Tuesday, 16 July 2019

DRN Conference: Embodied Drawing (Day two)

Day two of the conference was structured in the same way as day one, two sessions of presentations in the morning followed by workshops in the afternoon. 

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

Le Corbusier

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".

If the body is a tool that can be used to measure space, then old modular representations are a failure, as they measure proportion, not space. Dalibor Vesely's work on embodiment and proportion was also cited as vital to Antonio's thinking. (Find here Vesely's classic text, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation available as a PDF) It is interesting to reflect on how important writers on architecture have been to the development of embodied theories of drawing, where would we be without Pallasmaa's, 'The Thinking Hand'?
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:

Fiebelkorn, Pinsk, Kastner A Dynamic Interplay within the Frontoparietal Network Underlies Rhythmic Spatial Attention in Neuron Volume 99, ISSUE 4, P842-853, August 22, 2018)
Because students were drawing within an audio visual event, the filmic experience of editing and how it can be used to encapsulate a filmic idea of time, was seen as something that would deeply effect their approach to the situation. This led to a sort of 'framing' whereby students made several drawings that could be juxtaposed and mixed in order to represent their experience within time. As well as this different levels of abstraction were used to represent different levels of attention. Students were being asked to discover the implications of this world through the act of drawing, by layering past, present and future, with experiences of closeness and distance. 
Personally I felt that this would have been a very challenging task for these students but that it did raise several questions as to how drawing could learn from film conventions and how to design multimedia experiences for others to work within.

Nicci Hayes: The unsayable


Nicci performing in a paper 'poem suit'


Nicci presented a series of embodies drawing performances, whereby she blurred the boundaries between disciplines and highlighted the fact that words seem very inadequate as a way to explain what happens in these situations. She had a welcome acceptance of the unknown and saw what she was doing as experiential rather than analytical. Nicci believes that the body remains an invisible component of history. Meaning in language is a gathering web of insinuations, it is a question of conveying one thing in terms of another. (Flann O' Brien) Her reference to Flann O'Brien was a welcome one, as it reminded me that the great comic writer had worked all these things out ages ago, all you have to do is read the Third Policeman and you will realise that all theory is comically vindicated as heroic prose. She at this point also reminded us of Finnegan's Wake and its disintegrating prose, and while doing this she was projecting an image of herself wearing sewn together too large men's trousers, flailing around, with arms in sleeves far too long, but as she said, if you could say it in words why dance it?
Detail from a print


A printmaker, she is vary aware of the gestural impact of marks. She sometimes works with a poet, at one time making a suit to perform/draw with from the poems. At another time she has made a paper suit out of drawings on paper, the marks then working with other drawn marks as she performs.


Nicci Hayes: Mark making suit



Her art work includes video, one of which we were shown which saw her making marks with a representation of a lines drawn on the film, thus bringing together drawing, performance, animation and film making. She is also very interested in the act of writing. Seeing writing as a particular form of drawing, which links to listening, reading, seeing and hearing, all embodied activities. As she stated, 'Human communication is primarily a muscular function'.







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.
From 'Songdelay'


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.





Pascal Baes


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.


Jim Lambie

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




DRN Conference: Embodied Drawing (Day one)

I have just spent two days (11-12thJuly) attending a Drawing Research Network conference on embodied drawing in Loughborough. This is becoming an annual event for me and I saw several familiar faces also involved with drawing research. As on other occasions I have made notes, and as always my notes tend to be rather idiosyncratic because I tend to get side tracked by my own thoughts as they spring up unannounced while people are presenting. So again a reminder to the reader not to take these notes as a record of what went on, but as an individual’s personal experience of the event.

Embodied drawing like embodied thinking itself is an area of conceptual interest and theoretical focus that has grown exponentially over the last few years. I have referred to embodied thinking several times in previous posts and as an area of investigation it has evolved from some of the debates that used to characterise phenomenological discourse. However this is not the place for a history lesson, so I will simply present the notes which were made from the two days of presentations.

