Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The drawings of Michael Sandle

Michael Sandle: Study for a 20th century memorial

I was in the 108 Gallery in Harrogate over the weekend and the gallery was hosting an exhibition of Michael Sandle's drawings. Michael Sandle's work is powerful and politically charged. His sculptures are complex responses to a society that continues to give generous support to a powerful military–industrial complex. His work is harsh and uncompromising and is designed to be seen in public spaces, his 'Der Trommler' in the entrance to Tate Briton being typical of a type of sculpture that can stand toe to toe with both historical and contemporary public sculpture.

'Der Trommler' 

In his drawings technical drawing meets expressionism, meets drawing for sculpture. His drawings both explore the potential for making, and work as expressive vehicles in their own right. He uses technical drawing to give authenticity to the machine aesthetic that underlies modern armament production.

Michael Sandle: Bren Gun

Without technical drawings there would be no mass arms manufacture, and at the same time without technical drawing Sandle would not be able to give the degree of conviction to his drawings needed to make them work. Alongside the sharp precision of technical drawing he has a strong grasp of perspective and chiaroscuro, which he uses to control emotional intensity. (Compare other artists' use of tone for emotional effect here


Machine Gun Monument

As Micky Mouse morphs into a machine gun we have two different types of drawing language being brought together, and in this morphing of styles Disney meets the Krupp armament industry. This might appear to be disingenuous but if you compare the long standing German armaments manufacturer Krupp AG’s 1991 acquisition of Hoesch AG in Germany with the way that the Walt Disney Company purchased land for Disney World in the 1960s, you can see that they employed the same business tactics. Business tactics that are very close to military tactics. Over the course of six months, Krupp slowly and anonymously purchased Hoesch shares through a Swiss bank. Because the stock purchases appeared to be normal, everyday transactions, Krupp was able to buy up a large percentage of Hoesch without triggering suspicion. 
Disney anonymously purchased 30,000 acres of land in Florida, hiding its intentions and therefore preventing landowners putting up prices.  The Chinese general He Nuobi advocated the outmaneuvering of opponents by hiding strategic military actions within a façade of everyday actions, a strategy designed to lull adversaries into inaction.
Industry is rarely politically neutral, this Disney cartoon from the mid 1940s being typical of their wartime production.

Walt Disney: 1940s

Sandle is very aware that Micky Mouse is a production of a country that hosts the most powerful military–industrial complex that the world has ever seen. His sculptures make us aware of the continuing need to be vigilant and to never forget how easily we can slip into war mode.
A 20th Century Memorial

If you are in Harrogate it is well worth visiting the 108 gallery and not just for the powerful Michael Sandle drawings, there is nearly always an interesting selection of contemporary work on display, always sensitively presented and chosen very selectively.

See gallery website for details of current exhibitions.

Other reflections on drawing and war

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Yael Bartana and animated collage

A still from: Entartete Kunst Lebt

A couple of years ago the Henry Moore Centre in Leeds put on an excellent exhibition, 'The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics'. The exhibition was very useful in that it involved a dialogue as to where the human body stops, and for someone interested in drawing, it opened doors to ideas about performative drawing and concepts touching on drawing as traces of extended bodies. For instance you could think of a pencil as an extension of a finger. In what I tend to think of as the back room, there was a looped animation by Yael Bartana and when I was writing my last post I was reminded of this. I have been making animations myself for several years, one of which has been selected for this years Trinity Buoy Wharf drawing prize, so I always tend to look closely at what other artists are doing in this area. Bartana's animation illustrates a type of practice that I think has been very underused; the animated collage. 

If you go to Yael Bartana’s web site this is what she has to say about Entartete Kunst Lebt, a 5 minute long, 16mm film animation and sound installation from 2010.

‘When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they regarded Otto Dix as a degenerate artist and had him sacked from his post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy. He later moved to Lake Constance in the south west of Germany. Dix's paintings The Trench and War cripples were exhibited in the state-sponsored Munich 1937 exhibition of degenerate art, 'Entartete Kunst'. They were later burned. Degenerate art is the English translation of the German Entartete Kunst, a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German or Jewish Bolshevist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions. These included being dismissed from teaching positions, being forbidden to exhibit or to sell their art, and in some cases being forbidden to produce art entirely’.

