Long drawn out, Catalyst Arts, 4 – 27 July 2013
Curated by Alice Clark (2011, MFA University of Ulster) the display of drawing in a continuous space engages with discoveries and new tools, in a pronounced contrast to the academic models of higher research degree in visual arts that only rarely do not lean on stagnating social sciences.
The curator celebrates the playful oscillation between drawing as a noun (stasis) and a verb (change and process made visible) and between chance and indeterminacy. Her selection commands prestige as well as play and humour. In relation to the sectarian futility filling some of the city’s streets at times, one of John Cage’s quotes insists to be repeated here:
In the case of chance operations, one knows more or less the elements of the universe with which one is dealing (and perhaps I fool myself and pull the wool over my eyes) that I am outside the circle of a known universe, and dealing with things that I literally don’t know anything about (1961)
The ensuing methodology is made up of posing questions and using chance to find answers (that may be further questions) while being aware that there are many answers to one question (indeterminacy). And drawing, like music, does not need to mean anything to give pleasure of aesthetic experience as an answer.
On entry a large black rectangle dominates attention, a drawing by Jonathan H.S. Ross.
It is claimed, in the gallery handout that ‘…to be able to cope with creative choices…’ he engages a rule or rules while ‘… utilising automated approach…’ and that he ‘… explores the kinaesthetic relationship between direct dependence on the physical and the cognitive.” I confess, I fail to see any of it as capable of distinguishing his work from many other modernist drawings. Moreover none of it explains why the drawing looks the way in does – various shades of black squares in a grid on the wall.
A startling insight is given by comparing the finished work with the first mark.
Holding the brick of charcoal paste in both hands he respects its weight to map a deviation from a possible straight line. Every infinitesimal mark is a part of another possible but not actual straight line.The stuttering mark joins two midpoints (approximately), their height related to the artist’s body height. It immediately assumes a meaning of a possible horizon.
At some later stage he stretches both arms up still using the right -to- left movement with ascending and descending angles. The length of each phrase corresponds to the selected width of his standing body pivoting from right to left before making a full step to the left. After covering the whole surface with the first layer of line drawings- some look like mountains, others like two crashed cars- he adds a layer after layer of black marks erasing the previous states of being. I watched a video of this process with an increasing anxiety at the life force being more and more diminished by a grid formula in heavy dense blackness. A powerful order of tessellating squares was the rectangle’s final fate. The result invites a thought that the wonder of not knowing and of indeterminacy of the earlier stages became unbearably light and elegant and thus received a negation by an inherited formula. Luckily the final image still breathes, between and through the wide pathways of the black consuming its own energy. Reminiscent of Franz Kline et al. The question when he should have stopped the performing process cannot be answered with any certainty and for all the variations of the chosen concept. This final image has evoked sadness at a loss of the drawing good at leaving light and absence as a part of the composition. Is it a significant part of the meaning?
Tim Knowles cherishes chance as a creative tool. The series called Tree drawings on his website is introduced thus:
A series of drawings produced using drawing implements attached to the tips of tree branches, the wind’s effects on the tree, recorded on paper. Like signatures each drawing reveals the different qualities and characteristics of each tree. (www.timknowles.com)
Tim Knowles(b 1969) lets unpredictability take over once he set up conditions for it to work as a tool for drawing. Attaching pen to branches just touching a ground of the drawing ( e.g paper), what was a drawing in the air manifests as a material visible trace, thus falling neatly into the way we all draw. Easily enchanted by the incomprehensible clusters of marks nesting within the perimeter of the swinging leaf I sense the unexpected connection with nature not as a model, but as an active collaborator in making art. The artist harvests traditions of land art, performance art, and conceptual art in a bundle of wonder. By combining their central theses, Knowles develops Jean Tinguely’s combination of the kinetic art with junk sculpture/machine. Tinguely intensified spectators perticipation by lettin viewers operate the ‘metamatics’, as he called them. Wit, charm, irony and sincerity of his objects embraced pre-programmed chance. Knowles adds deep respect for nature and shifts the participatory role to wind, trees, water etc. They make the invisible visible.
This is the image how his exhibit at Catalyst was made. I do not have a photo of the Belfast installation, where a video flickered next to the rectangle of black and white drawing. ( see www.timknowles.com)
In a space away from the wall a low plinth carried three books with drawings that went sometimes over the page.