Day one

Emma Robinson: Embodied drawing for the mind

Emma was concerned to remind us of drawing’s power to deal with our present problems of high anxiety. It can be used as an experiential tool that can be used to create calmness and help slow us down. In particular if used in conjunction with an appreciation of ‘nature’, it can focus a healing power that comes directly from a prolonged exposure to nature’s wonder. 
Drawing from observation can help us ‘see’ what nature is offering us and can slow down our looking so that we begin to actually see things. Emma pointed to the rise of the colouring in book as being of vital importance if we are to understand what is going on at the moment. She quoted statistics as to the rise in the numbers of colouring in books that have been sold, and these are now in the several millions per year. As she pointed out numbers of this size must represent something to be taken seriously. She reminded us that many of these books are effectively “colouring in nature”.  This activity can be seen as part of drawing’s role as an experiential tool. 
Emma spoke of her work as taking a ‘salutogenic’ approach. My understanding of this, is an approach that begins with a focus on what is the known richness or wealth of a particular experience or activity, rather than to begin with a critique of failure or problematic issues. This was chosen as a beginning because of the prevalence of ‘eco-anxiety’ within many existing modes of thinking in relation to the anthropocene. Basically to focus on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease.  
She was also concerned to look at what was going on as having transmedia or multi-modal applications, (As highlighted by the work of Henry Jenkins and as touched on before in earlier blog posts) Therefore when beginning this exploration she wanted to have something that took into account our bodies, our breath and our mind and she wanted to make sure that this approach had applied value for people with anxiety and depression. (I was a bit worried about her understanding of multi-modal narratives, because on the one hand she was aware of how media was one of the causes of modern day anxiety, but on the other she wanted to explore multi-modal uses, which usually entails trans-media exploration. 
She was looking for collaborations between artists and health professionals and had evidence that bringing art and nature together was a strong antidote for anxiety.  In order to test out her theories she had begun to run sessions in a local library that members of the public could sign up to. Interestingly these courses filled up straight away, so demand was obviously out there.
The courses she was running were working well and had certain rules, the first being the banning of mobile phones so that people were able to draw without distraction. She would begin by showing participants ‘real’ drawings done by others, in this case some superb Victorian plant illustrations and was using Daniel Siegal’s three ‘o’s as a way of maintaining focus on the looking, ‘openness, observation and objectivity’. (Siegal introduced the term 'Mindsight' to describe the skill of being able to reflect on the connection that exists between your body and your mind) By doing this she believed drawing could open out new cerebral pathways for the learners. (I was by now feeling that she was actually suggesting that her students should drop multi-modal communication and focus on getting back to single channel communication systems such as drawing.)
Drawing it was argued develops memory and what we can remember we can actively apply. Students were also asked to engage with and draw other non-observational forms such as spirals, circular mandala forms, repetitions, etc. as well as attending to their breathing, sometimes drawing the shadows of plants, creating memory marks, making rubbings, splitting forms into two halves in order to remake as wholes, and looking at producing templates from some of these activities for them to colour in, at I presumed a later date. Emma reminded us again that over 15, 000, 000 people using colouring in books cant be wrong and that the art world was very snobby and that it would normally dismiss an idea like this. (I was however reminded of the fact that I bought a Wim Delvoye colouring in book from one of his exhibitions nine years ago and I was worried that her approach mixed up approaches to mindfulness, confusing observational techniques with abstract  or non-figurative representations. See some of my earlier thoughts on mindfulness)
The feedback from students who had taken the course was very positive and included such stories as students now buying their own sketchbooks and taking matters into their own hands. 
Emma’s other work is looking at endangered plant species and as an Australian artist /researcher she will be very aware of climate change and its effects on plant life. She has a Vimeo account on which she hosts work that reflects these issues. I personally wanted Emma to show us more about this work and I felt that her deeper research was perhaps in this area and that it was already informing the work with anxious people, but that she hadn't had time to unpack how and why it was impacting on her approaches to mindfulness. 

Joanne Macdonald: Drawing Bodies

Lockhart, Hamilton and Fyfe, ‘the Anatomy of the Human Body’

This presentation was about rethinking anatomy. Drawing in this case was also regarded as being a collaborative endeavour, and the presentation was dedicated to those that leave their bodies behind for the purposes of medical research. The question Joanne asked was, “How do anatomy drawings help to teach medical students to understand the body?” In particular, one anatomy textbook, that had been revolutionary in its time and was still being used, was being looked at, the one produced in 1950 by Lockhart, Hamilton and Fyfe, ‘the Anatomy of the Human Body’. This key textbook had in its time changed the way that drawings were used in the study of anatomy. The book had been made to accompany actual dissections and the objective of this study was to produce new drawings and new dissections to accompany them .

Lockhart, Hamilton and Fyfe, ‘the Anatomy of the Human Body’.

We were reminded that knowledge of anatomy was inter-medial; students work from models that can be constructed and re-constructed, make models themselves, explore different aspects of the body by dealing with changes in scale by examining large close-ups or expanded models of sections, look at medical imaging, take part in VR experiences, use text books, wall charts and take part in the reality of dissection itself. All these methods are used to get students to understand anatomy, each approach helping to understand a particular aspect of the discipline and gradually as they are all worked through, eventually a holistic understanding is reached by the student. These methods include conceptual, schematic and representational modes of visualisation.  In order for these various visualisations to be produced the artist and the anatomist had to work together, each of them also having to be clear as to how their role would be used to ensure the most effective communication. I was particularly interested in this need for multi modal communication, because understanding here is vital, get it wrong and people will die under the knife. Therefore a reinforcement of learning is taken for granted, which makes me feel that we are not so worried about how well other aspects of drawing work, because we just don't regard them is as important enough to ensure a clear and accurate communication is made. In fact the very ambiguity of some drawings' effects was often praised as being part of the interest. Several presentations in relation to workshops that were held over the two days included a subtext to the effect that the workshops were excellent because everyone interpreted the tasks differently and that each drawing done in relation to problems set was very different. However if this was a maths workshop and everyone got a different answer to the same set problems, there would be some serious questions asked. 
Joanne had had to undertake making her own dissections as part of the process and reminded us that the one thing that is unforgettable about dissecting rooms is the smell. Anatomy is one of those licenced activities that requires you to be signed into the room; you cant take photographs, there are no external windows, but conversely a radio seems to be always playing, to relieve the anxiety and introduce a sense of normality. 
We were reminded that what needed to be visualised was a three dimensional object in space (the body and its organs). It was vital that orientation was constantly understood, whilst undertaking an operation apparently it is very easy to lose track of left from right or up from down, because once inside the body normal orientation triggers are hard to spot. (This reminded me of an archaeologist’s need for an orientation grid when undertaking excavations) 


The complex drawings of Alberto Morroco, (above)  were the starting point for this investigation, but they had to be seen in conjunction with dissection and the decision to do this was for the researcher quite a powerful moment. This led to a series of experiences that were important such as the first cutting of the skin, how to hold the scalpel, and how like that is to holding a pen.  The making of a line across a body with a scalpel blade was described, and how as you cut you feel for different qualities of skin as it passes over bone or different muscle structures. Touch and sight come together for this type of understanding, lines of tension within the skin revealing an archaeology of the body's previous behaviour. The skin being part of a materialisation of a life lived. 
Like anatomy, drawing can expose realities that were previously hidden, in this case the body is encountered at the 1 to 1 scale of the everyday, there is no separation, but as Joanne worked, she became aware that those very mundane but significantly highly charged things such as eye lashes sometimes became the things she wanted to draw.  I have no images of the new drawings being made, but the presentation made a powerful impression on me and I could see the need for the research as well as the project making me think about how the way we read drawings will have changed since the 1950s. Our awareness of wire frame drawings because of the use of CAD is much higher, changes in scale are much more readily understood because we have seen so many films whereby objects are magnified very quickly and turned from surfaces into environments. Multi modal and trans-media drawings are common, but older methods of drawing that rely like Morroco's on certain types of shading such as sfumato are probably harder to read because of a lack of exposure to these sorts of images. 
She left us with a quote, "There is nothing like anatomy". 

