we could not avoid it. The present corona pandemic is just one tiny moment in the long history of our interrelationship with a dangerous natural environment, that has nevertheless also been an environment that we have grown up in and with which we are inextricably entangled. It is as good as it is bad. Like the light rays from our sun, darkness can spread out from a centre, this darkness can be mental as well as physical, but however it manifests itself it is part of life and we should embrace it. 

Dark energy emanates out from a centre

Schematic representation of a corona virus


Two images from a recent series of my own drawings

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Drawing and thinking: How to understand the virus

There is so much disinformation around about how the corona virus spreads that I thought I'd look at how drawing can help clarify things when words don't. 

Plan of a call centre that was hit by the corona virus

In the diagram, it is easy to see how people sit next to each other in this work space. Blue chairs represent those who became infected. This is what happened. 
One infected employee came to work on the 11th floor of a building. That floor had 216 employees. Over the period of a week, 84 of those people become infected (the blue chairs). Notice how one side of the office is primarily infected, while there are very few people infected on the other side. Being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection. The estimates were that 94% of infections were from respiratory droplets / respiratory exposure, and roughly 6% from door handles, elevator buttons etc). Another 3 people on other floors of the building were infected, most likely from doors handles, elevator buttons or from being in an enclosed elevator with the infected person. See the full article here. It is easy to see how close contact and being in an enclosed space are by far the most important issues in the spread of the virus.

Plan of a restaurant hit by corona virus

A single asymptomatic carrier went to a restaurant. The infected person (A1: Yellow) sat at table 'A'. Airflow was from right to left. (Black arrows) Approximately 50% of the people at the infected person's table 'A' became sick over the next 7 days. 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table 'B' became infected. And even 2 of the 7 people on the upwind table 'C' were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow). No one at tables E or F became infected, they were outside of the reach of the air flow of the main air conditioning. See the full article here.


One person on a bus manages to infect several others, again it looks as if a contained environment, whereby people share the same air, is the most likely place for you to become infected.

Diagrams seem to make things much clearer.

Drawing is also of course about images.


I have already put up a post about some of the ways that we can think about the virus as an image. However there are many more images now circulating through various media outlets, all of which are making an impact on our collective psyche. As an artist I'm interested in how deeply they will impact on our sub-conscious selves.

Invisible germs revealed

One of the most interesting issues has been the need to find graphic ways to reveal the invisible. In this image above taken from a government information poster, the prevalence of ultraviolet light images to 'prove' the existence of germs and how hand-washing removes them has influenced the design and construction of the image. 

Ultraviolet light images of hand washing

However I believe the blue hand and glowing green virus on the door handle taps into a much older tradition of revealing the invisible.

Kirlian photography of human in lotus position

Kirlian photography can show an 'aura' around people, its popularity is very much to do with its other worldly suggestiveness.

Blue Vishnu 

Blue representations of skin were often a way to present a figure as being other worldly, as being something normally invisible made visible. What is happening is that there is an awareness that the pandemic is a mythic event and that imagery associated with it needs to tap into deep roots if it is to deeply effect us.

Etruscan death demon

Blue Etruscan death demons already existed by the end of the fifth century BC and demons and devils in Christian iconography were often depicted as being blue or green

The Devil presenting St. Augustine with the book of Vices:  Michael Pacher

St Theobald exorcises a possessed man: C14th Church of St. Thibault: France

In the detail of a wood carving above, blue represents an aspect of demonic possession and the majority of the images of the corona virus that circulate through various media outlets are coloured blue. 










Visualisations of the corona virus

Drawing (in these cases visualisation using CAD technical drawing and PhotoShop manipulation) can deal with both how to understand the spread of the virus in a very logical and clear way, as well as being able to find imagery that helps us think about an invisible entity. It is colour though that adds the emotional and spiritual value.

See also: