Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Drawing and the archaeologist's dig

Archaeologist's drawing of a stone axehead

Archaeologists still make drawings of the objects they find, even though they could now scan them or take photographs of them. This is because the archaeologist provides a certain level of interpretation of a drawing, based on methods of documenting knowledge of the artefact that a camera or a computer cannot convey. In other words, the drawings are not merely artists’ renditions of the objects, but coded representations of scholarly observations. The fact that archaeologists don't find photographs give them enough information to work from is fascinating, especially in a world where the photograph has in so many ways replaced drawing as a truth statement. You are not allowed to have a drawing of yourself on your passport, but when studying artefacts the professionals would much rather be working from a drawing. So what is it about the drawing process of archaeologists that makes it so unique? A while back I posted on process and its documentation and what was interesting in relation to the documentation of the process was the need for a grid structure against which process could be measured. This is the same with archaeologists' drawings. There are some basic learning outcomes that you would need to have under your belt if you wanted to undertake some archaeological digging, the first of which relate to good practice on excavations. This is how the process is written for archaeologists.
'First of all you need to lay out a grid of 5m squares to facilitate planning. This grid is marked out on-site with grid pegs that form the baselines for tapes and other planning tools to aid the drawing of plans. In some cases, the contractor may prefer GPS located site plans and sections, but the methods of laying out a site grid, and crucially tying it into a national grid are essential.
Once a site is excavated and plans, sections and finds recorded, they have to be related to each other and a wider measurement system in order to understand where they are in a Cartesian coordinated space. In order to do this someone has to lay out a site grid with a baseline and then relate the grid to a National Grid Coordinate. The gridded trench should be laid out using right angles, often using the 3 – 4 – 5  triangle rule or using a diagonal calculator such as the one below'.
Diagonal calculator

'Coordinates are always Easting and Northing in the UK and Europe, but can be the other way round in other countries so you always need to put an E and N at the end of a coordinate to save confusion.  Set out your site grid as close to true North as you can. You can use anything from a Diff GPS to a googlemap to locate yourself. The important point is to locate yourself on the surface of the globe or your project/excavation is “floating” in space. Find at least two recognisable features that also appear on a map in order to locate your site grid such as a pylon corner, a wall or building. A very handy tool to find the Easting and Northing of Any Point on a map is to be found at:  http://www.gridreferencefinder.com  :  Just zoom in, change to Aerial View and find a Grid Reference for any point by right-clicking on the Map.  

Before you can even begin drawing you need to locate the area to a national grid co-ordinate and ensure that each square of the grid you have laid out is identifiable.
You would also need to follow the conventions of archaeological drawing, so once an item was decided upon as something worth drawing, before you put a mark on paper you would need to register the item and link that to the drawing. The main registers (archeological terminology for headings) you are likely to use are: Context, section, plan, photographic, geo-rectified photograph, level, small find and environmental. Then a photographic record shot would be taken, one with an identification board and one without.  
Photographic record of a site made before the grid is set out. Your drawing would need a reference number that could be used to link it to these photographs.
Then some geo-rectified photographs ought to be taken, these must all face in the same direction, all multiple images need to overlap and have two overlapping visual reference points, a spirit level should be used to ensure the same angle is used and record sheets completed so that cross referencing with drawings can be achieved.

There is a lot of context here that an artist would not normally think about, but if you as an artist want to situate your drawing very precisely into the context of its making, I see no reason why you shouldn't adopt the conventions of another discipline. What this process is doing though is verifying the location of the activity and by cross referencing, ensuring things like scale and orientation are understood and are clear.

An archaeologist's manual would give you the details as to how to draw cross sections of the site and to indicate the nature of the dig. See this typical archaeologist's hand-out. and this more detailed example.

Once the site itself is drawn, then the actual objects can be drawn. There are a further set of conventions for drawing small finds as laid down in manuals, such as this. What I found interesting was the use of profile gauges and calipers to ensure accuracy. This old textbook is also worth looking at in detail because as well as laying out several drawing conventions to use when drawing small finds, it gives several examples of interesting devices that can be used to help take more precise measurements. 
Using a radius card to measure a ceramic vessel 
The textbook, Griffiths, N., Jenner, A. and Wilson, C. (1949) Drawing archaeological finds: A handbook London: University College, has excellent examples of the development of specific tools to help with the accurate representation of objects. The blurb for the book states: 'This profusely illustrated volume treats the various techniques to overcome the difficulties of translating three-dimensional objects into two-dimensional illustrations'. I think it would be very interesting to make new tools of translation between three dimensions and two dimensions to help with the drawing of more contemporary situations. The need for precision is rather like the need the police have when recording a crime scene. This could be another area to investigate when thinking about applying the conventions of different disciplines to the recording of information. Above all it makes us realise that each discipline has its own representational conventions and that these are perhaps as important to the understanding of any image as what is being examined. It is only by getting to understand another discipline's conventions that we can begin to get an idea of how strange and arbitrary our own discipline's conventions are. 
Sketch of a crime scene using 'crime zone' software
The layering of information, whereby every aspect of the process is recorded and cross referenced gives an authenticity to an activity that can be used by artists to give gravitas to the processes behind the making of drawings that are often little acknowledged. You can train as a forensic artist, see details here. The most well know aspect of a forensic artist's work is of course the composite images made of suspects. 
Forensic artist's composite drawing
The text below is taken directly from an interview with a police artist.
"When something looks familiar to a victim, I include it in the drawing. If it doesn’t look right to him/her, I take it out. It’s trial and error until it all comes together. Every sketch artist has his/her own methods of procedure. It becomes personal. I’ve developed mine for over 30 years. Since so much of the sketch relies on the actual interview process, I often don’t even start to draw for the first hour. That gives the witness time to get to know me and relax. I often use relaxation/meditation techniques to calm a witness down, especially if the crime was traumatic. I was once mislabeled by the media as being a hypnotist, but I forced a retraction. While I have done some composites while a witness was under hypnosis by a trained therapist, I’m not trained to do it myself. I simply use methods of meditation to calm the mind, and make the process less stressful. All in all, it usually takes me 3 to 5 hours to complete the composite drawing". 
The police artist is looking for another way of being objective and has developed a series of techniques that rely on communication with others, this aspect of the work is also about building up reference points outside of the ones that artists normally use. Once again this process may be of use to those of you looking for alternative ways to build in objectivity into subjective experiences. In particular you might want to research 'Locard's exchange principle', which is used by detectives at a crime scene; basically it states that, every contact leaves a trace.
Nathan Coley's 'Lockerbie Evidence' is an interesting artwork that uses the conventions of a crime scene documentation to explore issues surrounding the Lockerbie plane crash.  

Nathan Coley 'Lockerbie Evidence'
The forensic investigation of artworks themselves can also lead to the making of new work, look at the Irish artist Brian Fay's drawings made from x rays of old master paintings.

Brian Fay: From Vermeer's 'Lacemaker'

Other posts related to the use of grids can be accessed from here

There is a description of how scientists think about soil analysis by Bruno Latour in his book ‘Pandora’s Hope’ and it also describes how a grid can be used to think through an analysis of the earth but it uses a different set of tools. Latour uses this approach to soil analysis to demonstrate how we can think about something in stages and that each stage can in effect belong to a totally different reality. 

Latour's text takes a while to get through but it is worth it, I have tried to simplify it in an earlier post, (See the second half of this post. ) the most interesting issue is perhaps that all drawings are to some extent about different stages and that each stage requires you as an artist to apply different thinking strategies. Sometimes you are adding, sometimes subtracting, sometimes you are discovering and at other times you are analysing, sometimes applying formal logic and at other times allowing chance to operate. 

See also:

The grid as a cage or trap
Drawing maps

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The first ever drawing was a hashtag

A stone shard on which is a fragment of the Blombos Cave drawing

The media recently latched on to a report about early humans and their ability to use drawing. The way that this discovery was reported on is as interesting as what was being reported. This is how the news was reported in the Telegraph newspaper.

'The earliest ever human drawing was a complex ‘hashtag’, scientists have found, proving man was capable of abstract thought far earlier than previously thought'.

The article concerns the discovery of drawings in the Blombos Cave in the southern Cape of South Africa. The drawing consists of three red lines cross hatched with six separate lines. The startling issue is that this drawing is 73,000 years old and predates previous drawing from Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia by at least 30,000 years. 
The drawing was made with apparently an ochre crayon, a fact that was for me even more interesting, because I was fascinated as to how the crayon was made. Was it simply a found lump of material, was it shaped or was it a crayon made out of material soaked in fat and grease? Ochre is a natural clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. It ranges in colour from yellow to deep orange or brown and can come in both hard and soft formats and like any clay material has the ability to be shaped when wet and it hardens when dry. I.e. it has the possibility to be shaped by other things it comes into contact with. 

