Cindy Yuen-Zhe Chen: Listening and Drawing towards Emplacement
One of Cindy's drawings made of folded paper that was used to touch the surface of the landscape and record the texture/colour of the flowing stream that passed through Golden Gully in Australia
Cindy had been working using interconnected processes of drawing and embodied listening to explore landscapes in both Australia and China. Her practice investigates 'the convergence of aural and optical perception in the experience and representation of place and she thinks of drawing as a gestural act that extends bodily perception through technologically enhanced encounters with the sounds and surfaces of place'.
Cindy uses both direct surface rubbings and sound feedback to make recordings of places. Because of her elimination of visual observation techniques, I was reminded of a film made of a blind bike rider who whistles and of another film of a boy who sees without eyes.
The boy who sees without eyes
Cindy didn't make reference to either of these things but it seemed to me that by using echo location technology, she was making use of technology that could be made much more widely available for people that have lost their sight. Her work was a reminder that humans are not using senses to their full capacity and that as an artist, as she begins to use the interrelationship of touch and sound to explore landscape, she is also in effect reminding us that as we eliminate one sense, in this case vision, we heighten our awareness of how other senses are working.
(Golden Gully is a very enclosed space, where sound has lots of surfaces to bounce off) As Cindy moved around the gully she was also able to listen for 'sweet spots' where sound had most resonance.
Cindy was operating in places that had already been visualised by both eastern and western artists. She was on the one hand using paper surfaces to engage with touch; folding, crumpling, rubbing etc. in order to make direct contact with the landscape and on the other hand she was 'sounding' through touch, because the paper itself made particular sounds as she manipulated it within a landscape setting.
Photograph of crumpled papers that had been used to make surface rubbings of rocks
Photographs of the paper used to make rubbings reminded Cindy of the forms of mountains and rocks in the distance, especially when she was working in China, they were a reminder of the mountainous forms in Chinese landscape brush paintings. Close up video photographs of these paper surfaces were described as membranes of re-enactment.
Cindy spoke of 'sonic fingers' the microphones that were attached to her wrists, enabled her to be in direct recording contact with air, movement and touch.
Another stage in the process was to make her paper into Möbius strips, so that when making rubbings the paper was in one to one contact with the land surface, there no longer being a back and front to her papers. (A Möbius strip has only one side to it) These papers after being used to make rubbings were then brought back into the studio and photographed as if they were models of mountains, which transformed the papers from records of action into pictures of landscapes. Recording that were made of Cindy making rubbings using these papers were described as a sort of "Listening through touch".
Cindy cited Evan Thompson's book, 'Mind in Life' as an important influence on her thinking, his idea that mind is an extension of the life process, allows us to see how what we associate as a specific human attribute, could actually be something possessed by all living things. Of course once you accept that an idea like this could belong to all life forms, what happens as we cross the life/not life divide? Can a landscape be thought of as having a mind?
When Cindy was in China, there was a wonderful moment she had recorded of someone washing clothes in a river. This was an activity very like the artist crushing and moving her paper sheets in the shallow water at the river's edge. Washing and working, drawing and washing, seemed to be a sort of rhythm of the river, a rhythm echoed in the shapes of the mountains seen in the far distance, a rhythm seen in the shapes of the washing/paper as it emerged from the river.
Finally Cindy mentioned that her understanding of drawing as something no longer seen as marks on paper but instead as lines in real space, was supported by remarks made by Catherine De Zeigler in 'On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century'. In particular in this text De Zeigler explores the relationship between drawing and dance. This took my thoughts back full circle to how Cindy thinks of drawing as a gestural act that extends bodily perception through the use of technology. A finger drawing in the sand, becomes a burnt stick extending the body so that it can make marks on the ceiling of a cave, a moving microphone picks up sound vibrations as they rebound from a rock's surface, a transmitter is embedded in depth perception and optical detection glasses for the visually impaired, using ultrasonic sensors and a binaural soundscape environment. All these are linked together under this definition of drawing.
Steve Fossey: An imbricated drawing ontology: Economics of pattern, chaos and scale
This project extends from his initial participation in a project, 'A line made by walking without marking the Earth', and was extracted from his PhD 'Site specific performance and the mechanics of becoming social'. He walks with people and talks with them as they are being tracked by GPS technology.
From his explanation I got the idea that he is interested in talking to people because as they share ideas they also share thoughts about geographical location. For instance because I come from Dudley I have a particular idea of where I come from as being about being a 'Black Country' lad and when I'm in conversation at some point its bound to crop up. However at the same time my mobile phone will be tracking my position on the planet alongside the person's mobile that I'm talking to which is doing the same. So as we exchange geographically located thoughts our relative positions are being bounced off a satellite. Steve's video below provides a much clearer explanation of the concept and extends the idea into an embodied performance.
Walking through the field: Steve Fossey
The most interesting aspect of Steve's presentation for me however was the showing of the video of him lecturing about his project behind himself as he lectured on his project. It reminded me of the old Camp coffee bottle, that had on its label an image of Camp coffee being served, which of course had within that image an image of a bottle of Camp coffee. As a boy I would stare and stare at that image of a bottle to see if I could see another image of the bottle in the image of the bottle.
