Saturday, 29 November 2014

Drawing and Politics

Easily the most powerful political drawing I have ever encountered is Francis Alys' The Green Line, subtitled 'sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic'. Jerusalem 2004. Find a video link here

One of the most basic actions when drawing is to make a line and a line has two sides. Lines are used to mark boundaries and boundaries are used to define territory; which means that drawing a line can lie directly at the centre of political decision making. Perhaps one of the most contentious areas of boundary making is related to the marking of boundaries within areas of open water, no landmarks or other visible indicators are available, therefore a complex series of equations are used. Maritime boundaries are calculated using a range of different kinds of baselines. The most basic is simply distance from the shore, from ‘the low-water line along the coast, including reefs, bays and river mouths. On the landward side of this baseline, we have internal waters and on the other side of the baseline territorial waters. However you then have to add in other factors, for instance negotiated treaties from the United Nations Law of the Sea, and the normally accepted 200 nautical mile buffer around any country's shoreline, which is the exclusive economic zone. However the political issues are those surrounding how these agreements are reached and how and why they are broken, the old principle of "mare librum" (or the free seas) being one that at one time or another most sea faring nations have used to allow them access to areas of the sea that have not yet been 'claimed'. The book, Lines in the Sea, is a great reference for these imaginary lines.

Finding the median line between France and England.

I have an imaginary network of lines in my head, a network of lines set out by the extent of each nation’s mythic value. The old Arthurian myths of England and France, finding a border between themselves and the Nordic tales of old Scandinavia; Thor’s day and Woden’s day rising again and erecting a line between themselves and a lost Camelot beneath Glastonbury Tor. The line of the Great Wall now entirely mythic as Chinese dragons battle for supremacy with the Russian Baba Yaga, a creature emerging from deep within dark forests, screaming spells from the window of her hut that stands tall upon giant chicken legs. Shiva protects the flank of India, his third eye radiating fire, his bow flexed, arrows poised, all ready to defend his lines, whilst the Jade Emperor attempts to control all Heavenly airspace by arming flying monkeys in the sky. A line is drawn between China and Japan as the Watatsumi sea dragon fights with the Jade Emperor’s monkey over a shifting boundary between the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Across the world North America’s Spider Grandmother and Mute Girl descend on South America as borders are drawn across the land that lies beneath her web and the burning forests of Jaguar, the Mexican Master of Fire. Giant kangaroos emerge from the deserts of Australia and fight with Godzilla in the South Asian seas, Hercules re-emerges on the Greek mainland and disputes Turkish boundaries with Gilgamesh, whilst Easter Island heads stride out into the sea to make war with the Atlantians. New borders are drawn up everywhere as old myths dissolve and new ones emerge, Hollywood rises to push the borders of America over the Atlantic Ridge, Japanese manga fighting back over the Philippines, Doctor Who finally emerging as the British dark horse.
These imaginary lines between cultural influences are as real as the mathematical medians that are drawn on maps between nations. They are all ideas, England is simply an idea that is not Scotland.

Art and Language produced a drawing back in the 1960s 'Map to not indicate' which pointed to the power of maps to assert control over the world. 

Art and Language 'Map to not indicate' 1967

"The extensive title (below the map rectangle) lists all the geographic areas that the artists have removed from the map. Only Iowa and Kentucky are outlined and labelled but, floating like islands, they lose geographical relevance, metaphorically cast adrift from their cartographic moorings". Tate Gallery July 2006. In this case what is not on the map, is more important than what is, a strategy that echoes the way Government tax and other codes work to ensure we are all 'controlled' by being numbered, and yet disempowered by not being registered as voters or as citizens. The grid of information can control but also isolate those elements outside of its panoptican gaze. 

Lewis Carroll iThe Hunting of the Snark, laid out the rules of this game with maps. He understood the arbitrary nature of all maps and that they are always the result of someone's decision to control something. 

Only the blank map can set us free from ownership, and this is perhaps Carroll's most succinct political statement.

The grid of the map is of course a power structure. The first thing that happens to a new territory is that it is mapped and once mapped it can be owned. Deleuze has this to say when writing about Foucault's understanding of maps and diagrams, he sees the diagram as an extension of the map, diagrams being able to penetrate all fields of human activity, in effect 'mapping' our thoughts. "The diagram is no longer an auditory or visual archive but a map, a cartography that is coextensive with the whole social field. It is an abstract machine… What is a diagram? It is a display of the relations between forces which constitute power in the above conditions” See Link here to The Funambulist for more of Deleuze's text and more thoughts surrounding these issues.  
However artists will always seek to subvert these debates, Thomas Hirschhorn has often used diagrams to illustrate social and political dynamics. He often works to raise awareness of social and political issues and will host debates and small conferences with local people as a piece of work is developed. 

Thomas Hirschhorn / Marcus Steinweg

Joseph Beuys often used diagrams on blackboards to illustrate his ideas, a technique he shared with Rudolf Steiner, his socialist ideas influencing his teaching as well as his art practice. Because he strongly believed in art's power to influence political change he would not differentiate a lecture and its accompanying blackboard drawings from the rest of his work. Everything the artist did was art.  (His lecturing job was withdrawn because he wanted to accept any student onto the courses he was teaching on, because as he stated; "everyone is an artist"). 
 Beuys lecturing
Joseph Beuys

Rudolf Steiner

Artist and activist Burak Arikan has been making maps of the art world. His artists politics network map for the 7th Berlin biennale 2012, demonstrating that all artists can be seen as political, as well as of course illustrating that networks of information are themselves aesthetically beautiful. 

Burak Arikan

Agnes Denes is not just politically motivated, she is also concerned to make her responses realities. She is fascinated by systems and patterns, making detailed and delicate drawings, using visual mathematics. In Tree Mountain -- A Living Time Capsule, conceived in 1982 and planted in Finland in 1992-96, Denes created a mountain and planted it with eleven thousand pine trees. The trees were planted in an intricate spiralling mathematical pattern as a land reclamation project. In this case drawings, initially operating as plans for ideas, were actually realised. 

Agnes Denes

My earlier post on grids looked at them as structures, structures that related to weaving and networks and like so many structures they can be used to both empower us and disempower us. Artists when making images have choices and one of those choices is whether or not to take a political stance in relation to their practice. Maps and diagrams are very powerful drawing tools and the marking of a boundary line is perhaps the first indication of what we now think of as private property. Where do you as an artist 'draw the line'?
An alternative approach to politics is that taken by artists such as Hogarth or more recently Sue Coe, artists who use their image making skills to highlight aspects of society's ills, rather than making direct political interventions. I shall be posting on this other position in the near future and asking questions as to whether or not political art can ever be effective. In the meantime I'll leave you with Chad McCall, he designs political images using computer drawing tools and prints them off as very large scale images.

Chad McCail: 'Robots run Zombies for Wealthy Parasites', 2002

See also:

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The rise of contemporary drawing

Contemporary drawing practices have become much more visible over the last few years. A discipline once seen as an adjunct to painting and sculpture has emerged in its own right as a powerful discipline. The range of extended drawing practice covers the development of expressive personal worlds, includes performance, hard edged abstraction, computer generated imagery, installation and collage. 
As this development has gained pace writers and theorists have begun to articulate why and how this has happened.   
I have just been asked to provide a statement for the new drawing publication that is being put together by undergraduate students and the graduate fellow. As I begin to write this I am aware that others have already written a considerable amount around the same topic, here are some links to what is being said.

Drawing conclusions: the rise of contemporary drawing By Mike Brennan

Contemporary drawing as idea and process


What is contemporary drawing?

The LCA publication on drawing is getting closer to production. My draft text (below) will be used as an introduction.