She has used Dix’s work to compile a powerful collaged animation that is supported by a soundtrack designed to heighten the feeling of automated doom and the mechanisation of war. She would have had to copy and print off hundreds of images, often duplicating Dix’s figures over and over again until what were in the original images individual’s suffering from the plight of being caught up in a horrific war, now becoming depersonalised cogs in a war machine. I’m not sure if these images were scanned in or simply photocopied, but the reproduction process also lends itself to a sort of ironing out or flattening of expressive qualities. The ‘artist’s touch’ is much less apparent and mechanical reproduction comes to the fore. You can watch the full animation by going to Bartana’s web site and I would encourage you to pay careful attention to the sound and how it supports the ideas developed by the visuals. It is only 5 minutes long, and in exhibition it is shown looped.

The fact that some artists were forbidden to produce art, reminds us of how powerful the idea of art is. Sometimes it is very easy to dismiss what artists do as of being no consequence and it is only when it is forbidden or removed that in its absence we become aware of how important it can be to us. 

See also:

On articulated collage

A few other thoughts on removal, absence and the void.

Links to other animators or posts about animation.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Absence, emptiness and the void

Li Cheng: A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks 10thCentury

David Edgar's drawing conference presentation on the void left a lasting impression on me and set my mind to thinking about the various ways that we use empty space to help us come to terms with reality. It is as if we need to think about what is not there in order to get any sort of grasp on what is there. This is not then just about drawing, it is also about religion and philosophy. 
Chinese ink wash landscape painting had by the 10thcentury evolved to a point where clouds, mist, sky, and water were often left unpainted. Their presence was instead suggested by the carefully rendered edges of other elements such as the texture of rocks or foliage. These were treated so that their forms faded out into nothing and the way this was done could intimate the difference between mist and cloud, or water spray and sky. This approach reflected the Taoist idea of qi (chi), a recognition that the universe emanates or is constructed from some sort of formless originating energy. By leaving large surfaces of untouched silk or paper, the artist could help the observer think of the ink washes as forming representations of rocks, foliage and mountains, as well as facilitating an awareness of nothingness or the potential of the void to engender somethings. The bare surfaces of silk being the spaces out of which forms emerge. In the West we sometimes refer to this as “negative” space, but perhaps it would be a better idea to call it ‘positive’ space. The Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching expressed the idea like this in Chapter eleven:

Thirty spokes unite around one hub to make a wheel.
It is the presence of the empty space that gives the function of a vehicle.
Clay is molded into a vessel. It is the empty space that gives the function of a vessel. Doors and windows are chisel out to make a room.
It is the empty space in the room that gives its function.
Therefore, something substantial can be beneficial.
While the emptiness of void is what can be utilized. 

Below is a different translation and when centred rather than ranged left the gap between stanzas is a much more satisfactory resolution of the idea of the poem as visual form. 

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it liveable

From: Mitchell, S (2006) Tao Te Ching: A New English Version  London: Harper

Pine Trees: Hasegawa Tōhaku, Tokyo National Museum

In Japanese art there is a concept of 'yohaku no bi', (余白の美), sometimes translated as ‘the beauty of the remaining white’, or ‘the space left empty’. This is a concept that was borrowed in about the 12thcentury from Taoist influenced Chinese images of landscapes, such as Li Cheng's. 'Yohaku' describes the white space in a drawing as an unfilled space, a gap or in certain cases a margin or edge-land. In Japan these spaces were seen as related to the Zen Buddhist concept of emptiness; kū 空 (the void) and mu (absence or nonexistence). Space was central to the creation process, and was reflected in the Buddhist notion of emptiness as being the ultimate reality and therefore a field of infinite potential. Pine Trees by the 16th century artist Hasegawa Tōhaku is a wonderful example of how visual images could reflect this way of thinking. It is as if these images of trees emerge unaided from the stretched membrane of silk, their oscillation between solidification and dissolution being both a product of the artist's awareness of atmospheric conditions and a religious moment of contemplation on the transience of all things. 
It is interesting to look at Robert Rauschenberg's erased De Kooning in this context. 
Rauschenberg: erased De Kooning

Instead of a conceptual move, it could be read as a spiritual riposte to De Kooning's worldly success. By erasing the drawing he was removing the artist's ego. Ego creates desire and greed, which leads us to dissatisfaction and suffering. To eradicate ego, you need to practice non-attachment, to things, people or ideas and Rauschenberg, it could be argued was in making this gesture, demonstrating that it was possible to move beyond our attachment to the idea of art. 

Rauschenberg on the erased De Kooning episode

Absence can become very personal. A few years ago I found myself standing alone in the Polish pavilion in the Venice Biennale. It was 2011 and the Israeli-born artist Yael Bartana was exhibiting three films about Poland and the absence of Jews.

Yael Bartana: And Europe Will Be Stunned (2007–11)

I found myself staring at a video sequence that struck deep. I was suddenly caught up in a call for the return of 3,300,000 Jews to the land of their forefathers. Poland was empty of Jews and my father's family were of Polish Jewish heritage, my grandmother, Lily Lucy Singer dying when I was very young, too young to find out anything from her about her history. Bartana's films occupy a space between documentary, propaganda and fiction and as you watch them you become unsettled as to what is real and what is a construction. There was one sequence in particular that got to me. A young activist, played by Sławomir Sierakowski (founder and chief editor of Krytyka Polityczna magazine), was delivering a speech in the abandoned National Stadium in Warsaw. In this speech he speaks to all the Jews that have left Poland and urges them to come back. I was suddenly overcome with an existential loss. I was for a moment defined by a lost past, a past I had not experienced, and could only reconstruct by looking at old marriage certificates and one single photograph of my great great grandfather Shepsel Sanderwitch's grave in Manchester.

Shepsel Sanderwitch: Memorial stone

Sometimes when trying to open out possible pedagogic approaches or positions that can be taken in relation to art work I can forget that these things can get very personal and go beyond rationality and a balanced position taking.
The concept of representing empty spaces has been at the centre of Rachael Whiteread's work for many years and the void of negative casting was used by her to create a "counter monument" to the loss of European Jews because of the Nazi genocide. 

Rachael Whiteread: Drawing for Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial: Vienna

Rachael Whiteread: Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial: Vienna

This use of negative space was personally very poignant but I would hope it is also something that resonates far beyond my own personal feelings and illustrates how by working sensitively with absence, gaps and spaces, a void can become full of meaning. 

See also these related posts

On marks and stains and our need to get rid of them

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Notes from the drawing research network conference: Loughborough

I was at a drawing research network conference this week and as always there were interesting issues that came out of what was being reported on. This year it was much more focused on presentations from PhD researchers, looking at the key issues behind their various practice led drawing research activities. 

My note taking was not very systematic and my thoughts ran off in whatever direction my various interests took me in. What value these notes may have to students is perhaps to give you an indication of the types of issues that researchers in drawing are looking at and an indication of what PhD study could be.  These notes could be useful especially to those of you now undertaking MAs and wondering whether or not to eventually move on to PhD level study. 

An event such as this attracts papers from various international practitioners and therefore another advantage of going is to get a feel for how things might be different elsewhere and one of the decisions you might have to make at some future point is where to study and this can be crucial in relation to what and how you might engage with research. 

These notes were made in response to each presentation as they were delivered and I was variously distracted, at one point my pencil lead broke and my attention span can vary, so if anyone is trying to use these notes as a verification of what was delivered I would advise extreme caution. I am not a very good researcher, my mind flits about all over the place, so don't take these notes as records of what was delivered, they are more about my own thought processes. 