The lecture as performance is an old interest of mine, one that stems from my time when I met Joseph Beuys who was a consummate performer as lecturer and who in many ways was also performing as Rudolph Steiner lecturing when he was lecturing. The Russian doll effect is with all of us in some ways, as I have given lectures I have at times tried to embody other lecturers giving lectures, echoing others who in their time have echoed others.
Antonino Di Raimo: The Human body as a design apparatus
Only the body in movement can draw and Antonino Di Raimo was concerned to develop an understanding of architectural space that reflected the fact that it is a body in movement that inhabits buildings, not frozen human forms. Existing modular systems, such as Le Corbusier's show static humans, and the reality is that we move through and within buildings, so Antonino had decided to see if the body in movement could be visualised as an aid to thinking about designing architectural space.
Antonio began by explaining how he had come to think about the word 'apparatus'. He had looked at Giorgio Agamben's "What is an Apparatus?" who had in turn examined Foucault's use of the term. Agamben then redefines 'apparatus' as on the one hand the network that is established between elements such as discourses, philosophical propositions, institutions, buildings or laws and on the other, the 'apparatus' operates to fulfil a concrete strategic function in a power relationship. This 'apparatus' always appears at the intersection of power and knowledge relations. Antonio also drew our attention to Marco Frascari's thoughts on the human figure in architectural representation, who argued that "in contemporary architectural drawing, the presence of the human figure to give scale, is absolutely indispensable". (Alex Anderson has published a useful article on the subject)
Anderson points out that, "If they are well conceived and rendered, human figures in architectural drawings can help to show how projected buildings might be perceived and inhabited. They can also be used to understand how architecture can be shaped to accommodate human experiences and actions".
Antonio agreed with the current critique of ocularcentrism and wanted to explore how computers could use more haptic information when used to incorporate the body into the design process. He was a dancer, and this has deeply effected his idea of what a 'virtual twin' would be like, if a human body was to be designed for virtual testing of architectural spaces.
He set about teaching his virtual twin how to dance, realising that what he was doing was creating an avatar that was in effect an anthropomorphic cognitive agent.
This was a radical embodied cognitive approach to thinking about architectural design, not one that used representational models. Antonio pointed out that Anthony Chemero has opened out new ways of thinking in relation to embodiment in his book, 'Radical Embodied Cognitive Science'; in which he argues that cognition should be described in terms of agent-environment dynamics rather than in terms of representation. An idea he traces back to John Dewey.
The body as it moves through and in relation to, architectural space is taking part in what Antonio called a 'structural coupling' and as it did so gesture was vital to how a haptic understanding was being developed. In many ways this was like a body on a stage. The final part of Antonio's presentation being about how figures and their representation were also closely linked to space and ritual. As soon as many bodies come together in order to do things, the spaces they do these things in become 'ritual spaces'.
Antonio's computer drawings reminded me of how important coding is as critical tool not just in architecture but in all fields of visual problem solving.
Katarina Andjelkovic: Towards the Embodiment: Drawing's movement, space and temporality.
Katarina was looking at the performance of space. Drawing as an unfolding event. This was the space of performance looked at as a choreographed line that moves through space. Our visual perception provides us with a space of potential, (choice), we have to decide, do we go left or right? She is involved in teaching drawing and wanted to explore the representation of embodied experience in the spatial context of a drawing performance. Students were asked to respond to a performing body, that was responding to a film projected behind and at times on the body, as well as being located in the actual space of the studio. She used Tati's film 'Playtime' as the filmic space and students made several drawings as they began to determine 'boundaries of visuality'. I.e. how to identify filmic, real and performed movement as drawings were made.
Katarina was looking for 'space that recognises its own drama', a kind of dream like space. Participants drew from several positions and were looking to develop an interpenetration between reality, film and performance, that was recorded by drawing.
The techniques of dialectic montage and distracted perception were given to the students as their initial guidance and then juxtaposition or the choreography of the city in movement as a secondary concept. (Dialectic montage was Eisenstein's term for an effect in montage in which the juxtaposition of two shots has the potential to make an abstract concept tangible. A focus on distracted perception has resulted from the fact that researchers have found that in between bursts of attention, we are purposely distracted. During those periods of distraction, the brain pauses and scans the environment to see if there is something outside the primary focus of attention that might be more important. If there is not, it will re-focus back to what you were doing. see:
Liselotte Vroman: Unlocking embodied experiences, exploring performative drawing.
Liselotte was dealing with embodied experience and the built environment. Together with Robin Schaeverbeke, Liselotte was working with architectural students trying to get them to open out their visualisation techniques beyond plans, elevations, sections and perspectives. In particular Schaeverbeke and Vroman were very aware that technical drawing processes cannot deal with or capture subjective experiences. The dancer / philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnson was quoted as stating that movement is pre-linguistic while language is post-kinetic in its nature. Body movement was used as away to explore the communication of embodied experiences and dancers were seen as vital to an understanding of movement in space.
Yvonne Rainier: Sketch for the Trio B choreography
Yvonne Rainier's 'sketch for the Trio B choreography' was shown as a particularly important starting point for this, and the work of Trisha Brown highlighted as an exemplary drawing practice.
