2015 February: The Vernacular Spectacular Exhibition and Drawing a Turkey

I was very pleased with my assessment installation, it went quite as I had planned, although I changed the sequence of Vernacular Spectacular films to: (Widow, Others Will Love Me, Rose, Interlude, Lyrics, Deluge, The Map). The CV text was somewhat obscured in the dark, but other than that I think everything was presented just as I had hoped. Photos below.




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It was important for me to assemble pieces of my practice together like this. I have exciting plans for summer, that I am very eager to carry out. I wrote to the ungdomshus “cultural youth centre” where I used to work in a studio when I lived in Bergen, asking if I could return and get a key to work there for the entire summer. I spent a happy five years working in that building prior to moving to London, for which I was never even charged. I can’t afford to stay in London during the summer but it occurred to me to go back to Bergen where I have access to this free studio instead. And why not use this trip as an excuse to get ambitious?

There are some great venues in Bergen, one of which is incredibly attractive to me; Galleri Fisk. Run by the local art university, the space is offered to students at an art institution (whether based in Norway or abroad). The space is utterly gorgeous and the perfect size for me, located right in the city centre. I’m really eager to use that space to organise a solo show, and am keen to send them a proposal. Photos of the space:

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So I intend to set myself up a self initiated residency spanning three months. Regardless of whether I succeed in having a show or not, I will make use of the studio to produce work throughout the summer. I am planning for my stay to start in July and end in September, because Norwegian art students go back to uni in August, and I hope to hang out there and network with them. I will also attempt to have a show at Galleri Fisk, and if my proposal fails, I will try several other venues. Bergen is small but has a couple of fantastic contemporary art institutions, and I will also try get a small job at these places to help cover my stay, gain experience, and network.

Drawing a Turkey

So I stretched some paper and started a new drawing.

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I am not sure what to think. When I walk into my studio in the morning my immediate thought is, “hey look at that explosion of line, it looks impressive, it is skilfull and it is my own thing”. But it quickly wears off. What am I doing drawing these turkeys and dinosaurs? That is on a macroscopic, surface level. But I also feel this embarrassment persevere into the very fiber of my lines. As one draws, one goes through varying emotions and thoughts. Drawing itself is first and foremost a physical mechanism, a flitting movement of the hand. But the moment-to-moment intent, the will I feel, is coordinated with those movements. So what results is an alphabet of line and the space between lines. Needless to say, I have my language. In some ways I am more articulate using this language than English. But it is an expression that does not wait for my consent. When I draw it is as if I am babbling all my secrets unfiltered.

I interrupt here to draw a comparison of images between a scene in my own short story “The Railway Rocket Dog” and an analogy in Merleau Ponty’s essay “Cézanne’s Doubt”. In my story, a man who has long forgotten spoken language and returned to the primitive, finds an old inscription upon a piece of bark:

“The human being was seized by a hysterical nostalgia upon recognising the long forgotten symbols etched upon them. He uttered unintelligible grunts in a frustrated attempt to recover those clear sounds he spoke once long ago.”

And M. Ponty’s analogy:

“…the artist launches his work just as a man once launched the first word, not knowing whether it will be anything more than a shout, whether it can detach itself from the flow of individual life in which it was born and give the independent existence of an identifiable meaning to the future of that same individual life, or to the monads coexisting with it, or the open community of future monads.”

I do not really believe in the “first word”, but I do believe in the fuzzy realm through which something accelerates into articulation. The new “meaning” does not come from nowhere, but from an uneasy realm of loose association and slippery boundaries. Ponty’s archetypal caveman and my post apocalyptic man of science meet at different ends of a human timeline, caught in that same unbearable fuzzy point of “detaching” meaning, which I suppose is sometimes referred to as “expression”. My father compares this moment of something inarticulate becoming articulate to that when a leg which had, without you noticing, fallen asleep, now begins to emerge full of “pins and needles” as it uneasily regains its sensitivity – in this very process rediscovering with bewilderment sensitivity itself. The awakening leg however, is involuntary. An artist who wants to articulate something bothersome and silent, has to willfully put herself into such an unbearable point of utterance.

I draw this turkey, and I am not however, in pain, or cringing. My lines meander in the crevices of habit. Indeed, it relaxes me, and as an introvert, affords me space from the world into which I am happy to retreat. I can even be specific about my language, a cluster of motifs I obsess over: networks of strings interweave into tissue; bubbles burst forth from the peat of skin and fur; teeth, joints and sockets branch into deep roots anchored into meat. Things float in melancholy voids. My structures have spines, whether skeletal or botanical, like stems in leaves. Then there is the turkey’s eye, which like the Rocket Dog’s eye, or the Worm’s eye, or the dinosaurs’ eyes, is always my eye, sad and glassy, glancing back at me from a knowing, immortal land.

Yet I am frequently interrupted from this monotonous melancholy bliss, by “slips of the hand”. I catch myself enjoying the “special effect” of a gesture, of a confident line that flirts with kitsch bravado. The whole drawing is suddenly coloured that way. “Am I seriously drawing a glorified turkey, revelling in the way its dynamism replicates culturally appreciated lines in action comic books, etc?” It causes me considerable unease, because I have already caught myself in that pleasure. I actually am that way. Just as someone might be happy with themselves in every respect until their conscious mind catches sight of some sexual pleasure it disapproves of – so I feel a prick of shame before I attempt to repress my joy at producing such a line, which I know full well the meaning of.