Prof Henshilwood, the scientist reporting on this stated,
“Before this discovery, Palaeolithic archaeologists have for a long time been convinced that unambiguous symbols first appeared when Homo sapiens entered Europe, about 40,000 years ago." I was interested in his use of the term 'unambiguous symbols', but before I return to that, and the idea of 'abstract thought' lets compare the Telegraph's reporting with how the 'History' website carried the story, 
'It turns out the hashtag was trending way before Twitter—a new discovery in a South African cave shows human’s earliest known drawing was a depiction of the now pervasive symbol, or at least very close to it'. In this case we have the idea that the drawing was a depiction of a symbol. But how do we know the reading was 'unambiguous'? Every time I make a drawing I'm very aware that what it might mean to others is open to interpretation. 

The obsession that the media has about finding a similarity in behaviour with ourselves is interesting, the stories don't attempt to unpick what is really going on here and they leave the impression that the earliest humans went around drawing the hash symbol # and similar forms and as they did that they used them to carry unambiguous messages. 
The hashtag symbol we now use in twitter, (the hash sign on a computer keyboard that looks like this #), is at the moment used within a Twitter message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it. Whenever a user adds a hashtag to their post, it's able to be indexed by the social network and becomes searchable/discoverable by other users. Therefore it has a very specific (unambiguous) use within the context of Twitter usage. The hashtag was first brought to Twitter on August 23, 2007 by Chris Messina. This is really interesting because in this case you can point to the very moment a symbol was linked to a particular use. Messina's suggestion was quickly taken up by others and most of us will have used it in the way Messina suggested, but as Messina's original tweet points out, at the time # was thought of as a pound sign. 

The # or hash sign was previous to its Twitter use, most commonly known as the number sign, (the designation of an ordinal number) in American English as a pound sign or in British English a sign for a pound in weight (a ligatured abbreviation for pounds avoirdupois. having been derived from ℔). It is also known as an octothorp. Within the language of musical notation we have the ♯ or sharp symbol. In Chinese the sign for moon uses a similar construction and if you look at the signs for mouth, eye and ear, you will see that they all have a similar graphic identity, or come from a family of forms very close to that occupied by the hash or sharp symbol. 
Chinese characters for moon, mouth, eye and ear

The evolution of language

The Phoenician symbol for H was at times very similar to our # sign and it is likely that when making up written languages from a few variations of line, the # sign is going to crop up more often than not.  
All of these symbols are learnt conventions and they only operate within the subgroup language preoccupations of the particular cultures that use them. 
There are other theories about the very early use of non figurative marks on cave walls, one of which relates them to entoptic forms. (See link at the end of this post)

Entoptic forms and art 

Prof Henshilwood also states, “These signs were most likely symbolic, which helps round out the argument that these Homo sapiens were behaviourally modern". But where are the other symbols in the cave?  You can't have a Twitter message just consisting of hashtags. Symbols of this sort exist within a field of other symbols and that is what makes them part of a language system. So what does the professor mean by behaviourally modern? Are we to read these marks as belonging to some sort of narrative? It could be one that states "I live here, this is my home, my territory is dear to me and I will defend it". If so, I think we could find that story being told by a wide variety of species. I suspect that humans in those days were much more integrated into their world and that language development had yet to lead to a separation from reality. 

But what is a tag? It is defined as a label attached to someone or something for the purpose of identification or to give other information. Within the world of graffiti tagging is defined as a form of communication between street gangs and serves the purpose of marking territory. 

But there are a lot of animals that mark territory. For instance smell is often used as a territorial marker. In the case of a rhinoceros there is a visual and olfactory sign system in use, a large part of it the product of bacteria in the gut. (But more on that later)

Leopards create scrapes in the ground, and these together with urinated scent create territory markers and bears make marks on trees not that dissimilar to a hashtag.

Bear claw marking on a tree

The way that bears leave territorial markers on trees is perhaps not dissimilar to the way that the Blombos Cave markings were made. Bears and other animals have been known to mark the walls of caves when the rock was soft enough. In fact, bear scratches have been reported as underlying the paintings at Chauvet Cave in France and it could be that the first human markings were simply tracings made over the ones made by animals. By tracing over the marks of another animal, you could perhaps build an empathy with the creature that made the marks. I'm not trying to debunk Prof Henshilwood's theories, but what I am trying to do is to make a point about the way we think about complexity and abstract thought. Going back to the first quote I came across, "The earliest ever human drawing was a complex ‘hashtag’, scientists have found, proving man was capable of abstract thought far earlier than previously thought". Would a newspaper bother to report that the earliest ever animal markings were found to be made at a much earlier time, and that they represented complex communication systems? How 'complex' is a hashtag? Some graffiti tags are simply signs that state, 'I was here'. How can we know how complex another creature's thought is? Of course the statement, "proving 'man' was capable of abstract thought", is somewhat thoughtless in a time of sexual equality. This could be read as a further sign of hierarchical thinking, man above woman, humans above animals, abstract thought valued as being more important than emotional or tacit understanding. 
Of course it is wonderful to think that 73,000 years ago humans were making marks on walls, but is it not just as wonderful that dogs mark territorial boundaries by urinating on things? When you begin to look closely at anything you reveal deeper and deeper mysteries, rather like the line you see that defines a Koch snowflake, the closer you look at it, the more complex it gets. 

Koch Snowflake

Every time you look at a Koch snowflake you become aware of levels of complexity that can seem very like that story about how long is the coastline of Britain? The closer you look the longer it gets, at some point you are having to measure around every pebble on a beach and at another level of investigation every indentation in every grain of sand needs to be factored in, etc. All objects or events can be looked at using different magnifications, we can regard things at a distance, or we can walk right up close, very like a fractal. A fractal (of which the Koch snowflake is an early example) has been defined as "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,"  a fractal having a property of self-similarity.  Therefore as you look closer, what you begin to see are smaller units that are related to the larger units. It is complex all the way down. You are probably familiar with Mandelbrot sets, images of which exhibit an elaborate and infinitely complicated boundary that reveals progressively ever-finer recursive detail at increasing magnifications.

A Mandelbrot set 

The image above shows a Mandelbrot set with external rays, which are curves that run from infinity toward the Mandelbrot set. What is interesting here is that these curves are called rays because they are similar to images of rays. I.e. the mathematical world dips its toe into my world, one where the line can be regarded as a visual symbol for a ray. In the case of the drawing below, dashed lines being used to represent radiating sun rays, suggesting that the rays pulse outwards, rather than emanate as an even flow. 

Visualisation of Sun rays

In mathematical language a ray is a part of a line that has one endpoint and goes on infinitely in only one direction and because it extends infinitely you cannot measure the length of a ray. 

The sun rays that have bathed the Earth for billions of years can be captured by cyanobacteria, and this was the case long before plants developed photosynthesis. The original spread of cyanobacteria has been called the Great Oxygenation Event, an event that in some scientific circles has been described as a type of holocaust. However it took a very long time, from about three billion years ago, to about one billion years ago. A huge proportion of the early life-forms on earth were anaerobic, which means that they reacted negatively (were killed) if oxygen was present, therefore the initial release of oxygen into the Earth’s atmosphere was catastrophic to the existing life forms. It was only after the evolution of oxygen consuming aerobic organisms, that life on Earth established an equilibrium again. Free oxygen has been an important constituent of the atmosphere ever since, but as we are becoming more and more aware of global warming, we also become more aware of the fact that in the long term things have been very different and that the Earth's biosphere was always capable of renewal, even after unexpected catastrophes. When exploring fractal worlds you begin to visualise different mathematical possibilities, and it is almost as if new worlds, not dissimilar to the microscopic one of our more physical world, are coming into being. At some point everything begins to dissolve into everything else. The maths becomes geometry, abstract geometric forms become biomorphic cellular structures, and cellular structures begin to gather together and move. I am very aware that I am composed of 57% microscopic microbial entities, my human cells are the other 43%. So something hugely important is going on at a microscopic level, especially in my gut where these tiny creatures are mainly concentrated. If I am over 50% made up of other creatures then when looked at very closely what am I? The notion of self begins to dissolve and it might be better to state that there is no such thing as 'I', simply a working correspondence with other entities that at certain levels of magnification appear to be a mass of single celled organisms, a sack full of water or a human being. When looked at using a powerful microscope, a family of resemblance becomes apparent, a rat's DNA being very similar to my own, and like myself the rat too is made up more of micro organisms than rat cells, the DNA of which it could be argued is only viable when fused with that of mammals. 
Rat's cerebellum