Drawing as an extended practice

You could argue that drawing was vital to the birth of something we now call art; the marks and lines that were left by our ancestors on cave walls reminders of the fact that drawing is one of the elements that marks us out as a species. We have of course continued to draw and contemporary practices have now opened out into wide and varied territories. No longer is drawing seen as a preparation for something else, it is accepted as an art activity in its own right and has established powerful claims as a discipline relevant and responsive to the needs of contemporary society.

Drawing within a fine art context offers an expansive field for imaginative elaboration; concepts and ideas can emerge and develop off-shoots and alternative dialogues with relative ease, because as a discipline it is uninhibited by an obligation to make finished objects, its informality readily allowing it to develop both theoretical and experimental stances. Contemporary practices are complex and sometimes apparently contradictory, in some artists’ work automatic drawing may be used in an attempt to allow chance to influence the outcome of a work and this may be done to enable these artists to escape from subjective compositional strategies, while other artists seek to rely on drawing’s ability to represent the world and interpret complex realities.  However it could be argued that what lies behind both these approaches is the fact that drawing enables artists to reflect on the processes that lay behind both art itself and our experiences of life.
Drawing practices can be involved with the construction of intimate personal, alternative worlds, they can be highly conceptual, the planning and decisions of the artist taking precedence over the execution of the drawings themselves, they can be resolutely abstract or highly expressive. The materials and processes of construction can range from the traditional pencil and charcoal, to the latest new media technologies; drawings occupying walls and opening out into installations, being made for computer screens or for projection and yet drawing is still able to refresh and renew its long running association with marks on paper.
This student led publication seeks to showcase the range of drawing practices being followed by Fine Art students today. The drawings reproduced are seen as statements of material fact, traces of ideas embedded within various drawing materials and their supports, surfaces of desire and lines of thought that hopefully touch a contemporary zeitgeist. As well as supporting drawing as a contemporary discipline, the Fine Art course at Leeds College of Art also acknowledges a long historical commitment to the primal importance of drawing not only in the twenty-first century, but throughout the cultural history of humankind, and in supporting this publication celebrates the continuation of a vital tradition.
Garry Barker 2014

The final magazine

Monday, 24 November 2014

Drawing devices

Drawings as a record of action and process often include various drawing devices as part of the experience.
My earlier post on camera-less drawing reminded me of an area of drawing which uses a variety of strange and complex devices that can enable an artist to record information. One of the earliest examples we have of artists using devices to help them record the world is this image by Durer.

A complex arrangement has been set up to draw a lute in perspective. One person uses a pointer with string attached to indicate specific parts of the object and another person holds a marker so that when the door is shut a record can be made of where the point goes. This would have involved some complex moves. For instance before the door can be shut the stringing has to be moved out of the way. The string is kept taut by having a lead plumb attached to the ‘eye point’ which in this case is a hook set into the wall. It would be interesting to recreate this situation. How accurate would a drawing be? Looking at the situation more closely, Durer has made the drawing of the lute a lot larger than it would actually have been. Obviously he is trying to illustrate the process in detail, but if you look at the distance between the frame that holds the drawing and the ‘eye point’ on the wall you can tell that the frame should be a lot closer to the lute, if the drawing was to be the size it appears to be. At some point someone should try and build one of these devices, I'm sure  we would then have a method of making some quite fascinating drawings.

Another strange drawing device is one introduced already, the camera obscura. But what would this be like to work with? How would you make a device like the one in the image below?

The camera obscura above seems to work almost as an extension of the artist’s body. It operates as a sort of performative piece; if you ever encountered an artist actually working like this, you would probably accept the activity as a cutting edge example of contemporary drawing practice. Imagine walking round town making drawings in this way.
Could you create a 'costume' or 'outfit' that worked as a portable camera obscura? The sedan chair camera obscura (below) is another similar device, but you need a couple of willing helpers to get you around. 