Paulo Luís Almeida: The visit - Drawing as Naked Image

This presentation centred around drawings Paulo made of his father during the last years of his father's life as he was dealing with advanced Parkinson's disease. As language became redundant, drawing began to take its place, it became an act of presence, of being there. Paulo stated that both the draughtsman and his father 'arrive at the image at the same time as it is made' and that the drawing become part of a mirrored relationship. Over these final years the same drawings were made of his father, mouth open, often tubes attached to him, an image of growing frailty. In making the image over and over again Paulo began to build up memories in his muscles, memories that recorded the making of the images, which were even more powerful than the images themselves. This research was also becoming a question about how emotion effects the way we draw, and part of this was also how to present to an audience via a lecture format with slides, some sort of equivalent. 

As images of the drawings were shown, sometimes they were flipped over or moved by hand across the screen, the images had been videoed rather than photographed and continuous re-placement and movement within the frame of the screen was being used in an attempt to echo some of the initial awkwardness of the situation. I wasn't sure about how effective this was and thought we could have been shown the drawings in more detail, perhaps using more close-ups of the handling technique which would have enabled Paulo to talk more about touch and materials handling and how he thought they were evolving in response to drawing over a long sustained period. The drawings themselves were powerful and a very intimate record of an extremely emotional encounter and I just wanted to see an exhibition of them in the flesh. 

Paulo pointed out that knowing and feeling are different and as he did so on screen he was making a drawing of a spiral, as the spiral grew larger it was becoming harder to control the mark making because the hand was having to move from simply rotating from the wrist to using elbow movement. Again this was interesting, but I wanted him to keep the spiral going, so that eventually he would have had to use all his body. Perhaps one day I will make that spiral myself and film what happens as it gets six feet wide. As Paulo stated, 'every mark made is a record of a world response'. He spoke of drawing as a coming together with the world and began to show us a film of a hand unravelling a black thread from a spool. 
He was now being 'in the game', taking gestures seriously, this being a concentrated attempt to communicate a line made gestural communication directly through film. We now began to see images of this line being pulled over one of his drawings and it was then tautened as it made a horizontal and then a triangular relationship with the drawn image of his father in bed. I think we were to ask ourselves questions as to whether or not this interrelationship was furthering our emotional engagement with the situation, if so I don't think it helped. What it did do was begin to reveal a sort of choreographic potential of hand, wrist, black thread, spool dance. I was aware of how the framing of these elements; the visual cutting away of the rest of the body was quite dramatic and that this could become a filmed performance, but it would need serious workshopping to realise its full potential.
Paulo spoke of his father's verbal language decline through 16 years of succumbing to the disease and of how drawing had come in as a replacement for talking. Drawing now becoming a sign of caring, a statement about a relationship. The draftsman in this case getting a heightened experience of himself as the other. As Paulo continued to speak I was becoming very aware that his use of English was very poetic; certain phrases were I presumed the result of translation from Portuguese, this was becoming for myself an example of multi-modal communication. I began reflecting on how in most cases this was how communication was effected. The previous presentation on drawing and anatomy failed I felt to fully explore ostensive understandings and yet I'm sure that it is demonstration and pointing to examples that are the most effective communication methods when explaining how to do something. You would do dissections alongside pointing to and referring to both what you were doing and how it would appear in a drawing. Communication of these sorts is nearly always effected by a simultaneous use of body language, verbal language and visual aids, we have though through academic study tended to separate the different elements out. Instead of exploring how they work holistically alongside each other, we tend to look at the situation as if one form of communication can work on its own. We accept blended learning as being a vital way for us to communicate to students, so why shouldn't we have 'blended research'?
As Paulo continued he described his drawings as being suspended in a mirror relationship between father and son and added that every representation is partly to do with a fear of loss. He restated that the memory of our gestures is different to the memory of the images. I then began to think about reading drawings from different distances. Standing close to the surface you become much more absorbed in a gestural and material understanding, but as you step back from a drawing it gradually becomes more of an image. This 'embodied' aspect of how we read images was perhaps being underplayed by the speakers. Paulo was now however moving on to speak about drawings of this sort being a type of 'witness' to a relationship and that these 'naked' images were not about art, but were about testimonies to experience. (An interesting aside comment that didn't really get opened out; I was very aware that some artists say the opposite, if you Google "my art is a testimony to experience" you will get several results. This was a thought that I would return to as I arrived back in Leeds the following evening and stumbled by chance on an exhibition of the drawings of John O' Connor, but more on that later)
Paulo suggested that embodiment was a new term for an old problem, in feeling sympathy for another person's pain, we embody it. When in conversation with someone, they will often mimic our body movements as a form of empathetic understanding and a signalling back to ourselves that they are being very attentive to us as another human being. Embodiment can therefore be a sort of simulation, you can also put yourself into the body of the person that produced a drawing by retracing steps in the making of the drawing through the way you read its marks. Empathy is of course central to all of this and Paulo left us with a quote from Ataman, the full text of which I tried to look up later, but instead found this one, which I though was just as appropriate:

“I look at people like buildings. instead of walls and rooms, we have stories and experiences. As long as we can live these stories, express these stories, tell and retell these stories, then we can stand up, the way a building stands. talking is the only meaningful activity we have. Once we are no longer willing or allowed to tell our stories, we collapse into conformity.”
—Kutlug Ataman

I would add into that mix that yes we all have stories to tell but sometimes we tell them by re-shaping our bodies, (the skin's story for instance, or the jump of excitement we make when something important happens to us) and at others by making things such as drawings or objects, a silent film can be as powerful as any other, but most of our best stories will have emerged long ago around camp fires at night and will have emerged in communal retelling and reshaping.

Currie Scott: Embodied ways of knowing about self ageing 

I had been looking forward to this presentation because of my engagement with 'Life Hacks for a limited Future' a group of older people all working together to think about how to best prepare themselves for the inevitability of facing growing infirmity and death. 


Currie Scott had two main areas of investigation. “Mark making for making meaning” and “Elucidating perceptions of aging, through participatory drawing. A phenomelogical approach”. She began her presentation by stressing that this was about non-propositional thinking.



Currie had developed a project whereby she worked with older people on a series of sessions, whereby they all worked on drawing tasks set by Currie.


Her key question was, how can drawing reveal perceptions of aging? In particular her participants were told that this was about non-representational drawing. (This issue of non-representational drawing came up several times during the conference. It was based on a presumed fact that as some people were not very good at drawing it would cause such anxiety that they would not participate. Not just when working with groups such as these older people, but also in conference workshops we were told that we would not deal with representational drawing because this created too much anxiety from those who could not draw. I found this deeply conflicting, because we had already had a presentation about anatomy whereby it was obvious that only a very skilled drawer could do the required drawings if a clear communication was to be made. It felt to me that these types of drawing sessions were always going to be conflicted because it was as if we had to make something with one hand tied behind our backs. I feel that even if you can’t draw something very well, at least in the attempt you can usually communicate something about the thing you are trying to represent.)

5 drawing types were introduced to the participating people, who were all over 60. These drawing approaches include “drawing in the air” (gestural) as well as on paper. People made collages, life lines and mark making about how things felt, as well as moving their bodies as a sort of choreographed gestural drawing of aging. At times Curie was struggling to find a research process that worked with what she was doing, however she solved this when she became aware of non-dualist ontology, an approach that allowed you to deal with both subjective and objective experiences at the same time. In order to do this she would use multi-media approaches to information gathering; drawings, data sets, film, audio recordings and reflection.

Three sorts of drawings were identified as central to the outcome space for this research. ‘Habitual’ or ‘patterned’ which seemed to be mainly people drawing using pictograms. ‘Embodied’ drawing, which appeared to be in this case mainly centred on ‘in air’ or gestural drawing and ‘expressive’ drawing, centred on markmaking or a communal experience exploring perception. On top of these approaches she introduced ‘transformational’ drawing, drawing that when coupled with other perceptions allowed for future possibilities to be envisioned. She wanted her participants to engage with ‘playful surrender’, so that they became lost in time, and could therefore more intuitively be able to ‘navigate the terrain of future aging’.