Human cerebellum

At huge levels of magnification one thing can easily be another, as we go further down the microscopic levels we would of course enter the world of quantum theory, physical reality dissolving into energy and mathematical probabilities.
A Buddhabrot

The more I look at fractal mathematics and the types of structures that can be visualised using Mandelbrot sets, the more these forms appear to be similar to organic life. The Buddhabrot above, named because someone saw a visual resemblance to a seated Buddha, being typical in its organic like form. A form that seems a long way from that hash tag that I was thinking about when I began this ramble, but which is in many ways not dissimilar to an entoptic form. One line, becomes two, then three, then four, at first they take the same direction and then they don't. Eventually these lines will curve, zig-zag or cross and as they do perhaps as in so many of the drawings we make, gradually, as with Van Gogh and many other artists, something will emerge. 

The grid / hatching /hash / net / sieve

Van Gogh

The oldest existent drawings in the UK are from the Channel Isles. As you can see they could be of anything and the current interpretations are in my mind rather suspect, at the end of the day they might as well be of hashtags. 

See also:

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Printmaking: Monoprints and Lithographs

Living in Leeds I have been unable to miss the work of Mike Moor. He is one of those artists that go under the radar but who carry on regardless and who every now and again produces an image that really makes me stop and look. I have suggested several times that mono print can be a very useful way of liberating your image making processes, because it allows you to move the ink about and watch what is happening in such a way that you don't need to become precious about things. An image will be glimpsed in a soft mix of ink and turps, the white of the paper might just catch an idea of a shape that can be clarified simply by cleaning it out with a rag. All you need is a way of transferring the images when they have arrived on to paper. The Northern cities of England have a long and powerful tradition of being fertile ground for artists, there is though very little in terms of an art infrastructure, far too few galleries, agents and dealers, and so the artists often get an undeserved reputation of northern dourness, especially when they visit the south and complain about how few opportunities exist for northern artists. I like to think their work is better because it is done in a cold unrelenting climate that has very few outlets in terms of selling or promoting work. 

Mike Moor: Monoprints

Christopher P Wood is another Leeds based artist who has a highly personal body of work that continues to develop and who uses mono print as a process to free up his image making. This film below of him at work gives a very brief glimpse into his world.