These devices can be seen as sculptural objects in their own right, but they have much potential as objects that could be part of a much more environmental or performative approach to drawing practice.
One of the simplest tracing devices is a pantograph.

This too can be extended to make a more performative event. The very ungainliness and difficulty that begins to stand in the way of making a drawing begins to be interesting in its own right.

There are lots of different jointings that pantograph type machines can have, this is called the Watts connection.

There is a long history of these devices and they make for quite fantastic images in their own right.

Pablo Garcia's drawings of drawing devices 

These devices can of course be reconfigured to accomodate more modern materials, look at the work of Trevor and Ryan Oakes here

 Trevor and Ryan Oakes: The concave easel

If you are inventive enough anything can become a drawing device.

Tim Knowles

Tim Knowles turns a tree into a drawing machine, the artist John Stell (a former LCA Fine Art student) attached spot lights to his legs and photographed the linear light traces of himself walking at night.

John Stell

Alan Storey: Handle With Care

Storey's shipping crates when folded out are seen to be surfaces for specially prepared pen carrages that translate the movements of the container as it is shipped.

Alan Storey: Handle With Care: Montreal to Vancouver
Trans-Canadian highway

Many things can be done to record traces of events. Just leaving things out in the world will usually result in a drawing of some sort or other.

Images of surfaces that have been scratched, simply by heavy contact with the world.

Nikolaus Gansterer is an artist that works in this territory; for example he uses: "a writing tool suspended inside hardware that inscribes on a paper the wave movement of a canal, drawing instruments held on stretched ropes that are pressed onto paper by birds sitting on the ropes, 
papers attached to street cars that brush through the city or even plain papers get buried in the park becoming a test field for microbial activities". See his work here link 

Nikolaus Gansterer: Traces of Spaces

Modern computer technology has of course enabled artists to go much further with these types of ideas. Andrew Kudless has produced some facinating drawings using programmed robotic machines. Find a link to these here.

 "Untitled #13," from "Scripted Movement Drawing Series 1" (2014) by Andrew Kudless

See also:

More drawing devices

Painting By Numbers

Radio 4 are still interested in engaging with some students in relation to the program they are putting together on the history and cultural significance of painting by numbers. They will be coming into college on Thursday 4th December at 11am. One of the issues they would like to explore is whether or not the principles and processes surrounding painting by numbers have any relevance or interest to contemporary art students. In particular they are interested in hearing your ideas and thoughts on how and why this ‘hobby’ could be engaged with.

The image (below) of how to convert a drawing of a horse’s head shows the initial process, what would be more interesting would be if you took the idea on board to try and convert one of your own images. The other issue of course is the choice of a palette of colour. What would the mixes be? Why would a certain range of colour work and then to try and work with that very limited palette.

Please let me know if you are going to contribute.
This link is to some contemporary artists still using painting by number concepts.

See also:


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Fixings and Fittings

I’m often going on about how important it is to think through presentation. During your time at college it is really useful to get used to what fixings and fittings are out there. Most of them are made for things outside the art world, so what you will need to do is find that bathroom shelf that has the exact right aesthetic to put your object on, or locate that exact shade of copper a clip needs to be, or a hook the right size to hang your paper from. But if you don’t know where to look or if you don’t know what is possible you will end up making a compromise. So here is a starter for 10.
See below some web-sites and artists approaches to presentation that could be useful if you were thinking about researching the way hanging work could shape an audience's reaction to it. Get used to what different companies offer and look for alternative suppliers. The more you know the better choices you can make.

Good iron mongers offer a wide range of fixings and fittings, including lots of hooks, hanging ideas and brackets: Start looking for catalogues on line, go through all the boring bits carefully because you might miss something. A catalogue that includes mirror plates and brackets, might also include those peephopes for looking at who is on the other side of a door and timber beading for window frames. (Links will quickly disappear so print off contact addresses and keep in an old fashioned file).