Christine Mackey offered Reconnaissance, 2007/8, a series of A3 books with imprints of dusty cobwebs on their pages. She had them displayed too low for viewing, akin to high floor relief. I appreciated the absence of spotlight, the daylight soften the images into a fine, yet firm, gossamer. The cobwebs should evoke the myth of Arachne, however, the imprints of cobwebs treasure another link, that to the mythical Hephaestos giver of skills to mortal artists and maker of the gossamer like chain link for adulterous Aphrodite and Ares. Mackey is not making a link to the myth, instead, to a space, place, time and the otherness of found object made by insect for a life supporting purpose. In that sense her art is not anthropocentric. However, the format of books with imprints on pages is anthropomorphic and not easily discerned as connected to spiders, weaving or net making. Mackey has chosen warm tonality of the paper and of the hues, harmony of which offers association with dry environment, old manuscripts, yellowed pages of memories. As drawings they are all exquisitely beautiful, reminiscent of the medieval observation of flowers and insects on the margins of illuminated manuscripts. There, the observer was a hand away from the observed. I regretted not having them at my eye level or so.
When I visited the exhibits by Seamus Dunbar not accessible. The gallery hand out contains his description of it: From October 2012 to February 2013 I walked the dismantled Sligo, Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway from Enniskillen to Ballysadare, covering approximately 50 miles (80km) in 13 stages. …The current work invites viewers to undertake their own journeys by drawing personal memories and experiences while physically interacting with evidence from my walk. I would have liked to know how it relates to the walks by Richard Long and Hamish Fulton for example.
John Beattie exhibited photography, video stills, wooden models, and drawings from two of his older series.
Displayed on a MDF table the series (Ex) Change presented his intervention ‘…between two opposite facing residential buildings facing his studio off Buckingham Street… Apparently, he made drawings from the sites and left them on a coffee tables where they were made. ‘I will return to find out what became of the drawings and if any thing resulted from this (ex)change’ (gallery information) .
He produced a drawing into each interior from the street using live feed video cameras, monitors and sculptural tools.
On the wall, from the series The artist Studio, Long Distance Drawings, McNaughtons Tree, 2007, a colour photograph and ball point pen drawing on canvas introduced gentle humour associating the art with fishing or collecting butterflies. Lovely confident light touch (see www.johnbeattie.ie)
Alice Maher refers to her exhibits as ‘film drawings’. Projected on two walls facing each other, accompanied with clever sound track by Trevor Knight (he translates some of the narrative into a sound similar to emptying of a sack of potatoes on the floor) the drawings metamorphose into other drawings by additions, fusion and slips. The Music of Things, 2009, was once, at an exhibition in the Dublin gallery Green on Red, a boxed set of seven intaglio prints like this one.
Kate Horgan photographed an earlier installation of the Music of Things, however, the Belfast edition seems to be fuller and richer.
The gallery information sheet describes her method thus: beginning with a sheet of paper, the artist scans each stage of the small pencil drawing at 10 minutes intervals, preserving images as documents in a computer until the paper itself is thrashed ….The scanned images are placed side by side to form one continuous flowing morphing drawing(as opposed to classical CEL animation which requires a new drawing for each frame).
The display at the end of the large room had each film projected on one of the walls, the light emanating into the whole strip of the place. It succeeded in offering immersive experience with no pressure in what order you watch or at what angle. Empowering the viewer that feeling of freedom and sense of play, often not without humour, framed the experience. The narrative was visual, with no story line as such, yet, each visual sequence started, developed and ended. I sensed an intuitive order, like in sentences, or in musical phrases. Each started with a line drawing that was next added to or fused with another (v again and again, until the artist started another sequence on a new empty sheet. The process of drawings made visible an intuitive, responsive and sophisticated mining of associations, memory and knowledge of history of art. Sparkling examples align here with Hieronymus Bosch, there with Diego Velasquez or Max Ernst, and that famous anonymous double portrait of two nudes touching their nipples, inter alia. A veritable fountain of sensual and spiritual riches. Not only I felt invited to observe the flow of Maher’s creativity, its dynamics, its visual logic, and – in Baudelaire’s terms – the dominance of the queen of all faculties: the imagination. The substantial value these images imparted to me with delightful confidence was their faithfulness to the visual force. Leonardo advised his pupils to draw ever day to preserve and protect the trinity of mind, eye and hand. Maher does it gracefully, superbly, confidently. Antonin Artaud once compared art to a plague – you catch it without knowing it. Maher intoxicating mastery of carrying knowledge together with a free fall into imagination is utterly seductive. I want to be in that world of miraculous changes -and surprisingly, I do not feel fearful facing so much insecurity, erasing, swapping, instability, loss of identity, and new surprises of entities unforeseen. Maher protects me with a sincere admission of it being not real. Picasso’s proposal that art is a convincing lie sanctions her choices.