Ponty’s man, hurling out unintelligible utterances, will, for a good portion of these, utter “nothing more than a shout”. It will be crude. It will mean nothing, or it will mean something banal. And the man will stand lone and unsuccessful, behaving randomly enough to be classified mad.

My drawings are more sophisticated than this man’s spoken language, in that I already have, at least within my own tradition, a spectrum of tangible motifs that I reiterate and articulate myself within this medium. Yet sometimes, as I wander across the topography of my drawing, tracing and responding to its network of meaning, I stop short at a cliff, or a low resolution render in the map of my articulation. I have entered into the fuzzy realm, a plasma of illiterate distress. Of course, the unease of this situation is characterised by an animal cautionary fear of the unknown. However, I would add to that, that in a realm devoid of semantic anchors, yet a realm which I know is as infinitely detailed and expansive as the rest of my “map”, all I am left with is a blind will.

This is something about making art I have been trying to find words to describe for some time. Viewers of art often mistakenly ask “what the artist intended to say”. But it is also, I believe, incorrect to simply counter-argue that the artist didn’t intend anything other than the exploration of private curiosities. We must stop halfway in the former sentence, just as the artist always stops halfway in her moment to moment experience of doing art: “The artist intends”. So wistfully, urgently, yearningly does an artist intend! So heightened is that sense of will. But the tragedy of this circumstance is that it is a blind will, directed naively almost any which way. There is not a “will to …”, there is only will, desperate intention.

I come to a halt in the midst of my drawing, and as the nib hovers precariously over that cliff in the topography of my experience, I catch myself saying, “I want!”

I have spoken to a mist of air. I might retreat, and meander around familiar valleys, continuing to turn stones as I pass. But sometimes, by the force of a blind will I might take a mad leap into the fuzzy realm, and almost as with a sabre, propel myself through it with desperate flickers of my hand. The fear is not so much the fear of “what if I ruin my drawing”, but rather “what in the hell is this going to mean”. Imagine sitting in your bedroom all alone, ready to imitate Ponty’s primordial man. Let forth a blast of wordless verbal articulation, and tell me you do not fear the prospect. No one is there to hear or judge you. You will utter something, that without preconceived meaning, shouldn’t hold you responsible for anything. Yet you know, that the very sound: the pitch, the length, the tone, will indeed mean something. The fear lies in having a particularly limited sense of what ballpark that meaning will land into. What will that single shout say about your past and your future? Just how true will it ring? Or conversely, how distant and unfamiliar will it seem, from what you know?

This all sounds rather dramatic for somebody sitting at a desk with a rather constant expression on her face, overlooking a piece of paper. But within the drawing I have established a world of standards, for instance that of “the substance and the spine”. I make textures that are held together by spines of various forms, or I fear they will collapse. The rules I have created encapsulate complex sentiments. On watching my Talking Drawing video in which I attempt to report my thoughts as I draw in this manner, I note that while drawing on one location on the drawing I say something like “I am going to be obedient here” – referring to submitting to the lines already drawn there. Similarly, there are moments where I am dominant and gregarious. There are moments when “I am going to be calm and joyful”. And then there are rarer moments where my forceful blind will wells up and I dive into fuzzy, inarticulate mode. Rarer still, out of this might burst forth something both new and specific, detached, suddenly, from that void. Something so useful. Something so insistently relative that it acts like a word. And it assimilates itself into my world of interrelating problems and bickering assertions.

I have just reread what I have written, and seem somewhat satisfied, on this occasion, to have outlined accurately some of the sentiments I experience when drawing. Yet what will I actually do when I return to the studio? I will see my drawing, both excitedly and apprehensively sizing it up. With it, I will just exist, and bear the world. I will still be guided by blind will, fears and comforts. How does this analysis actually affect me in practice? I am not sure it really does. It is really interesting to me, to monitor myself and make generalisations. I am also peripherally curious as to how a non artistic audience might respond to an insight into earnest reports of an artist’s endeavour. Would they relate to those feelings or not? But at the moment I am not sure this insight will change my relation to my own work. I suspect I will continue to “doubt and dare” as I did before. The only thing I can postulate is that it might free up some emotional space and allow me to be more forgiving to myself. In the past, analysing myself in various ways has afforded me this. A kind of distance to that sense of urgency which accompanies narrow focus, without accosting me the ability to focus itself. It may be useful, for instance, to grow used to the echo of my embarrassment, and more readily forgive myself for banal screeches and unintelligible grunts. Theoretically then, it would not necessarily be easier to spend time in the inarticulate realm, but I would be more often ready to return, and more likely to make new discoveries. Meanwhile, I find it equally important to spend time with established articulations, such as “the substance and the spine” or the vast expanses of “floating vagabonds in the void” – because new meanings arise also in their interactions, which are, in their own way, also exciting and unnerving.

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