When examining the relationship between air drawing and meaning, it was interesting to me that Curie used the phrase ‘gestures dissolve into tacit or implicit knowing’. I think this is related to Eisner’s statement that, “our sensibilities are also employed in the construction of our consciousness”, but I missed the citation. (See Eisner’s article: ‘The Arts and the Creation of Mind’) She had also looked at Johnson and Lakoff and the body and metaphor. We were therefore asked to think about the metaphors we use when speaking about old age. For example, “time is catching up with us” or “our bodies begin to let us down”, suggestions that in some way we are failing. This was part of the reason for undertaking the project, because the preconceptions we all have about aging need to be confronted and re-examined, so that we can see the positive aspects of aging. I was at times struggling to keep up with my notetaking, so was very aware of my own issues with aging, and have plenty metaphors of my own; 'Am I slowing down?' 'Am I not what I was?' 'Am I nearing the end of the line?'

It was interesting to see the body movement metaphors that people would make in their air drawings, typically people would make cutting movements as if they were trying to cut their way out of dense undergrowth.

There were several things that I wanted to open out in relation to this very important presentation. The first was to see if there was any room for a parallel piece of research, this time using professional illustrators/artists who were used to trying to communicate to other people very subtle issues. For instance one of my MA students last year made a study of the use of tonal value, colour and textural filters in Photoshop and Illustrator when making drawings about people and technology. He had found himself beginning to specialise in illustrations that demanded explaining technological advances and changes to the general public. This meant that he often found himself having to deal with on the one hand technical precision but on the other a look or feel that was non-threatening and user friendly. Mood and clarity of information were at times at odds with each other, therefore a very sophisticated blend between two approaches was sometimes required. His research involved having to go back to Renaissance terms for ways of dealing with tone, he compared these various ways of dealing with light and emotional value, with lighting used in film-making and then finally tested his findings out by applying what was learnt to actual projects. (The link takes you to one of the jobs he undertook whilst doing the research)

I was also personally interested in seeing if there was any way I could get involved in extending my work with the ‘Life Hacks for a limited future’ group and seeing if some of the activities introduced in Bournemouth would work with a similar age group in Leeds. I would also like to revisit the non-representational issue and see what would happen if people began to try and represent very specific aging issues as representational images. Issues such as textural precision, linear values, tonal mood etc. might be addressed alongside more diagrammatic formats, perhaps looking at graphic artists such as Chris Ware or Richard McGuire as models for simplifying complex representations, but also looking at a more visually poetic approach, something I'm very interested in personally. 

Amanda Roberts: Life drawing as female centric practice

This presentation was an exploration of a woman artist and female models working together to develop a way of establishing female identity through a life drawing practice. The history of life drawing it was argued was a socially formed male dominated practice, which has historically been dissociated from experiential understandings and the equal involvement of both artist and model practitioners. Embodied and mediated drawing was presented as a strategy that positions the researcher as an active participant in her investigation rather than being passively situated in discursive practices. There was reference to gendered mark making and a project centred on negotiation. However I wasn’t clear as to how the negotiation was working. What were the decisions made by the various models used and what were the ones made by the artist? The artist said that she had become good friends with one of the models, but although this demonstrated an equality in terms of their personal relationship, it didn't help explain how the visualisation of someone's body could be a joint venture. I began to imagine various situations whereby the artist would constantly seek feedback from the model as to how the drawing was progressing, almost in a client/designer exchange, even to the extend of perhaps employing a client manager, who could work as an intermediary and help clarify what worked as a communication and what didn’t. Amanda’s drawings were large, made on several sheets of A1 paper and she used charcoal in a gestural manner, typical of that used in many life drawing situations. These drawings as they were put together often moved between the floor and the wall, giving them a certain physical or three-dimensional presence, the reasons for the placement obviously came from the situation, but I must have missed the explanation, I was sitting quite far back and at times found it hard to hear. I would have liked to have seen some drawings ‘in the flesh’ so that I could understand whether or not various exchanges between artist and model had either changed gestural mark application or if there were changes in attention to certain details due to changes in the negotiated relationship. I also wondered if the relationship had at anytime being recorded in text, by for instance writing on some parts of the drawing what was said as the drawer and drawn began sorting out their relationship. This raised several questions for me and I began to wonder if I could explore these issues as a man? For many years Nina now Jared Kane has explored similar issues and I think in ways more open to audience engagement. Amanda's presentation, like so many conference presentations, made me very aware of how poor lecture/presentation communication methods are. I wanted to be there while she was making the drawings, perhaps some sort of VR experience would be able to give me that experience, but how would this help me realise what was going on in the model's head at the time? Conferences are about communication and although I had a brief conversation with Amanda afterwards it was in no way long enough to unpick some of the issues I was thinking about.