The place for those 's' hooks and small pulleys you always wanted is here.

Butcher's hooks can be placed around a metal frame and large sheets of paper or other materials hung to make a rectangular solid. They carry a very charged series of meanings, so you need to be careful how you use them. 

Nadia Kaabi-Linke has used a bar and 'S' hooks to display her porcelain fired paper shards. (You can dip paper in liquid porcelain slip and when dry it can be fired, the paper burns away and you have these thin 'casts' remaining). 

When you need to get big things get more complex but they can still be achieved with a little planning.  Zhu Jinshi works with rice papers and in order to get the effect required, layers of them need to be hung. 

Horizontal poles are hung by wires from the ceiling, then the paper is simply folded over the poles. You can just see where the wires go, because the first sheet of paper has to exactly butt up to the wires used to hold the poles in place. A reinforced concrete wire mesh panel would be hung from the ceiling in order to have the necessary grid to hang wires from. 

A good building supplier will stock these wire mesh panels.

In order to hang from the wire mesh (if used, wire cables may have been put up) the artist would have sourced a series of specific fittings from a company like this
The fixings and fitting surrounding wire and rope have all evolved to do specific things, usually what you want is the neatest and cleanest solution, but it may be that you want to make more of the 'language' of these things and bring them into the foreground. This is of course something that as an artist is an option open to you. You would make a decision based on the aesthetic you were  trying to develop. 

For a wide range of wire and rope fixings

For wire to draw 3D structures with as well as delicate and unusual wire meshes etc

Swivels and links on a small scale are often found at fishing suppliers.

One issue is often the use of text on walls. If you are thinking about using commercial style signage, putting up a vinyl wall image or text. You could cost this by ringing around and getting quotes, alternatively if you are by chance at a college gallery opening, ask one of the gallery technicians where they got the wall text from. 

Building walls? Plywood, chipboard, blockboard or MDF, get some basic prices by ringing around as well as looking at websites. Remember you can sometimes get technicians to order materials in through the college this is often cheaper.

In Leeds, for paint when you have no money try: Seagulls re-use limited.

When you just want to pin paper to a wall T pins are a really useful but slightly different alternative. 
T pins come in a much wider range of sizes than the traditional dress maker's pins.

These are a different type of T pin but they have nice round flat heads which can be just right for some work. Get them here.

For a local haberdashery that stocks textiles materials of all sorts and fixings and fittings for them you can go to:
Samuel Taylor
10 Central Road
Leeds LS1 6DE 

It’s just over the road from the market, Corn Exchange side.

Fixings are also used within a drawing. Look at the way Ann Christopher is putting together several layers of papers in this drawing. 

I would expect you all to have a file on these things, whether links on your computer or mobile or an old fashioned notebook, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you begin to think about presentation very early on and not just when you think you have finished something. The way an eyelet sits against a drawn mark, or the way a wire is used to hang work from between two walls will drastically affect the way your work is seen.

Also you will need to get used to different ways to get things on a wall. Installing Exhibitions a Practical Guide is a good introductory text. It is written by Pete Smithson, an ex student from the time when the University was called the Jacob Kramer College. A fact that reminds me that there are of course jobs in this area and if you like all the issues associated with installation, good gallery technicians are always in demand. 

Don’t forget to build up your basic toolkit, this gets bigger as you become more professional, for instance a studfinder will save you hours of fiddling about if you need to put your fixings into solid wood and you find yourself in a plaster boarded gallery. All of you need a hammer, screwdrivers, electric drill, spirit level, ball of string, assorted nails and screws, tape measure and bradawl.  Pliers, a tenon saw, adjustable wrench, utility knife and duct tape, would also be very useful. I don't see many people fully equipped when it comes to putting up shows, and the amount of hours lost as students wander about looking for basic tools during the putting up of shows is criminal. You could always ask for a tool kit for Christmas. Remember college is only one step on a long journey but a toolkit is for life.