Nikola Dicke from Osnabrück University in North Germany opened the presentations with; ‘Exploring the interaction between recipient and producer in a live light-drawing process through eye tracking and video analysis’. 
Nikola’s presentation was centred on the interaction between producer and recipient. She would look at what the producer or maker of the communication was doing and would then look at how the recipient or audience for the communication was reacting. Although this was all to do with eye tracking technology, my interest became more to do with the communication conundrum. So bare with me because this next part of the post wasn’t part of the presentation, it’s just my inner mind rambling, but readers of these posts should be used to this by now. 
In any moment of communication between people a lot goes on, we shift what we are about to say, we adjust our body language etc. simply because we have glanced at someone and decided in that glance that they are well educated, of a different class, of an age whereby they may well have a certain preference for this or that etc. all before we even open our mouth to talk. Once any information you produce goes out into the world and is perceived by others the Bauman room comes into operation. Zygmunt Bauman used to live in Leeds and was a well respected professor of sociology at the university, and he had a very useful way of expressing the problem of human communication. It sort of went like this; six people are all to be given the same room to experience. However each person wears a different pair of coloured glasses and also enters the room from a different entry point. One from a hatch in the ceiling, one from a trapdoor set into the floor and the other four from doorways corresponding to the four points of the compass. Each one is asked to describe what they see as they experience the room. 
The person looking through the ceiling hatch sees the room layout as a whole, but because they can only see things from the top the individual items of furniture are difficult to differentiate because only their top surfaces are visible. Because this person wears red filter glasses, all items of furniture that are coloured red appear bright and clear and those green or blue now become simply dark. 
The person entering via a trapdoor in the floor enters the room underneath a table. They can clearly see all the joints that hold the table together and how it is constructed; they can look out between the table legs and see other items of furniture but only from a very low angle so are unable to judge things such as the composition of surfaces etc. They wear violet filters over their glasses. You can imagine the rest of the story, each person entering the room sees things from a very different point of view and the information collected is therefore totally different. However the room itself remains a constant factor and gradually these participants can by moving around the room, meeting each other and sharing experiences and finally swapping glasses eventually get to ‘see’ what the other person was ‘seeing’. So I wondered was this situation similar to Bauman’s analogy?
Nikola was making complex diagrams of the interactions, producing lists of actions made by producer and recipient and then formalising her hand made annotations. 
The producer’s actions were focused on making light drawings using an overhead projector and the recipients were then asked to follow the progress of these drawings as they were projected into a particular room environment. Eye movement maps were then produced of how recipients were following the drawings made. Sometimes lines of tracking would slip away from the main event because something else had broken the attention focus, or there was some sort of shift in cognitive attention. The producer is of course always one step ahead in this game, but I wondered by how much? Going back to my initial reflections on communication in general, I began to wonder whether or not there was any residual pre-communication with the producer and recipient. I.e. why was the imagery chosen? Would a different image engage a recipient in a different way? 
I was a little lost as to how the producer was working, but it seemed as if the producer was initially producing a drawing by tracing from an existing image with a light pen and then at some point the producer would begin to look at what was appearing on the walls and would be able to respond to what was now there rather than just copying. Gradually the recipient would become more and more familiar with the moves being made by the producer and would therefore be able to follow what was happening much more closely, this gradual awareness being also signified by other things such as the laughter of recognition as the recipient ‘got it’. I could see that the process highlighted the fact that communication was negotiated and began to see that this related to ethnomethodology as an explanatory methodology but as with Tim Ingold’s worry about ethnography itself, I began to worry that the methodology’s measuring system was beginning to measure itself rather than anything outside of the situation that had been set up. 
The fact that the research was being supervised by two different university departments was I thought a very useful thing and this was surely going to help prevent the art/science divide, in particular the cognitive science department would, I would have thought, have been able to support bridge building between a more embodied art awareness and aspects of psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and computer modelling. Above all I was made aware of my own inability to grasp what was going on because I wasn’t able to experience the initial situation and no matter how well explained there is nothing as useful as an actual demonstration. Gaps in translation and how we/I attempt to make sense of what I/we don’t really understand, then became what I was finding more and more interesting. 

David Edgar 

David Edgar who had travelled all the way from Tasmania was the next to present. His paper ‘Agitating the void: phenomenology and its practical application in drawing’ was put together in response to his ‘facing the void’ that first of all appeared to him when looking at particular ‘sublime’ geographical Tasmanian locations and which then became more universal issues, such as how do we respond to the spaces and gaps that are everyday aspects of our experience of the world? 
David had begun the process of research by documenting particular types of spaces. This documentation it seemed was mainly lens and text based and I wondered why and if it had to be lens or text based how should this be done?  If you rock climb, the experience is one of holding on to a rock face, experiencing it face on, close to and then suddenly switching your gaze into the space below as you are forced to swing out and away from the rock face. You experience a compacted series of sensations in a way that would for myself mean that I would have to spend a lot of time thinking about how to develop a form for its documentation. (David did say that this process was quite complex but I wanted to find out more) For instance would I attach several cameras to different parts of my body as I climbed, or ran or swam through the space, would I abseil a camera over the rock-face? Why was the documentation lens based? Could drawings have been made on the spot? During the time when my old friend Patrick Oliver worked with Peter Lanyon, Lanyon wanted to make images that would make people get vertigo when they stood in front of them. In order to do this he went through a series of processes, beginning with inserting a physical ‘reality’ into an image and then suddenly removing it and then attempting to recreate the void left, and then moving on later to building in fixed moments, (such as the equivalent to the edge of his cockpit) and playing that off against sweeping paint strokes meant to evoke or re-create the swish of fast, disorientating, over the ground movement. Patrick took me on a fast ride on the back of an old motorbike through the Yorkshire Dales as a way of explaining it to me. Never mistake the space for the rocks he explained or you will smash right into those rocks and never live in space again. 
Edmund Husserl was cited by David Edgar as an important theorist, and I presumed that it was Husserl’s notion of kinaesthetic consciousness that had intrigued him in the first place.  Embodied movement and its consciousness as opposed to consciousness “of” movement, seemed to me central to this. Again I was drifting along on my own path, but so be it. I looked up again and David was showing a large image of mark making and this became my entry point into ‘embodied movement and its consciousness’. So I began listening more attentively again. David had asked himself, “How do we experience the void?” He wanted to create a materialisation of the void and had read Susan Sontag’s ‘The Aesthetics of Silence’ 
as a way into finding his own aesthetic language. 
There is a tension in Sontag’s text between the idea of ‘silence’ or ‘the void’ as some form of ultimate other worldly gesture and the fact that there is no such thing as pure silence or an empty void. As Sontag states, “If only because the art-work exists in a world furnished with many other things, the artist who creates silence or emptiness must produce something dialectical: a full void, an enriching emptiness, a resonating or eloquent silence.” 
In order to communicate movement Lanyon needed to insert a fixed point into his images. Any form of ‘aesthetics of silence’ or the void would therefore have to fill the void with whatever it was that made us aware of the void. This would I presume then be its materialisation.  But the representation of this void is filled with marks and these marks are being talked about as if they are also indicative of inner emotions. So were we now looking again at some sort of ‘other worldly gesture’? Something to do with the idea that drawing is, “broad and mysterious” as one member of the audience I think put it later in the morning. 
In my head two things were getting mixed up. The documentation of specific places and the making of drawings. The images looked as if they were derived from photographs or video stills because they had that fixed viewpoint problem, and even if they were stitched from several images, they were still tied to a coherent point of view. The marks were made using dry materials, itself interesting (see old posts on Mohs hardness scale etc.) these marks were made using certain types of gestures, and were clustered together to create atmospheric space and energy. David mentioned the fact he was male as being perhaps a reason the drawings were so big, but Emma Stibbon’s drawings are monumental as well, so I was thinking that it wasn't really about that, it was perhap more to do with a need to recognise the importance of scale. It seemed that the drawings were the scale they were because David wanted his audience to feel ‘sucked’ into the void of them. The void in this case being now an intense area of blackness. But as Phil Sawdon interjected during a plenary session, "what about the ‘illustration’ issue". Was this blackness an illustration of the idea of the void, what if it ought to be a recreation of the void? Was the phenomenological experience being lost in Badiou’s dichotomy of certainty and uncertainty? In order to highlight what he was getting at David then showed us an image of Käthe Kollwitz’s 1933 self-portrait, whereby she had drawn the arm between the hand and the head in such a way that the marks energise the space between rather than render the physical presence of the arm itself. 
Käthe Kollwitz

The marks that replace the arm in effect creating “a full void” or as Sontag had also put it, “an enriching emptiness”. David had clearly found the issue that all emptiness is in some way full, as central to an understanding of his research. Research regarded by himself as a way to gain tacit knowledge and understanding of experience and its interpretation and expression though practice. I.e. it’s complicated, but I was still getting lost in that gap between the illustration of concepts and the recreation of experiences. Was this really all to do with ‘the sublime’. The experience of experiencing things that we cant quite comprehend, of being confronted by something that is bigger than or outside of, my ability to measure it against myself?  Avis Newman had been name checked earlier and her ‘indirect representations’ as John Roberts* put it, are perhaps another way into this conundrum. 

*Roberts, J (1990) Postmodernism, Politics and Art : Manchester: Manchester University press

While still pondering these things we were watching Lucy O’Donnell trying hard to get her presentation onto the computer system, something that was proving very difficult so it was decided it was time for coffee. 

