MOTION CAPTURE: DRAWING AND THE MOVING IMAGE

Curated by Ed Krčma and Matt Packer
Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork
27th July – 4th November, 2012
AND
Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, Ireland
22 January – 10 March, 2013


MOTION CAPTURE: DRAWING AND THE MOVING IMAGE

CURATORS’ CATALOGUE ESSAYS

Time Held Up by Ed Krčma. Originally published in Motion Capture: Drawing and the Moving Image, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork.

© Ed Krčma, 2012

and

Some Notes on Seeing Ghosts by Matthew Packer. Originally published in Motion Capture: Drawing and the Moving Image, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork.

© Matthew Packer, 2012

 

TIME HELD UP

Ed Krčma

The Concretion of Time

‘The mediums of art,’ writes Michael Newman, ