Drawing matters… a text and an exhibition

 

I participated in The London Group’s recent exhibition,  ‘Drawing Distinctions’,  at The Cello Factory (3 – 12 April, 2019). It was a collaborative two-site show curated by Clive Burton that included work by both our members and the Art Faculty at the University of Wisconsin (Stout Menomonie).  Size restricted, the contributions could be in any medium but had to be on paper and tube–packable for ease of transatlantic exchange! As a belated participant in the project my woodcut, ‘the flag’ (20cm x 19cm), was shown only in London. However, I was able, through Clive’s generous agreement, to make copies of my 2015 text – ‘TO DRAW: Drawing Draws Draward’ – available to participants and visitors. This had been published in ‘drawing ambiguity’, a collection of papers by artists edited by Phil Sawdon and Russell Marshall (I.B. Tauris, London, 2015). A version of the paper (typographically amended here)   that was accepted for publication is attached below ‘the flag’.

'the flag', woodcut, 20cm x 19cm

 

TO DRAW: Drawing Draws Draward

Michael Phillipson

Michael Phillipson is an artist and writer who has taught at Goldsmiths College, Central St Martins, and Middlesex University. He exhibits regularly with The London Group and is the author of Painting Language and Modernity (1985) and In Modernity’s Wake (1989) as well as numerous catalogue essays and articles including ‘In Harm’s Way’ in parallax 55 (2010). Many of the issues raised in ‘TO DRAW : Drawing Draws Draward’ are discussed further and are free to download in the texts gathered together as ‘Art’s Plight’ at: www.michaelphillipson-arts.co.uk.

Drawn to ‘Art’s Body’

IMG_0531Art's-Body's Last Breathless Speech

Art’s Body’s Last Breathless Speech     Water colour on paper

 Art’s Body . . . over there . . . still just about in your sights, breathing . . . mouthing . . . drawing . . . breathing . . . You are making-for-art! You hope that the gest you are creating will be gathered into that expanding–contracting collection that you and others recognise as the repository of Art’s ‘difference’. Irrespective of medium, every would-be-artist fills and shapes this repository differently according to the specific gests that, however briefly, charm and transport them from everyday ‘life’ into ‘Art’. But what and where is this desired destination? Think of it as ‘Art’s Body’: a strange gathering differently constituted by every maker that is never ‘here’ but forever ‘elsewhere’, up ahead in an ungraspable beyond. Though each maker can see, hear, touch, read, enter even, many of its constituents, the gathering as an unboundaried whole remains out of reach and beyond reason. Hoping that the gests they cast off and abandon along the trail will be absorbed into this foreign but seducing ‘Body’, makers remain on its trail. And, once seduced, they will almost certainly stick to its tracks irrespective of the interest (or lack of it) shown by the institutional machinery routinely appropriating and managing art on behalf, supposedly, of us all. This life-turning affinity for both the Body one is forever assembling anew and one’s relation to the material processes through which one traces out a path toward it, act as guarantors of one’s hope and keep one riveted to the path.

Thus distracted (by Art’s Body), it seems that ‘to draw’ might itself be naming something that is disclosing one’s fate. Drawn on irresistibly by the Body’s charms (and thus away from the binds of everyday life), one convinces oneself that one has no option but to keep going along this open track. In the very process of aligning oneself with that distant Body, it begins to feel that one is both performing ‘drawing’ itself and being drawn out of oneself. This aligning movement already enfolds the drive to make-for-Art within ‘to draw’ and ‘drawing’. And, simultaneously, it reveals the emerging trail as the performing of ambiguities: each stuttering move onward passes by way of undecidables. Each thing (gest) abandoned ‘for Art’, a trail-marking residue, is already a more-than-one, an identity-less multiple, reducible to a spurious ‘one’ only in the seeming singularity of its name or title. On the way, in hope alone, toward Art’s Body, ‘to draw’ and ‘ambiguity’ fuse and separate without end.

The Word ‘Drawing’

Yet, if we are following the weight of everyday usage, it is difficult to avoid approaching ‘drawing’ as a noun that seems to be bound primarily to the visual, to an object that is an outcome of the coordination of eye and hand (a mind-feel mine-field) in the service of a specific way of ‘seeing’. So that an exploration of the relation between drawing and Art would, naturally enough, emphasise the ‘visual arts’, perhaps with particular emphasis on a drawing’s relation to the traditional arts of painting and sculpture (rather than, say, to installation and performance projects, photography or multi-media approaches to the moving image – film and digital compositions). Closely tied to this usage would be the same word, but now, as the present participle of the verb ‘to draw’, used to refer to the activity of drawing itself. And even passing familiarity with education in the visual arts, where great emphasis continues to be placed (however differently across the transition from the pre-modern to the post-modern) on the activity of drawing – from both life and imagination – as a necessary foundation for induction into art-making, would seem to confirm such a judgement about drawing. In its ordinary life in relation to ‘the arts’ it doubles as both noun and verb-part, placing itself primarily, though not exclusively, as a key to performance in the specifically visual arts.

An affirmation and provocative juxtaposition of this focus can be found in the title of an exhibition showing the intimate relation between drawing and painting in Alex Katz’s oeuvre: ALEX KATZ SEEING DRAWING MAKING.1 In sandwiching ‘drawing’ in bold type between ‘seeing’ and ‘making’, the title gives a visual sense of drawing’s centrality to Katz while simultaneously showing it as a necessary mediator between, while trapped and subordinate to, the two processes on either side of it – seeing and making. This title that both is and is not a sentence opens us to the complexities faced in tracing the path(s) between drawing and Art. Certainly it offers a sense of Katz founding his making-process on a ‘seeing’ that has to pass by way of drawing through a sequence of generative transforming stages eventuating in a residual, invariably painted, object. But the word ‘drawing’ in the title is, in spite of its prominent boldness, clearly secondary in the sequence to the ‘seeing’ that we are invited to read as the origin of a process which is completed in some form of ‘making’.

Putting the name ‘Alex Katz’ aside, the play and the tensions between the three words (each doubling as both noun and present participle of a verb) already immerse us in the ambiguous complex of undecidable oscillations through which making-for-Art goes its many ways. My suggestion here is that this moving amalgam of seeing–drawing–making, far from being what differentiates the ‘visual’ from the other arts, is common (along with other processes) to all the arts. Irrespective of medium or media, in making-for-Art one’s making entails seeing and drawing. Leaping between the arts one finds these three processes being engaged in common but also differently. And it is in this play of differences within what is shared that we may find traces of the ambiguity that runs through and across all of them. Drawn on by ‘drawing’s’ bold in the Katz title I treat it as a guide to what its routine use implies in discussions of both the process of making and the gests emerging from this process. Whatever is going on in such making seems to necessitate drawing. But we soon discover the necessity of leaping back and forth between very different senses of what this ‘drawing’ is pointing us toward and relying on in its various contexts of use across the arts.