Lucy presented ‘All the thoughts I ever had’, a performance presentation, that explored drawing/writing hybrids. The accompanying handout also suggested that ’the balance between the verb and noun of drawing and writing’ was to be questioned. 
I was interested in the fact that Lucy had had a hard time getting her presentation started. Computers had been upgraded over the summer and as is often the case what worked before the upgrade wasn’t working now. But could this be seen as part of the performance, was this a ‘drawn out’ performance, existing over both sides of the coffee break? I had seen a version of the performance before in York, so perhaps these performances were all being drawn out. After all if drawing as a noun: such as a picture, a portrayal, or a sketch, was one side of this concern; how was it to be balanced as a concept with drawing as a verb; whereby actions and time are conjoined? Lucy drew and is yet still drawing, and will perhaps be also drawing in the future, because she will draw again. I have recently written a paper on drawing and different tenses and this had reminded me of the issues involved. Hybrids are though strange things and the experience of seeing a drawing in all its simultaneity is very different to reading a text that has a start and a finish. So how does the hybrid work? Was the filming of the performance a way of making the drawings produced linearly time based, as opposed to a drawing’s ‘compacted’ time? If we write on a drawing does this mean that we need to switch between being illiterate and literate in order to receive the communication in the way it is intended? I’ve just returned from Greece and when there all texts were for myself simply empty signs/marks across surfaces, but for everyone else the text mattered, they could read them but I couldn't. 
As Lucy began to talk to the video, her actions were now extending the situation into the space I was occupying. Was I in effect now part of her drawing, was she drawing me in? I was not sure about the noun/verb balance, little consideration was being made of the picture, the sketch or the portrayal, this all seemed to be about doing. Was this though the point? Drawing is always a performance and the objects that result from these various performances are not as important as we have historically thought. I was reminded of behaviourism and the fact that as we can never know what is going on in someone’s mind, we can only rely on observed behaviour as an indication of any internal mental function. The doing of the PhD therefore becoming what undertaking a PhD is all about. The modes of writing and methodologies of research used, will themselves define what is being done. Lucy is in effect re-enacting the processes of research as performance. Lucy was describing her activity as allowing her to build layers, layers that would allow for the emergence of new possibilities. I wondered if this was similar to the way that Daniel Libeskind drew, because he worked on transparent sheets, one image being placed on top of another until a new image emerged. Lucy was however talking about foresight and hindsight, so for her it was more about time. It was also she said a poetic dialogue, something that I decided was starting to become a theme, David had mentioned earlier that he was sometimes thinking of the relationship between drawing and poetry, but Lucy was also thinking about hermeneutic phenomenology, a practice that is centred on interpretation. So was this more like reading an old Bible? Old Bibles often come with inserted interpretive texts, (hence the original meaning of hermeneutics), but to interpret a phenomenological understanding, is to try to show how an individual makes sense of the phenomena of experience. Something that as I have already shown in reference to Bauman is very difficult to do. But these dualities have been with us forever, especially in an expanded field of practice. For instance Juliet Sorrell finds that “drawing becomes more interesting when it occupies a place between the binary positions established by art writers”, and quotes Michael Newman in stating that “drawing enacts a becoming”. So was this what Lucy was trying to do, ‘enact a becoming?’

The project had started in her response to the restricted spaces of a prison cell, each rectangular piece of paper was becoming read as a restriction or a boundary, but why not a possibility? The prisoner dreams of not being a prisoner, does the artist dream of not being an artist? In creating the lecture as performance is Lucy dreaming of being an actress rather than an artist? 

Pooja Shah in ‘Lines of travel: drawing, movement and travel in architectural space’, presented research in relation to her practice as an interior designer. The first question she asked of us was, “What is home?” So how does a trans-cultural identity work for an interior designer? She initially presented an image of a traditional Indian drawing that used very particular drawing concepts in order to represent a design idea. This hybrid form seemed much more culturally appropriate than the plan and elevation driven technical drawing formats of Western interior design production. Pooja was also looking at the difference between an artist and an architect, again trying to find an identity ‘between’ things. She was also exploring the relationship between poetry and imaging a space. She had come across Carlo Scapa the Italian architect who had been trying to develop an architecture that was able to absorb stories of the past in order to build a new story in time. When she had closed her eyes in order to imagine one of his spaces, the sound of the building suddenly became central to its story. This got me thinking about my own interest in narrative as a driver behind visual thinking and I wondered if new forms of technical drawing could be developed that were much more directly inspired by the way that spaces had been depicted in Indian miniatures. Perhaps a hybrid form, such as a cross between a representational system that included people and plan and elevation drawings. As Pooja pointed out, you don’t get people in technical drawings.  
Trans global movement goes both ways. I used to work on the foundation course at Leeds alongside Desmond Lazaro. He was from an Indian background but raised in Leeds. He decided to go to India and learn traditional Indian miniature painting techniques. In order to train he had to study Pichwai art in Jaipur under Banu Ved Pal Sharma, one of the few living experts on this ancient tradition. Eventually Desmond studied for 12 years in order to fully learn this traditional craft. Like Pooja his work ‘explores the relationship between the self and the various places it inhabits’. His journey was though in the opposite direction.