Christopher P Wood in conversation about his mono prints

Christopher P Wood: Monoprint

Christopher P Wood: oil on gesso

Mike Moor and Christopher P Wood both continue to produce strong work and are brave enough to use mono-print as a way of tapping into the process of image gestation. I say 'brave' because it can also be a process that reveals things that perhaps you don't want to reveal. Maybe it's time for me to return to mono printing myself, it has been a while since I have made any. I am particularly interested in how my thoughts about drawing as traces of material processes, can be developed by printmaking, a process that I have always thought of as being about leaving traces of an activity. 
In a post from nearly five years ago I wrote, 'Traces are usually traces of moments of surface contact. For example the imprint of feet as someone walks across a sandy beach, wet soles of shoes marking a hallway, a hand-print left on a steamy bathroom mirror. However traces can become more permanent, a tyre track left in mud can become ‘cast’ in hard baked clay as the mud dries out during a hot summer. A dead body sinks into a tar pit, becoming slowly materialized until revealed millions of years later as a fossil. A car runs through a pool of spilled paint, its tyres now leave a permanent print on the road'. 
What I was interested in was that there were at least two sides to every mark/trace. In fact there were usually several things involved and our 'normal' propensity is to isolate these and look at how they effect the situation, but the more I think about materiality, the more I begin to see that the amalgam of things, people, materials, plants, whatever is effecting the situation, is probably going to be as Karen Barad points out, an entanglement of things. Imagine a situation whereby a truck is driving down a road. Suddenly a dog runs out into the road and the driver instinctively swerves to avoid the dog. As the truck mounts the pavement its front left wheel smashes into a large paint can that had been left on the pavement by a shop-front painter, who was at that very moment painting a black frame around the shop window. Luckily the painter was not hit by the swerving truck, but as the black paint splashed out over the pavement the vehicle's tyres ran straight into the pool of paint and began printing long black traces of themselves along the pavement and back onto road. So who or what made this paint drawing? Was it the dog, was it the paint container or the paint, or was it the tyres or the man driving the truck? This complex event was a commingling of effects, and the bringing together of the various elements involved. In fact, if the driver of the truck demanded more respect for their agency within the situation, I would be suspicious of their motives. The truck driver may want us to think that he thought to avoid the unthinking actions of the dog, but we would not expect to have to negotiate with the paint, in relation to what part it played in this event. The paint's unthinking action was to just be there. But if we as Timothy Morton suggests, 'release the anthropomorphic copyright', (Morton, 2017, p. 11), we would have to drop the idea that thought is the top access mode, and that as Morton goes on to state, 'brushing against, licking or irradiating, are also access modes as valid as thinking'. In this case the stickiness of the paint, the receptive nature of the road and pavement to receiving a coat of paint, (for instance it could have been raining heavily and a film of water may have prevented some of the paint sticking to the truck's tyres) all came together with the shape and form of a rubber tyre, that in this situation was to make what in artistic terms could be called a mono-print. In comparison it is useful to contrast the making of this mono-print with a very similar situation, whereby although not all the participants are humans, it is only the humans that are deemed worthy of being named as individuals and other things are described as being owned by humans. Automobile Tyre Print (1953) was made by Rauschenberg directing the composer John Cage to drive his Model A Ford in a straight line over twenty sheets of paper that Rauschenberg had glued together and laid in the road outside his Fulton Street studio in Lower Manhattan. I suspect that Rauschenberg poured black paint on the road surface between the left side front and back tyres, so that only one tyre was covered in paint when it rolled over the pool of black paint. The car was then driven carefully by Cage in a straight line over the 20 sheets of paper, so that the black paint was printed along the full length of the 20 sheets.  

Rauschenberg: Automobile Tyre Print (1953) 

Because one specific human being had the idea of doing this the work is titled in such a way that the human's name comes first and as we are humans too, we expect this. This event is singled out in a particular way; it was an important moment for Rauschenberg because it made concrete one of his ideas. This is why the year is indicated in the title. But the print could have been entitled 'A collaboration between a Model A Ford, the Fulton Street road surface, 20 sheets of typing paper, black house paint and two human beings'. 

Ski track in snow

A ski track can look very like a drawing, but the history of skis is also about the history of snow and the history of snow is a dance of air and temperature and water and latitude and gravity, as well as a series of relationships with human beings. 

In another earlier post, 'Drawing as a trace of touch' I had this to say; "Perhaps all a drawing really consists of are the traces left after one thing has touched another. I liked this definition as it suggested a situation whereby a basic contact between things was the most important issue". But perhaps it's not the basic contact between things, but their entanglement that is vital. There are some very interesting entanglements right in front of me. I'm typing this on an Apple Macintosh computer. The idea of calling the company 'Apple' came first, then 'Macintosh' a name that was suggested by an Apple employee who's favourite apple was a Macintosh variety, was added. This complex machine, made up of metals and plastics and electronic components, is informed by mathematical codes that instruct how it will behave when in interaction with someone like myself. It feels as if it is very far away from the natural world, but of course it is just as much a part of it as an apple tree.  
An Apple Mac is entangled with the idea of an apple, they inhabit the same world, the same world where Newton 'discovered' gravity by seeing one fall from a tree and Eve is reputed to have gained a knowledge of good and evil by eating one. The Bavarian pastor and artist Korbinian Aigner was imprisoned for his anti-Nazi sermons. He worked as a gardener in the concentration camps Dachau and Sachsenhausen, where he cultivated several new apple varieties, one for each year of his internment. His work was shown at Documenta 13 in 2012, now repositioned as a conceptual art statement. In each case apples must have caused some chemical and electronic discharges in a human brain, as some sort of associations were made by humans on their perceptual contact with the fruit of a tree. Amongst many non human life forms, rabbits, elk, bears, mice, chimps and birds all eat apples, and the pips pass through these animals' digestive systems and are excreted, often in places far away from the parent plant. The initial contact between an apple and human was probably very similar and the human could be seen as a seed distributer, just as could a steep slope, whereby an apple might roll away from the shade of the parent tree and find a cleft within which to rot and sow its seeds. In this case it could be argued that apple trees 'discovered' gravity before Newton did. Gravity, soil, insects, rain and sunlight are also vital to the coming into being of something humans call an apple tree. But what if we back peddle the human part? The tree would not have a name, this is something we as humans give to things as a sort of shorthand that helps us communicate between ourselves. The soil/root relationship and ecosystem would be focused on how well the tree was anchored by its  roots, how water and nutrients were being accessed and how the energy store was working. The soil structure would be something that was determined by a coevolution of plants and soil, reflecting local ground conditions, bedrock and weather history. This commingling would be the local communication system, and communication would be maintained by both biological and chemical interactions. The soil has no need for names, but can still communicate with the tree. 

Plants can also leave imprint fossils when they are covered by sediment. The leaf tissue degrades, leaving an imprint of where the leaf once was.

Plant fossil

The imprint fossil above it could be argued is something similar to the ski-print and the mono-print. All are impressions of one thing on another, and in the case of the fossil the complexity and delicacy of the image is as subtle as human 'artistic' mono-prints. 

Alois Senefelder the discoverer of lithography wrote an autobiography. The fact that he had discovered that limestone could hold traces of greasy marks and that you could make prints from the process was interesting enough, but the fact that he had then patented this, was seen by himself as a wonderful thing and he celebrates it to the full in his autobiography. Of course limestones have been holding and transferring marks for as long as limestones have been around, (witness the image of the plant above), but it was a human that 'capitalised' on the process. Lithographic limestones were formed in shallow lagoons. The combination of mild hypersalinity and low oxygen content is believed to have inhibited the formation of microbial mats and prevented the invasion of bottom dwelling organisms that would have left larger fossils, and not only that they would have churned the gently settling sediment up, producing a less homogeneous and smooth grained rock. Stagnancy was required to avoid a churning or sculpting of the sediment by currents or wave action. So in the lifetime of the limestone in question, there was time when the lagoon water, the microscopic shells of sea creatures and microbial mats were all of one thing, a sort of slowly shifting and settling thing, that as a process would eventually after millions of years and billions of tons of pressure from layers and layers of other rocks, result in a certain type of limestone. However this limestone was now revealed again, unearthed and subject to erosion. As far as the limestone is concerned though it makes no difference whether or not it is being eroded away by acid rain or by a printer's levigator. The life of the human, may when looked at from the point of view of the stone's life, appear to be like that of a mayfly, so short as to be inconsequential, but the making of tools such as the levigator does ensure that erosion will during a certain period of the stone's history be very fast. A concept of time is more the province of the human and its short timeframe, so historically little communication has taken place between the stone and its artist, but the artist that has most empathy with the stone, is also most likely to be the one that makes a drawing on it that best responds to the qualities of the stone's surface. But outside of our human frame it is important to remember that there are no edges between stone, weathering, other adjacent minerals and forms of contact with other surfaces. Only our words form discrete differences and we tend to forget that. 

Marc Chagall: The Magic Flute: Lithograph

Human beings value 'intention'. And yet I suspect that the image that Chagall has made on the stone arrived as he drew it, he would have responded to the shape and size of the stone and would have collaborated with the master printers that worked to support him. Yes, he would have had some intention, but if he hadn't allowed himself to be influenced by the stone and the lithographic inks and crayons available, he would have produced a stiff and lifeless image. The final image I would suggest, arrived out of the process of making. If only we could take away the famous name, if only we could simply accept the gestation of the image as being a process of material engagement. If we could, we might be able to extract the image from the capitalist system and just see it as what it is, as part of a process, rather than as a high cost luxury item. The print's subject is a dissolving of human and animal forms into a magical world and this is something that does echo some of the things I have been wittering on about. In particular the dissolving of the boundaries between things, of being able to see human beings as symbiotic creatures, as much about themselves and their bacteria as being mammals, as much about their embeddedness into an ecosystem, as being a product of the weather and gravity. 


Barad, K (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter New York: Duke Press
Tick, B. and Grabowski, B. (2015) Printmaking: A complete guide to materials and processes London: Laurence King 
Morton, T. (2017) Human Kind London: Verso

Other related posts

Drawing and printmaking
The work of Emma Stibbon
The imprint and the trace