Trisha Brown performing and drawing
We were shown an interesting image of a plan that had been drawn large scale between two buildings, that when photographed form the top of one of the buildings operated in that space between the diagram and reality. (Heather Sultz is a dancer that has worked with a lot of architects and she may well be worth checking out if you are interested in this area of thinking). Liselotte pointed out that new frameworks for architectural form were needed. Laban's 'kinesphere' was introduced as a way into thinking about new much more kinaesthetic frameworks.
Annotations using the kinesphere
Liselotte asked the question, "How can movement direct design?" She mentioned 'oblique circulation' which was a project by Benjamin Dillenburger, a project concerned with numerical material, something that I have already looked at in the work of Michael Hansmeyer. But I think I misread the reference, I think she was talking about the architect Claude Parent and the philosopher and urbanist Paul Virilio. Their 'Architecture Principe' was based on a critical approach to the modern plan. Fractured volumes and inclined surfaces were responses to their rejection of Euclidian space and its visualisation within technical drawing. Together they developed the theory of the oblique function, which meant inclining floors to form sloped surfaces. Fluidity of movement was vital as this led to deeper human relationships. By having to make an effort on the ramps, human beings actively participated in the architecture.
Joan Jonas's Film "Songdelay", one of her outdoor performances that an audience could only witness from an elevated viewpoint such as a rooftop, was also introduced as a seminal work. It has been argued elsewhere that her filmed performance serves to visualise very particular time-space-conditions and that it also imparts to the viewer a sense of the topology of the space.
Finally the animated films of Pascal Baes were cited as another very important visual reference for the students when undertaking this elective.
I really like Pascal Baes' work it is very urban, witty and plays with time and space.
Students were asked to compare random walks with informed walks. Again I began to lose track of the issues. In my head I was thinking about a random walk as a mathematical object that describes a path that consists of a succession of random steps within a mathematical space. Such as the path traced by a molecule as it travels in a liquid or a gas, the search path of a foraging animal or the price of a fluctuating stock. Random walks explain the observed behaviors of many processes. What the students were being asked to do was to compare people walking aimlessly with people walking for a purpose. This was about observation, and as students began to notice differences, they could begin to see the body as a choreographic object. The differences between observed purpose and non purpose gestures could be the starting point for a language of gesture.
Students were then set a task in which they were to design a space and make it work to shape movement. This reminded me of a Jim Lambie tape drawing, if you have ever been in a room of his floor drawings, whether you want to or not you will find yourself being directed around the space by his tape lines.
The use of mirrors in the spaces constructed by the students also reminded me of work in the Hayward Gallery exhibition 'Space Shifters', in particular the work of Josiah McElheny.
Josiah McElheny's work in 'Space Shifters'
Students had been trained to wear McElheny's mirrors and then to walk the lines set out along the gallery floor. As you encountered these people walking through your space you became quite disorientated, not being sure which was the space you belonged to.
Finally we were reminded of the importance of targeted feedback, the students that undertook the elective fed back in terms of how their understanding of kinetic space had developed. They were also asked whether or not the elective had changed the way that they thought about architecture. I must admit this is something I need to think about much more and I have very little evidence as to how work I have done with various groups has effected their thinking. I will need to do this in future if I am to demonstrate 'impact'.
The afternoon was again devoted to workshops. I chose to do Anthi Kosma's workshop called D(inner)rawing, an activity that was very much about how we visualise touch and feelings. It was the title that made me choose it. As always it was the collaborative happening of a room full of academics and artists that was most interesting to observe, as well as having to make reflections on how I felt about having to express my feelings.
Finally: on the way back home from Loughborough, on getting from the train station to the bus stop I passed an empty shop near the Leeds market hosting an opening of a drawing exhibition. I had a while to wait for my bus, so decided to drop in. John O' Connor's '360 days of drawing Leeds' was on display over two floors of the shop; one drawing of Leeds for every day over the course of a year. He had taken on this task in response to going through a bad time in his life and was at pains to tell me how he had had to work through ice and rain and harsh winds to get these drawings done. The activity seemed to help him regain a certain mental stability, the need to focus on a task being something all of us value when things are not going well. After all the intellectual theorising of the past two days, it was refreshing to meet someone simply 'drawing' and in his encounters with the city many of the drawings had an intensity and energy that went far beyond drawing as therapy, if anything they reminded me of the drawings of Giacometti and I really appreciated that he was exhibiting all these drawings as 'a gift' to the people of Leeds, and that all his encounters with people during the year were valued by John as being worthwhile. Perhaps this was embodied drawing at its clearest and at its most effective, each of John's drawings was like a seismograph, you could stare into each one and relive that day's drawing action, see how he began tentatively, look for where anchor points began to help him stabilise the image and watch how lines massed up to find complex forms. John can draw, and draw well.
John O' Connor: an image of Leeds
Notes from previous DRN conferences
2019 day one
Tim Ingold's speech at the art and materiality conference at the British Museum 2018
Tim Ingold's speech at the art and materiality conference at the British Museum 2018