José Miguel Cardoso

The idea of drawing as an indication of travelling through the world was further elaborated by the final presentation from José Miguel Cardoso. ‘Maps tailored to the body of spaces: Drawing strategies against the indifference of representation’José’s drawings were a response to the now ubiquitous Google maps and how they are dominating the way we now think about representing space.  He asks the question, ‘is there still a role for the hand drawn map?’  What was interesting about his practice was the use of representation and absence. He had made mental maps, and combined them with different types representation systems. Drawing from observation was used as a type of locator. For instance, if you find a high vantage point in a city or other space, you can make a series of representations from observations taken from a series of viewpoints related to the 360possibilities possible from your vantage point. However what happens if two observers begin to map the city from two different fixed observation points? Or what happens if an observer begins to move through the city and take up a series of changing observation points? José uses the idea of the reserve as a sort of holding mechanism for an idea, leaving out information and in doing so he creates space for reinvention. His work provides a way of developing and identifying the prevailing character or atmosphere of a place by picking out salient features and leaving spaces for other things to happen. This may be simply space for an alternative annotation, but may also be a space for imaginative drawing, whereby new possibilities are played out. He pointed out that his work was not about developing way-finding maps, which I found interesting because I had at one point looked at how these could help develop people’s ability to make navigation decisions. Kevin Lynch (if you haven’t read his work about urban planning you ought to) found that the memorable features of a place help people develop images about how those spaces can be navigated. Landmarks are by their very nature memorable locations, they help to orient people, because they can use them to make mental maps of a place much more easily. So I began looking in José’s work for something like the way memory theatres work. Places within which the mind could walk. The ‘reserve’ spaces were useful, but I wanted more.  José reminded us of Steiner’s observation that if you wanted to get an idea of the intellectual fabric of Europe, map out where all the coffee shops were. I’m not sure this is still true, but the idea is still sound. José also introduced us to Gemma Anderson’s approach to research through drawing practice, ‘Drawing as a Way of Knowing in Art and Science’. Essentially his work reminded me that there was a territory that sat between cartographic and observational drawing codes and that it was one that I had myself at times tried to inhabit. This was for myself at its most interesting when José proposed drawing from each side of a bridge. The implication was that one side might be upside down in relation to the other and in that very twist could begin a first step into a new way of describing space. 
In his wonderful short story, 'The Street of Crocodiles', Bruno Schulz describes a huge map that his father used to pin up on one of the walls of their house. Within this densely engraved map, the description of which at times mirrors José’s drawings, the area of the Street of Crocodiles was described as being empty. It shone with the whiteness of a polar region, or that of an unexplored country; it was as Schulz put it, "an El Dorado for moral deserters". The final paragraph of the story is an indictment of Modernity and suggests that in the empty spaces of abstraction lay the seeds of corruption. This area of the city is desperately trying to appear up to date and in doing so is engaged in putting on a front that suggests the dynamism of modern life has energised it, but when looked at in detail, modern transport systems for instance, are revealed to be paper surrogates. The spaces left in José's drawings are like David Edgar's, voids. But voids in cities are very different to those out in the wilderness; they can attract all that is unseen, hidden away and left out of the normal narrative and therefore can also be spaces from within which we write poetry. 