Engaging some of the ways drawing, ambiguity and making-for-Art intersect and are intertwined precipitates one into the multiple that the word – ‘drawing’ – itself spreads out before us. For, confronted by the play of differences it offers, it evades every attempt to contain it within boundaries that would fix it as a ‘field’ with a singular identity. This evasion occurs in spite of the fact that we do not seem to be able to do without it in trying to formulate our relation to Art. We begin to experience Art and it as somehow inextricably bound to each other without being able to put our finger on the sources of this mutual debt: Art through drawing – drawing and being-drawn into Art – Art’s drawings. As it recedes from our efforts to place the relation of Art and drawing, the ‘drawing’ word discloses itself as inherently ambiguous: it offers simultaneously many possible things and actions that, though overlapping slightly, cannot be reconciled or joined as one.

But we can’t just leave the word behind us, as if we could consider what drawing ‘does’ or ‘is’ aside from the routine use and references of the word itself. For it is precisely this word that gathers and spreads before us an unboundaried site of complex choices and possible directions. In the very process of pointing beyond itself, it draws us back endlessly into both its own performance and what it enables us to do as we try to draw out and make sense of our relations with things and others. The implication is inescapable that, in the course of our (extra)ordinary becoming, we are indebted to drawing: we are always already drawn-becomings, drawn on, through and beyond ourselves by something that is ‘drawing’ (us). The word points to our fundamental drawnness as corporeal-becomings forever on the move and being moved on – drawing and being drawn.

Thus if, as we search for making-for-Art’s possible entanglements with drawing, we follow the word itself we are constantly returned to our own condition, to repetitive autonomous processes constituting our routine activities. Tracking the oscillating play between the word and the processes and things to which it draws our attention, we soon find ourselves adrift in the complex interplay of its origins, references, affinities and ever-extending relations. These recede rapidly into vagueness, slipping through the very fingers that are so used to drawing things towards us. In the subsequent exploration of making-for-Art’s implicit fusion with our corporeal-becoming I return to the word itself in order to point up both its sourcing and the extraordinary diversity of its use. But before confronting this diversity (the word’s extension way beyond its reference to visible mark-making) a detour is necessary to show how it names a process of drawing-together: it gathers something we hold-in-common.

Drawing-in-Common

In the context of our relation to the visual world, to ‘seeing’, and specifically to those processes and things that we gather under the ‘visual arts’, the word ‘drawing’ does seem initially to offer us something which we take utterly for granted – the largely hands-on depositing or incising of marks on, into or through a possibly receptive surface (stone, metal, paper, cloth, skin, screen).  Such marking activity – always corporeal in entailing partially coordinated and directed embodied movements relating to materials (implements and surfaces) – seems to have been a permanent routine constituent of social life. It responds to an enormous range of human desires, needs and interests by offering a process and a site where a diverse range of activities, from the seemingly simply pleasurably casual (‘just child’s play’) to the most complexly task-bound (knowledge-guided and machine-bound constructive productive work), are forever under way.

This surface-marking seems so necessary and ‘natural’ to our ‘becoming’ that we may take it as a ‘cultural universal’ – something we not only ‘just do’ but also cannot do without: drawing-in-common partially defines us. For wherever material traces of cultures have been found, they reveal markings and material shapings that today we now readily gather as evidence of such universality. As our name for this culturally generalised marking-in-common, ‘drawing’, seems coexistent with our Pleistocene emergence, an activity that has from the ‘beginning’ (forever unlocatable and receding ‘back’ beyond our reach) been intrinsic to our being-here. What we call drawing – this embodied and typically quirky feeling-and-thought-loaded activity – marks a defining ‘moment’ (forever in repetition) of our condition; it partially and endlessly conditions us. As drawing’s partial ‘products’, we draw ourselves on and out.

But does a recognition and acceptance of this common conditioning draw us nearer to what drawing is or might be? If we reproduce ourselves together partially through a process that is ‘second nature’ to us, is it possible to trace connections between our common grounding as ‘drawers’ and the obvious and ever open diversity in drawing’s actual appearances? Is it not precisely this diversity, the multiple and irreconcilable differences, in drawing’s sources, desires, interests and appearances, that prevents all attempts to gather them together as essentially the same, as members of a single family of activities? Is it not precisely the difference, the gap between each ‘drawing-event’, that confounds any attempt to make sense of drawing’s ubiquity through a unification?

Even if we stay within a restricted sense of drawing as primarily a relation between seeing and marking, the differences within this cultural universal speak to an intransigent ambiguity. We can gather all ‘marking-events’ as superficially the same: they participate in a common relation between embodiment and materials. But the human significance of each seemingly ‘in-common-event’ – a humanly marked material surface – is tied absolutely to the context of its emergence. Both the maker’s intention and interest at the sites where the mark emerges and others respond to it (how and where they evaluate it and place it) are context-specific. They generate the marking’s differences and dispersal. The appeal, attraction, appearance, ‘use’ and ‘value’ of the ‘same’ kind of mark, and thus the quality of its subsequent real life, are decided at and as the conjunction of what the mark-maker(s) and the mark-responder(s) bring to the site of its emergence and reception. The consequences of this context-specificity for how any maker engages drawing are profound. The absolute gap between ‘sameness’ and ‘otherness’ confronts us, on every drawing-occasion without exception, with ambiguity.

If we want to ‘see what drawing is’, even as we seem to see ‘the same’, we have to pass through and out of this ‘same’ and into that no-space where commonsense falls away behind us and the anticipated identity of what we are looking at dissolves. We are caught up in (and caught out by) a play of differences requiring us to set aside ‘sameness/identity’ and follow not only the marking’s visible tracks but also the invisible tracks that constitute the context’s always- elusive-because-unspoken relations.

As good contemporaries – we who represent ourselves as ‘contemporary’ with everything that ‘has gone, is going, and will go, on’, and who believe that a relation to ‘Art’ (at least in passing. . .) is a necessary constituent of ‘being contemporary’ – we like to bring Art into it. We believe that, like drawing, we can see Art everywhere too! Desperate to extend our control over things and to affirm the rightness and span of our methods and knowledge-categories (one of which is certainly Art), we draw together marking, drawing and Art. Indeed, we now tend, in the wake of our museumising of the past with its dependence on knowledge-production (research, scholarship, writing, printing, information-dissemination), to take it for granted that drawing’s traces, no matter how distant temporally and culturally, can be reconciled with and affiliated to our own current and now carefully institutionalised vision of ‘art’. The neat lines inscribed into the 30,000-year-old bone seem to confirm that we have all always been ‘artists’. In spite of their differences the markings goad us to construct connections.

Under the sway of technoscience (whose operating mode is precisely the making of methodically produced and ever more complex connections) we develop affiliating threads that, leaping over their extraordinary cultural diversity, stitch the markings into our ‘contemporary’ understandings. We come to recognise a culturally common marking, a kind of ‘drawing-in-general’ dividable into overlapping sub-types (designing, planning, mapping, writing, playing, Art . . .) whose differences are grounded on a common affinity – each can be seen in the other.

But, picking our way through this drawing-in-common in order to explore how something we name as Art may be both dependent upon drawing and simultaneously absolutely different (‘other’), we need to be attuned to the play of difference that Art as we now understand it, seeks to live by. We need to consider if, how, and where, making-toward-art might carry out the ‘cut’ through which it seeks to sever itself from ‘drawing-in-general’. For it will be in that same zone of the cut, at the threshold where drawing-as-culture dissolves and drawing-for-Art sets forth, that the question of drawing’s relation to ambiguity emerges. As we begin to make-toward-Art so does the sense of drawing-in-common begin to recede into vagueness . . .

To Draw ‘Drawing’ Out of Itself

Drawing – here it is, nothing but the word d r a w i  n   g itself out on this page right in front of you in a drawn font . . .

Drawing – here (just back < there) again, this time drawn forth italically as you, reading, voice it silently in some ‘within’ between here and there as this script draws your eyes on along and across the fractures of this one-track, one-way ‘line’ that is no drawn unbroken line but a notional (as long as you keep to its straight and narrow) aligning of the alphabetic bits (juxtaposed dots and marks (that could be lines and yet are both more and less than lines and dots)) assembling this emergent text . . .

Already the ambiguities, obscurities, into which ‘drawing’ casts us begin to pile up. . . and this is before we have considered drawing’s implication in the challenge faced by those making-for-Art now . . .

And, if Art is makers’ goal, could it be that the ‘strangeness’ characterising both what they do and the remnants they leave behind (their offerings to us and to Art), is intimately intertwined with drawing?

And, further, could it be that drawing performed under Art’s auspices is a key to the strangeness that Art engenders, to the ways its ‘gests’ set themselves apart, become unhomely, thus turning drawing-toward-Art into an estranging activity? If so, perhaps it is in the ways that the gests offered as ‘for-Art’ seek to estrange themselves from drawing’s uses under drawing-in-common that they reveal their intention and hope to be drawings-in-difference.

Drawing seeking to turn itself into a ‘drawing-for-Art’ has to go on its way blindly, leaving its traces, without knowing whether any such withdrawal is occurring or will occur. It proceeds in hopeful failure, drawn toward an ‘elsewhere’ beyond the grasp of all the methodically organised ‘knowledge-projects’ used to hem ‘art’ into carefully patrolled and monitored institutional settings. This elsewhere-destination (the ‘not-yet’ towards which it is drawn) is nothing but its own sourcing – the originating compulsion that drives, drags it on, off and away toward Art.

Once under way, such making sustains itself within a peculiar tension of irreconcilables. It traps itself between its chosen media-specific resources and the elusive source towards which it is casting itself. Thus caught, it hopes only that these resources (the matters it fuses, conjoins, aligns, collages, in the things it leaves behind for-Art) will come to be taken as fusing markers of the two unsayable extremes driving it on – its origin-before-memory and destination outside history: going forward by turning back. It has to feel that the matters beckoning to it are already implicated with and have been sent to it from the unknowable source.

Its search ends up performing the very ‘thing-process’ (whatever it manages to constitute and deposit as drawing when under way in its chosen medium/media) that it seeks to disclose as its destination.

Making for its source through this perverse movement, it moves on through a turning back that moves ahead (and thus always away from its origin) by constructing anticipatory traces of what it feels its originating sourcing is all about. It performs a movement akin to Paul Celan’s Meridian2 – a going-forward-and-on-around in order to return to where it began, except that the context of its arrival – the place-time of its abandonment by the maker – is radically other to the pulsed source that drew the maker into making. The movement’s outcome, what it leaves behind and seeks to expose on Art’s behalf, is thus a residue which feels, when we approach it, something like a language. Yet it falls short of a placeable language. The meridian-like process (a self-interrupting syncopation) is never a continuous line like a map’s globe-spanning meridian journeying smoothly and unbroken over every obstacle (snow, ice, cauldron, ocean, forest, city, peak, crevasse . . .). Rather, it moves in and out of the familiars of everyday language. Its journey is characterised by falls and ascents into other experience-zones whose effects it tries to bring into some sort of jagged alignment with the accented codes constituting its quotidian home. Known by heart, these are the languages in which it feels at home. But while it doesn’t need to think beyond them in everyday life, it has no confidence in them as pathways toward Art’s ‘otherwise’.

Emerging only within and on the terms of its self-imposed limits (the performance-specific relations of its fixed terms with their openings, closures, edges, gaps, overlaps and frames that only ever appear ‘just this once in this way’), this language-like composition appears to have been broken off as a singular fragment of some absolutely unreconstructable language beyond any known use-community. Looking both backwards and forwards, this movement that both partakes of language(s) while simultaneously breaking away from it/them, composes something at the edge of languages (some of whose terms we do indeed vaguely recognise) in which it has sought to fuse its lost origin with its destination-beyond-reach. While seeming to found some kind of language, it leaves merely a shard that, compressing and commingling traces of known languages with multiple elements aside from any known language, obstructs all attempts to draw it back into and contain it within any of our familiar languages. Perhaps it is just this singular combining of familiar language-elements with others irreconcilable with any known language that draws us into its seductive idiosyncratic play. The strangeness of this combining puts the composition-for- Art’s singularity unequivocally beyond the reach of any translation into a known or knowable language.

Preserved as this one-off event, each composition withdraws itself from any comforting relation in and with the languages of everyday life (our modes of representing – commonsense meaning via information, illustration, communication. . .). Each ends not as a language-member (though it may be dragged in radically transformed terms into the typifications of knowledge-discourses seeking to rule on Art’s relation to ‘life’) but rather as a ‘this-time-only’ syntactic of untranslatable alignings pledged only to Art.

And makers ‘know’ (in the form of an unsayable ‘know-how’) that Art’s relation to language is that of a not-yet-and-not-here. Art’s irreconcilability with everything ‘that is’ withdraws its gests from ‘culture’ (representation) and draws them into the promise and struggle of becoming-otherwise on Art’s behalf. Makers’ anticipatory compositions, leaping beyond themselves and us towards Art’s not-yet, offer us only the obscurest inklings of what Art’s relation to language may conceal.

But, whatever moves such gests make in and out of ordinary language, one thing remains clear: compositions-for-Art seduce. Seemingly haunted by and bearers of Art’s ‘spirit’, they can, quite unpredictably, charm us away. Art names some ‘force’ (or ‘weakness’, for there is no right word for the ‘un-forcing’ that fatally and delightfully weakens other holds over us) that withdraws potential makers-for-Art from everyday demands. It draws them inexorably beyond the ‘self’ immersed and dispersed in and among those demands.

If it is a ‘charge’ participating in the electricity already possessing us and ‘at work’ within us viscerally, then it is not a dialectic of alternation between two poles (magnetic positive and negative attracting–repelling ‘sources/forces’). Rather, the ‘(im)potency’ drawing us on into ‘difference’ is also a weakening that detracts from specific controls and ‘potentials’. It leaves us vulnerable, ‘all at sea’. Isn’t this the state of disembodying embodiment (something like Simone Weil’s ‘decreation’ – her programme for ‘getting the self out of the way’3 and, ‘To undo the creature in us’4) towards which poets point when they touch obliquely on their relation to sourcing and origination? Thus for Tsvetaeva the poet’s speech which begins a ‘great way off’ is also what bears her ‘far away’,5 while Akhmatova ‘hangs by a thread’ waiting for her ‘serene and pitiless’ muse.6 Perhaps, too, Art’s seducing–weakening force, its ‘way’ of making a dramatic cut in the continuities of commonsense, is figured in a more familiar context.

Can we read the act of seduction in Robert Browning’s narrative poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin as a figuring of Art’s irrecusable charm, against which the town (the state) is, of course, helpless (especially if it doesn’t keep its side of the bargain. . .)? In describing the piper’s differentiating attribute, the ‘secret charm’ that his piping manifests, as an ameliorator of harms, Browning explicitly invokes the verb ‘to draw’ as the charm’s agent. He endows his music (breathed sound), and perhaps Art’s poiesis generally, with that irresistible grip dragging one out of the everyday and into an unplaceable ‘elsewhere’. In this he withdraws us from the specific sense of ‘drawing’ as the making of visible surface marks and drops us into the multiple play of what ‘to draw’ opens through its tensive affiliations with an expanded range of human activities:

And, ‘Please your honours’, said he, ‘I’m able,

‘By means of a secret charm, to draw

‘All creatures living beneath the sun,

‘That creep or swim or fly or run,

‘After me so as you never saw!

‘And I chiefly use my charm

‘On creatures that do people harm, . . .   (lines 71-7)

As with the poem itself, it is the piping’s sounds, a combination of breathing–inventing–fingering (playing–writing), that draw the children inexorably out of ‘the state’ and into the mountain. In rhythmically re-composing the story’s historical–mythical sources, Browning opens onto Art’s resources as radical and inexplicable undoings of the conventions of ‘civil society’. The piper’s ‘pied’ appearance points up the strange conglomeration of differences defeating all attempts to collect gests-for-Art around some unity. Whether as the ‘red and yellow’ of the piper’s ‘gypsy coat’ (the artist-piper as a no-fixed-abode wanderer), or the magpie’s and wagtail’s two colours, the adjective ‘pied’, like its relative ‘piebald’, gives us the piper-poet with his strange musical outpourings, as a ‘pie’ – an idiosyncratic admixture of differences. Like Art’s gests, on each baking occasion a pie is always a one-off miscellany (recall the ‘four-and-twenty blackbirds’). By figuring a musical out-sounding via his poem’s rhythmed rhymes, Browning shows Art’s gest as an idiosyncratic mixture-beyond-reason whose strange charm can withdraw one from quotidian bonds into destinations unknowable (the mountain that closes up behind the children). Drawing us inexorably away from drawing as primarily vision-dependent, he precipitates us onto a radically expanded site where ‘to draw’ is entangled with embodiment itself.

To Draw – A Specific But Open Site of Embodiment

What specific attributes of human embodiment are shown in our routine use of the words ‘to draw’ and ‘drawing’? Could ‘to draw’ be directing us toward something so fundamental to our embodiment (and thus to ‘living’ and making’s source) that making- for-Art, pursuing its meridian, cannot avoid it? Could it be that this trail-pursuit, forever on the turn’, is constitutively bound and indebted to ‘drawing’?

If ‘to draw’ draws us into matters that are intrinsic to ‘living’s’ corporeal becoming then this must become an unavoidable focus in any attempt to make-for-Art. Just to get under way, making-for-Art has to confront the zone-defining ambiguity of ‘drawing/to draw’, a coupling pointing both to its defining resource (what drives its performance on) and to its ‘object’ (the challenging, materialising gest bearing its motif) always ungraspably ahead, towards which it impels itself. If ‘the arts’ are responses to the relation between ‘Art’ and ‘life/living’ then this always entails the maker’s search for where and how to make the cut and leap from life into Art. This is the leaping performance whose resultant gest seeks to embody – to show – the difference between life and Art.

Through ‘drawing-in-common’ I noted the expanded field of reference spread out before us by ‘to draw’. The openness of this expanse is what both invites and challenges the maker, irrespective of chosen medium/media. Each performance’s potential for ‘difference’, for aligning itself with Art’s ‘elsewhere’, lies in finding where and how to make the cut-for-Art that leaps beyond everydayness. In order to recognise both the possibilities that ‘to draw’ offers and the ambiguities into which it casts making, we need to try tentatively to establish what it directs us towards in human embodiment’s zone.

I have already given some attention to ‘drawing’ as a word whose ‘life’ occurs in speaking–writing–hearing–reading contexts through its relations to what occurs ‘before’ it and ‘after’ it – its syntactic context. Any sense it offers and is given is context-specific and depends on the other language units (including all the material signs of spacing and punctuation) placed around it. The multiple senses onto which it opens are thus bound up with these always particular language relations. But, with a little help from etymology, we can see that its point of reference, what it is drawing us towards, is a particular zone of embodiment, precise forms of movement which are written into the infinite multiple onto which ‘to draw’ opens.

As corporeal-becomings we are defined, in part but crucially, by the qualities of our movement, by how we move and are moved. We are always on the move, under way and on our way. Even when seemingly ‘still’ we are in the process of being moved ‘along’ by processes beyond our immediate control and awareness. Permanent change through specific forms of movement (flows, growth, decay, voluntary and involuntary propulsion, rememoration, anticipation. . .) is our living condition. Within this condition-on-the-move ‘to draw’ guides us toward a specific zone that, in part, defines us and on which, through its various forms and articulations, we are utterly dependent. ‘To draw’ names an active and passive movement-process to which our ‘living’ clings through an apparently open range of variations and breadth of reference.

Those European languages indebted to both Greek and Latin carry complex residues of words drawn from a specific Latin verb from which the English verb ‘to draw’ is directly (audibly and visually) derived. The infinitive tense of this verb is trahere which, with its past participle tractum, sources multiple derivatives in common use in English. This verb’s referent is a movement directly implicated in our life-beginning and life-preserving processes: in Latin it means ‘to drag’, to draw forth something with a degree of force. In both its active transitive and passive forms it engages us immediately with the human body’s given creaturely entanglement both with the basic elements and material processes of ‘nature’ and with multiple zones of ‘social relations’. It drags us into that strange conjunctive–disjunctive site where bodying and minding are fused while seeming to move quite independently of each other. ‘To draw’ (to drag and be-dragged) shows us that, as becomings on the move, we are always already in-between–draggers being dragged this way and that.

Returning ‘draw’ to a semantic phonetic and graphic source draws attention (revealing attention itself as incessant movement) to its emphasis on our embodiment as an energised pulsed extracting. This ex-tracting (a dragging out of something) then doubles as a form of carrying. It bears something, moves it bodily, from one place to another. The closely related German word tragen explicitly bears this extra load in emphasising the ‘carrying’ that thus appears to be semantically intrinsic to the movement of ‘dragging-drawing’.

‘To drag-draw’ is, then, to transform something by bringing it forcibly forth and bearing it to an elsewhere; it embodies a process of change in some real space–time context. Its references range from the most direct contact with matter and our rooted earth-bound life-processes (to draw breath/blood/water, to drag something from and across the earth), through the use of tools and machines (tractor, trailer), to seemingly the most figuratively (metaphorically) distant (to draw a conclusion, to draft a letter, to be ‘in drag’, or bedraggled). It can be taken as referring to our originating entry into the air-full atmospheric world of breathing and socialising in the course of being drawn forth (perhaps dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ . . .) from our mother’s womb (the ‘primal scream’ itself being contingent on drawing one’s first breath). Its semantic field thus marks modes of movement crucial to how and what we become.

Situated within this language-site, we characterise, surround, suffuse and mark ourselves by an array of drawing-derived figurings. Our moving is under the permanent sway of ‘to drag/draw’. Consider, for example, the expanded field of movement opened by the prefixes attached to a range of ‘-tract-derived’ verbs (at-, con-, de-, dis-, ex-, pro-, re-, sub- and so on); they trace (there it is again) movements spanning the range of human pulsion, desire, need and social demand. The drag-family lexicon opens an unboundaried field of meaning (draught, draft, draggle, drain, drawl, dredge, dray, rack, rake, raw, ray, train, trait, trawl, tray, treat . . .) and other phonetic   affiliations through words whose echoing phonemes may point to drawing-related forms of movement (drift, graph, gram . . .). Drifting within this unmappable zone it seems that ‘drawing’ is indeed ‘in common’ but lacking a fixed place. Rather, its ‘in common’ is precisely that which undoes fixity! It exposes all that we do and are as moving-becomings already on our way, as only we can be: us as drawn-drawing-becomings. We are in full spate. Kafka figures the challenge this presents to making-for-Art.

Making-for-Art Draws Draward

Writing of this flow-without-end as his (and thus our) ‘journey’, he names its destination (his and our ‘end’) paradoxically as ‘Away-From-Here’.7 By undoing the possibility of our destiny being identifiable as a place or end, Kafka exposes it as a movement that resists all placing work. The end to which we are condemned and forever on the way toward is precisely what, in this movement, we are already performing ceaselessly. We are ‘reaching’ it all the time without it ever being either ‘here’ or ‘there’. For Kafka (and thus for Art?) this being-drawn-on is our fate.

This is the very movement that, in taking over would-be-makers-for-Art, becomes making’s all-consuming ‘subject-matter’. To show Art’s promise as its destination its only hope is to make its movement disclose its ‘difference’ to the other ways of moving on that ‘life’ offers.

The forward-and-reverse movement (same-difference) enacted in the palindrome ‘draward’ repeats something of making’s ambiguous passage in turning through itself and hopefully toward Art. Drawn into Art’s wake it challenges itself to register the peculiar qualities of the way its movement embodies ‘to draw’ and ‘being drawn’. Out of this broken journeying it describes a stuttering fractured meridian. Returning through itself, it aligns a one-off near-syntax with the materials it engages on the way through.

Performing’s oscillating turning movement constitutes itself through aligning its responses to whatever source materials touch it (sounds, images, earthy marking things, words, thinking bodies) with what the gest demands in the singularity of its emerging difference. The gest drags forth from the maker-performer medium-specific ‘marks’ through whose play it begins to surface. Surfacing is what the gest performs and is all that it can do. This surfacing is what appropriates both maker and potential respondents by moving them to an elsewhere beyond their daily selves. As a depthless surfacing, its only hope of attracting and holding an attentive response (and thus of moving others and remaining lively) depends on the seductive qualities of its and our passing. Whether making-toward-Art as novel, poem, film, musical performance, drama, installation, sculpture, painting, sketch, digital-image/composition or any inter-media combination of these and others, each gest rivets us (or not) through its specific way of passing away. It and we pass away by way of its surface alignings.

Yet these out-linings are groundless. Nothing supports them ‘behind’ the gest’s surfacing except, perhaps, our possible trust in a shared sense of its hoped-for destination. Each gest is no more than the specific smooth-and-broken quality of a sequencing (its ‘pulsed’ driftings, syncopations, colourings, ascents–falls, doldrums, turns, leaps, stops–starts, breaks) the allure of whose compressed alignings may, if we trust ourselves to them, withdraw us to their ‘elsewhere’. This is drawing draward’s pulsed task: to disclose its allure in the idiosyncrasy of its aligning as it presses on towards what draws it out of itself.

It is at this threshold, where the gest and its possible respondents meet, that its defining ambiguity becomes apparent. Its unpredictable cultural fate hangs on the outcome of the tension between ‘taste’s’ pre-formed ‘placing’ categories and the difference of its particularity. As we pass along its sequenced alignings, it is right there that we take on and lay ourselves open to the charged particles bearing the drawn-out traces of the maker’s embodiment.

Making-for-Art thus transposes, via a transliterating leap, the maker’s embodied ‘felt-thoughts’ as they are dragged forth and shaped into materials’ absolute otherness. These alignings have nothing ‘in common’ materially with what was ‘going on’, the charged felt-thoughts, ‘within’ the maker prior to the moments of transliterating extraction. Making’s drawing, its dragging- and-being-dragged-forth, is not a process of ‘expression’, a pressing-out of something inside the maker onto an external deposit-site. It transforms and compresses something touching it but untouchable into the ‘otherness’ of now materialised relations.

Drawing From Life

Life’s flowing: within, without and all about, it bears us along as it flows off and away. Ungraspably imperceptible (except ‘virtually’ through the typifying abstractions generated by digital machines), it’s all up in the air! Even as we, along with immeasurable numbers of creatures and plants, act as its bearers, life remains definitively beyond us. While allowing us to become what we are and to reach out towards it, its enabling flows slip away even as we reach for them. We remain minuscule temporary participants, riveted to the ambiguity of life’s chaotic flowing away.

Where might this leave making-for-Art?

Realising that there isn’t some ground of clarified knowledge (about life’s disappearing flow) to which we can retreat, making-for-Art, perennially under the sway of Art’s distant Body, embodies a quite other performance. Giving itself over to and trusting implicitly in the particularity of its experience of becoming (its debt to and immersion in living’s flows), it sets out to seize this particularity. It knows it can do this only by turning the flows back through and out of themselves. It thus enacts ceaselessly Art’s decreative rule for performing: all that’s airy-and-liquid congeals into solidity!

Life’s evanescent airy-liquid flowing disappearance is turned into and fixed in material particulars. Each minute deposited performing-mark exposes an attempt to fix an idiosyncratically salient experience of life’s little nothings’ flowing away. Recognising the necessary challenge with which this tiny flowing particularity confronts the performer, Wallace Stevens calls it ‘the difficult inch’.8 Ever shrinking in the face of our machine probes, this elusive ‘inch’ – passing’s singularity – now seems reduced to nano-proportions.

Each performing-event – dancing, enacting, writing, singing, sounding-out instrumentally, sculpting, imaging, alone or in combination – seeking to reveal its affinity with Art, is dragged draward and passes by way of drawing’s aligning linearity in leaving its mark. Laying its hands on whatever its extractions need, it hopes its sequenced out-linings will retain memory-traces of flowing’s quality despite the latter’s mutation (in Art’s name) into something solid.

Rooted to the spot right here, performing aligns its elemental material deposits (this is its syn-tactic) as its response to and extraction from the ‘given’ flow. Such flow affirms its (and thus our) terrestrial-bound becoming. As corporeal-becomings we are all too familiar with the ways this flow-dependency is sustained across multiple organic ‘tracts’ – respiratory, olfactory, optic… Within and across these sites a range of more or less liquid matters – blood, lymph, air, saliva, mucus, tears, perspiration, waste-matters and the multiple atmosphere-borne electronic waves (light, infra-red and so on) – are drawn-dragged. In passing they reveal our flow-dependency. Giving itself over to these flows making-for-Art seeks to extract its little somethings.