Carol Lévesque: Drawing stories of a walk

Carol is an architect and this presentation stemmed from her investigation of how to construct drawings that illustrated the 'grain' or visual 'texture' of an experience of walking for six days through the island of Montreal. In particular she was interested in those 'non spaces' that we tend to overlook. She began by suggesting that, "Walking is a space of enunciation", it connects people and places together. By this I presumed she meant that walking in some way informs and at the same time presents the information in a declarative manner. As she put it, 'walking allows for an inscription of the body within the city'. She reminded us of the architect's plan view, a view from above, (God's eye view) and how a line instead of being the edge of a shape, can also be a line of meaning. For any inhabitant of a particular space, knowledge is developed along their line of movement. What was interesting for me was that I have a practice that often involves walking the streets and drawing and talking to people. This produces more than one type of drawn response, and Carol was suggesting that we have in this case architects plan type thinking meeting the line of experience. She was also taking photographs, and like David Hockney's these were overlapping shots that attempted to describe the time of looking, or give more experiential weight to the photographic record.

Carol collected various data from the walk, (actual plant types, written information on flora and fauna encountered, making films, note taking, etc etc) and certain decisions were made as to where the six points along the route which would determine the focusing of data would be. These points of focus were then used as clusters for diagrams made from the data collected.
Day one data collection drawing

At this point because I have worked both as a designer and as an artist I was aware of the differences in using CAD and freehand drawing when dealing with spatial understanding. She was putting together map type references and then these were tilted into what looked like isometric planes, this allowed for a technical drawing led visualisation of the non spaces; spaces because they were so empty, that often had stabilising points of visual interest in the form of electricity pylons. (I found myself reflecting on the meaning of the word 'pylon', which is the old name for an ancient gateway and that it has a mythical significance far beyond its very important task of carrying electricity cables). Finally one drawing was made from each day, this drawing was a composite of as much information as possible and as the walk took six days, Carol made six composite drawings.

Technical diagram of non space

Final drawing

The final drawings were very two dimensional, it was as if all the information had been squashed into a flatland. Each drawing was very complex, often taking over 100 hours to draw using technical drawing pens. People looking at the drawings have a very different experience to the maker, but interestingly they apparently could develop a form of empathetic understanding of these spaces by careful, slow looking at the dense and complex information encoded within them. This slowing down of the looking was particularly important to my own thoughts about why we draw and it was useful to reflect on how an initial very physical experience, (walking / embodied understanding) could be conceptually reframed, (data collection / diagramming) and rebuilt into a different form. (A complex pen and ink drawing).

A finished drawing

This was the last presentation of the day, the afternoon was devoted to workshops, and I chose one held by Andrew Hall, Birgitta Hosea and Maryclare Foá. I was very interested in the individual presenter's various approaches as the workshop, all three being interesting drawing practitioners. It was a relief to be involved in making drawings for an afternoon, these large drawings involving approaches to mindfulness, embodied markmaking, collaborative engagement and personal mark making. As with most of these sessions the most interesting aspect is watching a group of grown ups engage in childlike play. (Note childlike, not childish)


Notes from previous DRN conferences