During the afternoon we had workshops to attend, but as we could only choose one each, I can only report on the one I attended, which was Patrick Brandon’s: ‘Delayed graphification: obscurity and emergence in drawing’. This workshop began with an introduction to the idea of using poetry as a way into thinking about space and surface in painting. Beginning with Patrick reading out a quote from Derrida’s ‘Memoirs of the blind’ he then read an extract from Barthes about the ‘punctum’ which I personally think of as an aspect of an image that opens up a way into thinking about what the image as a whole (not just a photograph) means to me. There might be for instance a detail that allows you to begin thinking about what the rest of the image means and this ‘entry point’ then can direct the rest of your reading, because it has already set the tone for, or direction of your thoughts. 
Patrick then read us some poetry, which is always lovely and in particular he read from W S Graham, who had spent many hours in Peter Lanyon’s studio, Graham’s poem ‘the Thermal Stair’ being a wonderful eulogy to Lanyon, written after he died in a gliding accident. (Patrick Oliver was apprenticed to Lanyon in the 1950’s, and was described by Barbara Hepworth at the time as one of the Teddy Boys of British art. Oliver was also Peter O’Toole’s best friend and in that friendship lay an interesting overlap between the best of late 1950s and early 60s painting and the best of the world of literature*.)

These lines were recited by W S Graham;

Yet this place finds me
And forms itself again

This poetic text can easily suggest the processes within which paintings or drawings are made. The becoming of an image being inseparable from the process of making marks on a surface, but in each case the finding process will be different because of the differing proclivities of the maker, and it was this I presumed we were to explore. 
Patrick Brandon had prepared three types of paper for us, one pile being fully acrylic gessoed, another prepared with a watered down gesso, and the third being just a good quality, thick, roughly 200lb weight cartridge. We were also given a variety of scrapers and mark makers and told to make marks. We then had to pass the drawings completed to the person on our right, (there were five of us), and they would then make another drawing on top. Therefore we were going to make fifteen drawing, spending about four minutes on each one. 
We were told we could have a line of poetry in mind while we did this but we didn’t have to. 
Once completed, we were given diluted inks and some watercolour tablets, and on taking three drawings of marks from the pile we set to making something from what had been done. 
The dilute inks when brushed onto the surface immediately bled into the previously hard to see textures, (which were white on white, effectively blind drawing) and the surface came to life. It was now our job to control this. My own inclination was to search out my previous contribution to the mark making and see if I could bring an image out of the mass of often conflicting directions and textures. This very soon became engrossing as I was beginning to ‘see’ what the images were about, which in my own case was about the emergence of ‘light’ coming through from behind marks that were establishing surface. Light was in my mind ‘breaking through’ the ground or surface defined by the marks. I had though lost touch with any literary starting point, but began to find older narratives in the shapes emerging, narratives that belonged to images that I had made earlier, sometimes quite a long time earlier. 

Images made in workshop

We finally walked through the studio looking at what each person had done and predictably all the images were different but of course also similar, as they were all made by scratching out surfaces and then picking these textures out using paint washes. It was an excellent reminder of how important surface is when working on paper or any other ground and it reminded me to make sure I was as in control of that as any other aspect of the image making process. I had been using gesso last year when I was making grounds for silverpoint drawings, so had a big pot of it in the studio and decided it was time to use some of it again. 

Details of surfaces

At times I was reminded of Hans Hofmann’s push/pull language. Hoffman ran some very influential painting and drawing classes in the states during the 50s and he developed a way of thinking about surface as a constantly moving membrane that you as a maker had to keep a close eye on. As each mark was made the surface would re-adjust itself and your eye movement or surface scanning action had to be protected from being caught in figure/ground pockets. For instance an enclosed form might become a trap, or a gap between planes become a hole instead of an oscillating space. Working with Hofmann’s language was something I had to do when I started teaching because his methods were still being taught and I was expected to be able to articulate them, even though at that time they felt to me to be rather old fashioned and more to do with abstract expressionism. 
Nothing though ever really dates when working with surfaces and grounds. Materials will always work in different ways and marks will always energise space and create visual appearances that will fool the eyes into seeing spaces, even when non are there. This illusion lies at the centre of the fascination we have with image making, be this figurative or abstract. 

I am very aware that there are a vast number of ways into thinking about research and drawing practices, but hopefully today's post can give you a flavour of possibilities. As to making a start on this type of research, if you are a student go to this earlier post. 

Links to earlier notes on conferences 

See also in relation to Nikola Dicke's presentation: Eye tracking drawing technology

I have for some reason mentioned Patrick Oliver two times in this post. He has haunted my thoughts about art education for many years, find some more mentions below;

Oliver on thinking about surface 

Oliver on how to carve a line into space

Issue #7 of the magazine Turps Banana has an appreciation of Patrick Oliver's paintings by Marcus Harvey, which also includes a contribution by myself.