Making-for-Art as Flow- Fixer

In the ‘open field site’ constituting the contemporary visual arts, the mutually intertwined flows are revealed as unavoidably ever-present motifs. Indeed the flow-quality of the traditional materials of the visual arts (dyes born through the flows of water, tempera, oil, gum, resin, acrylic; the liquefying processes in casting sculpture; compressed dusts used for drawing  flowing lines/zones) show ‘flowing’ itself as their prime motif: their gests disclose a performance-defining indebtedness to these materials’ propensity. They enable the flow of matters across surfaces and sites while simultaneously allowing every flow to be stopped and fixed.

Such drawn-out and fixed material flows-for-Art situate themselves within all-permeating ‘atmospherics’. Each gest surfaces ‘atmospherically’ in the ways its material marks set up a specific relation with the enveloping, charging all-flow that is life’s medium. And Art’s media offer their own unique atmosphere-bound properties and propensities. Flow-dependent, performing exposes itself as a response to the atmospherics driving and suffusing its syncopated meridian.

Perhaps J.M.W. Turner’s oeuvre shows atmospherics as a limit-scene for the contemporary visual arts. His gests immerse us in a multiple unfolding of the smallness yet highly charged vitality of a human-becoming absolutely in thrall to atmospherics. This is made explicit in his Rain, Steam, and Speed through the dissolution and mutual coalescence of all the ‘matters’ (earth and iron (supposed solids), sunlight–heat–air, water–steam) which bear us away. The iron steam-engine, a lone figuring of human ‘presence’, losing all definition and edge, barely makes it through the ‘chaos’ to the picture plane that seems to drag it back into the ambiguous coagulation. Turner exposes the givenness of our ‘setting’ (that which presses in on us and defines our possibilities) as the permeating local flows receding to infinity beyond our grasp. As sites of continuous flow-conversion, we know that our perception, our experience of our ‘lot’, is bound to this dependency and that the flows ‘outside’ us are simultaneously at work ‘inside’ us. The multiple modes of human social ‘desiring’ marking how we ‘surface’ are bound to the flows passing back and forth between our insides and outsides. We are flow-drawn-becomings now under the sway of technoscience’s epoch-defining and invasive bottomless probing of the human body and all life-forms. In the wake of this invasion the flowing human body is itself incorporated into Art’s ‘open site’. What is ‘within’ us (life’s permeating atmospheric flows), allowing us to ‘feel-think’, can be extracted and drawn toward Art.

Perhaps the first such assumed ‘extraction’ was Manzoni’s can of ‘artist’s shit’ (1961) which, with its interruption of the relation between ‘touch’ and ‘value’, ambiguated the ‘boundaries’ between Art, Culture, and the Body. And Helen Chadwick’s Piss Flower series (1992), in which casts were taken of the sculptural effects of warm urine falling on snow, allows the waste-flow to become the drawing-event. It re-directs Manzoni’s gest elsewhere. Other addresses of the threshold between the body’s ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ have rendered the matter(ing) of such a boundary. Just as the engineered machinery of ‘health care’ dissolves all traditional senses of the body’s limits by taking the body with its flow-dependencies beyond itself (prosthetics, transfusion, dialysis, organ-donation, genetic modification, etc.), so artists are intervening in these flow-processes to transfigure performing’s relation to the body’s (and thus life’s) now ambiguous limits.

In Mona Hatoum’s Corps Étranger (1994) the camera that journeyed through her ‘interior’ passageways acted as a drawing instrument, relaying its movement-through to a sculptured audio-visual setting where spectators could follow the journey. In contrasting ways both Orlan and Stelarc make light of their bodies’ apparent boundaries by allowing them to be cut open, pierced, supplemented, attached to external machinery and re-sealed. Each body becomes simultaneously both subject-and-object of performances in which the flows (all the charged liquids-atmospherics) become vectors (of visual and/or electronic ‘signals’) that offer a body-in-difference perhaps on its way to Art’s Body. Both surface appearances and interior processes are re-drawn, shown to be malleable, through additions, attachments and signalling mechanisms that reveal the body as something (but what, now . . .?) in transition to an unknowable elsewhere (Away-From-Here . . .).

And what about those weighty material flows – blood/air – whose syncopated, electronically charged and quirkily aligned diastole–systole pulsing keep us going? Blood, with its emotive charge and symbolism, is a common constituent in the tradition of Western painting. Wherever a painting or drawing offers us warm-tinted flesh we are reminded of the blood’s implied pulsing beneath the surface of skin-paint. Mark Quinn, however, takes the implications of the term ‘to draw blood’ to a very different site of sensing-feeling. For his ongoing Self series (1990 et seq.) he draws off his own blood and freeze- casts it in a mould of his own head thus fixing (temporarily, given its dependency on electrical refrigeration) the passing-pulsing momentary appearance of his head. This extracted icy head cryogenically inverts (for Art’s sake) the defining indicator of our well-being – blood’s warm pulsing flow. The ‘body’, via its ‘thinking drawing self’, performs its ‘own’ extraction/reduction in order to figure in its ‘opposite’: a frozen impossible ‘moment’ of its passing away.

But perhaps it is ‘air’ and ‘drawing breath’ – our atmosphere-defining and life-sustaining material processes – that confront making with its most intractably elusive challenge. Weighty but experienced as almost weightless, full but experienced as almost empty, forever on the move but experienced frequently as ‘still’, multiple but experienced in and as its intangibly singular flowing, air is the most ambiguously ‘spiritual’ of the ‘media-matters’ that provide for our creaturely embodiment. Respiring we draw and expel breath-and-sounds. But we take for granted breath’s apparent invisibility (every cartoon’s speech-balloon is offered as a ‘space’, empty but for its ‘written voicings’). Can Art figure ‘breathing-air’ by drawing us ‘into’ it as drawing drawing breath? Or can it, like Turner, only imply air’s presencing by figuring its perceptible effects (e.g. its modes of translucence and movement as the bearer of ‘light’ and ‘energy’ (from breeze to tornado))? Our life-defining transformative relation to ‘atmospherics’ (processes of drawing-in, exchanging, expulsion) challenges making-for-Art to respond to its own local permeation by this universal but almost invisible fluxing. In her ongoing audio-visual installation Breath (2003–13)9 Shirazeh Houshiary makes respiration’s pulsion her visual motif. She generates animations of four contrasting prayer chants in which she visualises each’s pulsive motion of inhaling/exhaling. These are shown on four screens surrounding the audience. The resulting ‘moving’ screen drawings, transliterating sound into sight, are accompanied by the merged sound of the four chants. Here drawing draws drawing-breath analogically while simultaneously audibly revealing its sound sources. In a contrasting video composition, Mouth (2008),10 Heather Phillipson reveals the supposedly ‘invisible’ act of ‘breathing’ as both solidly weighty and always already busy drawing. Her filming is a collaborative drawing project in which the filmed horse is given partial autonomy to become a partner in the drawing process through its muzzle as the active drawing instrument. Filmed very close up we see its breath coming and going as it makes its mark, coating the lens with its microscopic globules of dusty water-vapour. This is heavy breathing made visible – we see the literal material inter-dependence of atmosphere and corporeality.

Heather Phillipson_Mouth_3

Heather Phillipson,  Still from Mouth,  Video composition, 2009

Giuseppe Penone responds ‘tautologically’ to the making-drawing challenge by teasing out forms that repeat, double or ‘echo’ life-processes while simultaneously exposing Art’s ‘otherness’. Breath, breathing and air recur repeatedly in multi-form ways across his oeuvre. In Water Drawing (2003–07) bubbles of air, pumped up from the bottom of a pool through a fingerprint pattern, replicated this pattern at the water’s surface ‘with the rhythm of a deep breath’.11 And in the installation Respirare l’ombra (1999) the gallery walls were packed with wire boxes stuffed with deeply scented bay laurel leaves. A model of a leafy lung
was set into one wall. Entering the space one drew in the leaves’ scent and thus breathed with and shared in this doubling of the forest-as-lung.12 In perhaps his most extreme re-forming, his Soffi (1978), he offered a range of casts of his expelled breath. Seeming to press his standing body into the receiving clay, he breathed out a lungful of air which the cast registered as a heavy-weight, pear- or tear-shaped free-standing ‘drop’. Just as our body converts air before expelling it, so Penone echoed this process externally by inverting air’s ‘lightness’ into the cast’s fixed durability. But this form’s weight contrasts with the delicate lightness of Penone’s drawing in its envisaging of the ‘same’ exhaled breath. Reminding us of the atmosphere’s real weight, each ‘Soffio’ shows our body as a double-drawer – the act of drawing breath in is followed almost immediately by an act of drawing (expiry) that shapes forth a weighty displacing but shapeless flow; this expulsion takes its place as an immediate disappearance through dispersal into and absorption by the earth-circling atmospheric band. Penone’s cast offers a ponderously ambiguous memorial to the ungraspable lightness of our being-drawn-forth airily. And breathing’s double-action is differently transmuted into a performance in Jordan McKenzie’s ‘drawing breath’ project. Recognising that ‘this slippery thing called drawing’ is an open site of experimentation, he turns the action of breathing itself into a collaborative ‘instrument’ in the corporeal movement all drawing entails. The infinitely variable energies expended in breathing are explored for their pulsive, plosive marking potential; both the action of marking and the material used are brought closer to their strange intimacy with the visceral sourcing of ‘draw breath’.13

If Penone’s pieces give prominence to each breath’s particularity, every inspiry–expiry bearing distinctive but unnoticed qualities, Susan Skingle’s site-specific installation To the Four Winds (2013)14 draws us toward concomitant complementary aspects of the ‘breath-turn’ (Celan’s atemwende) as our embodiment-defining moment. Sited in the communal space of the ‘breakfast room’ in Sir John Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor, her piece figured our relation to atmospherics and drawing breath as essentially social. Each of four chairs, set around a dining table beneath a cloud-painted ceiling, supported a small stand on top of which, at mouth-height,

winds

Susan Skingle, To the Four Winds, Installation, 2013

were differently shaped but closely related plaster ‘exhalations’: breaths/voices spatialised by being drawn out into solidity. Relating itself to both the stilled cloudy ‘atmosphere’ of the ceiling above and the communal atmospherics of the dining room (supplemented by spectators’ own breathing presence in the space), the installation confronted respondents with specific ambiguities of ‘living’s’ exemplary ‘act’ of drawing – breathing-as-exchange as a challenge to making-for-Art. The four casts, ghostly solid material residues of the chairs’ late incumbents, seemed to fix a moment of ‘in-betweenness’ immediately following the act of exhalation, just when one might imagine each ‘breath’ retaining an impossible distinctive ‘identity’ (form, weight, direction). Yet the casts were ‘there’ in this convivial space of social exchange (eating and conversing) simultaneously, all-at-once, thus exposing themselves to the question of the kind of breath-act they figured. Did their simultaneity point to an imagined perfect synchrony of four breath-acts, all emerging and depositing themselves in the atmosphere at the identical moment? Or could the casts be taken as residues of four speech-acts still hanging in the air and pointing to a tension of all social discourse (speech acts, always saying both more and less than is heard and meant by each participant, necessarily speak past each other)? The casts’ material simultaneity might thus have figured a summary vision of social discourse as ‘all speaking at once’ in which each act, retaining its untranslatable difference, negates all the others: conversation as a self-wounding non-communication.

The proximity of the casts returns us to the founding context of all sociality – that our atmosphere (enclosed in the installation in the room-as-world-microcosm) is fundamentally social. It is being shared (by horses and all life forms), exchanged and re-constituted without end as we live-on together and apart. Being apparently unseeable (though not to Art as I hope to have shown) and beyond literal representation, the qualities of this defining social medium can only be pointed to and drawn forth through imagined transformations. Skingle stopped the action in this process of transformation at the non-existent moment just before each voice-breath’s instant disappearance through absorption by our shared atmosphere. But then, again,  it could be that the chairs’ incumbents were four committed smokers simultaneously exhaling in perfect silence their distinctive smoke- clouds . . .

All these gests disclose in idiosyncratic ways the zone of ambiguity where making challenges itself, on Art’s behalf, to draw out felt qualities of its own being drawn-forth corporeally under contextually unique conditions.

Making submits itself to this un-still zone of emergent tensions knowing full well that it is always a trembling threshold-on-the-move. In taking up the challenge making performs a drawing-forth of drawing-forth itself. Gests performed in response to it seek to draw out, hold and fix the ambiguities necessarily defining making’s ‘life’ as life itself. And it is the predicament of our embodied-becoming (how ‘living’ requires us to sustain some sense of identity-continuity while in the throes of permanent metamorphosis) that challenges making to situate itself at this tension threshold. Drawing is the generic name for activities seeking to respond to the specificity of each threshold-experience by depositing untranslatable marks peculiar to that experience. All feeling–thinking subjects who would draw-toward-Art live and lose themselves at the conjunctive–disjunction of drawing and being-drawn-out. The will-to-draw, a charged powerlessness drawing itself across the threshold, is simultaneously drawn out of itself by something beyond it about which it knows nothing.

winds 2

Susan Skingle, Sketch for To the Four Winds, Chalk on black paper, 2012

Endnotes

1 ‘ALEX KATZ SEEING DRAWING MAKING’, (including David Moos’s essay ‘SEEING ALEX KATZ’), Windsor, Florida/Toronto, 2009.

2 See Celan, Paul, Collected Prose, ed. Rosemary Waldrop, Manchester: Carcanet, 1999.

3 Wallace Stevens adapts Simone Weil’s sense of ‘decreation’ to his poetic vision: Stevens, Wallace, The Necessary Angel, New York: Vintage, 1951, p. 174. See also Carson, Ann, Decreation, London: Jonathan Cape, 2006, p. 167; Agamben, G., Cy Twombly: 8 Sculptures, Rome: American Academy, 1998, p. 5.

4 Carson, Decreation, p. 167.

5 Tsvetaeva, Marina, Selected Poems, trans. Elaine Feinstein, Manchester: Carcanet, 1999, p. 50.

6 Poems of Akhmatova, trans. Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973, p. 79.

7 Kafka, Franz, Parables and Paradoxes, New York: Schocken, 1971, p. 189.

8 Stevens, Wallace, Opus Posthumous, New York: Vintage, 1990, p. 129.

9 See Houshiary, Shirazeh, Breath, MOMA, New York, 2003, and Venice Biennale, 2013.

10 See Phillipson, Heather, Mouth, Glyn Vyvyan Gallery, Swansea, 2009.

11 Penone, quoted by A. Zevi in Giuseppe Penone, Haunch of Venison, London, 2011, p. 78.

12 See Giuseppe Penone Scultura di linfa, Electa, Verona, 2007, pp. 130–1.

13 See Jordan McKenzie’s interview at: www. youtube.com/watch?v=26nSJS2MNDs (accessed 17 October 2014).

14 See Susan Skingle in The London Group Centenary Exhibition, The London Group, London, 2013, p. 20.

 

The London Group at Shoreham, 2017

Thanks to Jake Moulson and Heather Phillipson I have a short video (7’ 13”) of my contribution to The London Group’s open-air exhibition at Shoreham (June, 2017). I was very fortunate to be able to place my ‘objects’ in Janet and Geoff Heuston’s delightful riverside garden. The video,  ‘Michael Phillipson – objects – with The London Group at Shoreham, 2017’, is on Vimeo and  can be accessed via my member’s page at the following link:

www.thelondongroup.com/michael-phillipson/

The London Group in St. Ives

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 15.10.23

The London Group negotiated an exhibition-exchange with the Penwith Society of Artists of St. Ives.  Penwith members exhibited  a wide range of work at the Cello Factory in March, 2018 and 76 members of The London Group are exhibiting in the Penwith Gallery during September, 2018. My contribution is ‘some time later’ (mixed media on paper, 95x76cm). A companion exhibition, ‘ The London Group – the St. Ives Connection’ (including  work by earlier members of The London Group, such as Barbara Hepworth  – a founder member of the Penwith Society –  and Terry Frost) runs concurrently.

michael phillipson, 'sometime later' jpeg small

Waterloo Festival

 St. John's Church, Waterloo

The Waterloo Festival 2018 at St. John’s Church

June 6th – June 24th

The London Group is participating in the Waterloo Festival  with a variety of events  locally and in the grounds of St. John’s Church. Under the title ‘Nothing endures But Change’  the Group’s President,  Susan Haire, has organised and curated an open-air exhibition of ephemeral sculpture by both members and friends of the Group.  My contribution, a small but cumbersome lump of inscribed and collaged rock entitled ‘flow everlasting’, is sited on the tarmac at the rear of the Church.

Title:    …flow-everlasting…

Materials:   sandstone grit, lead, shell, water, air…

Size:  depth (from ground):  14cm. / 5 and a half inches;   width:  61cm./24”;  height: 49cm./19”

Comments:    …remembering…  J. J.’s  self-re-circling dream-wake book… fin  negans…  and its turning  point – riverrun  –  and then, the heavy, the light, the congealing,  the erosion, the dust, the disappearing, the flow-without-end, the now…

        'flow everlasting',        label with text

         'flow everlasting' in position at St. John's

DOWN FROM LONDON

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The London Group was invited to exhibit at the Linden Hall Gallery in Deal. We responded with a show open to all members. Size restrictions operated in order to accommodate the large number of members’ submissions. My contribution was a small oil painting on canvas mounted on board entitled ‘away-from-here’…

 

Painting and Time

The current issue (Volume 4 Number 1) of the Journal of Contemporary Painting focuses on the relation between painting and time. The contributors, themselves mainly painters, explore a wide range of interesting questions about the ways they engage time in their diverse approaches to painting.

Shortly before he died John Berger gave permission for the journal to re-publish his provocative 1979 article ‘Painting and time’ as the issue’s ‘Archival text’. I was invited by the painter Beth Harland, an Associate Editor for the Journal, to offer a response to Berger’s piece. In the issue my text, ‘Painting untimely’, follows Berger’s re-printed article. The journal is published by ‘intellect books’  (www.intellectbooks.com).

Here is the ‘contents’ page for the issue:

Art’s Body

Very pleased that Theo Cowley is including my ‘Art’s Body’ audio-recording , featuring Jon Thompson, in a Luxus Extension event in Brussels celebrating Jon’s life and contribution to the arts on Friday, June 30th.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 13.37.50 (1)Michael Phillipson/Jon Thompson, Amelia Saul/Claude Wampler, Axelle Stiefel

 Luxus Extension

Art’s Body

This event brings together works made between artists for particular contexts and in various forms of collaboration. The works deal, on some level, with what is extra, yet intrinsic to art; the pool of resources that go into its production.

Michael Phillipson’s audio work ‘Art’s Body: A Largely Sedentary Masque for Three Personae’ is a recording of a voice-text performance. Written by Michael Phillipson and performed by Michael Phillipson, Jon Thompson and Paul Filmer, during Jon Thompson’s exhibition ‘Ars Universitas by Jon Thompson’ at the John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, UK in 1985.

Sadly, Jon Thompson died in 2016 while we were preparing this event. We have inserted Willem Oorebeek’s ‘Regarding the Towers of Babel by Jon Thompson’, 2006 and a silkscreen print by Jon Thompson from the above exhibition.

Axelle Stiefel’s video documents a performance intervention, one of 3 produced for a program of live video streamed performances called ‘Performance Proletarians’ at Le Magasin, Grenoble in 2014.

Claude Wampler and Amelia Saul’s performance ‘N’a pas un gramme de charisme’ was performed at The Kitchen, New York City in 2013. Amelia Saul’s ‘The Script’, 2013 is a post-performance intermission leak “from the document dropped in lieu of a programme on the heads of the audience during the day of Claude Wampler and Amelia Saul’s performance ‘N’a pas un gramme de charisme’ (The Kitchen, New York City in 2013.)”

Video and sound event, Friday 30th June, doors 7pm, starts 7.30pm prompt. No admission after.

Résidence Aviation Luchtvaartsquare 7/Square de l’Aviation 7 Brussels 1070

www.luxext.be

Shoreham Sculpture Trail

 

Shoreham Sculpture Trail

 

Delighted to be participating in The London Group’s ‘Sculpture Trail’ in the village of Shoreham on June 17th and 18th! Here are images of four of the nine objects I will be placing in a lovely garden bordered by the River Darenth.

 

'graft of transference' (c.), laburnum, lead, wood base,25x10x11ins.                                        'Pantatonic' (c), hog-weed, wood, plaster, paint, 23x10x17ins

‘Hybrid’ © – laburnum, lead, wood base, 25 x 10 x 11 ins            ‘Pantatonic’ © – hog weed, wood, plaster, paint, 23 x 10 x 17 ins

 

'poor boy' (c), pitch fork , lead, wood17x19x8ins.                                                          'we're dicing with...', (compr.), t.v., cabinet, paint, 47x18x9ins.)

‘Poor Boy’ © – pitch fork, lead, wood, 17 x 19 x 8 ins              ‘We’re dicing with…’ © – (compr.), t.v., cabinet, paint, 47 x 18 x 9 ins

The catalogue for the Trail contains brief statements by the exhibiting artists. Here is mine!

Although my making always falls back on painting I like to move across a range of media. My choice of medium is project-specific. The three-dimensional objects (are they ‘sculptures’?) invariably emerge from some practical engagement with their materials. In the course of this handling they seem to propose something about their alternative potential as they fall away from usage! The vagrant materials – woods, metals, plasters, paints, machine-derivatives, whatever-at-hand –   collaborate in a resolutely useless venture. In their alludings they may gesture obliquely to the painting life which, however temporarily, they have set aside.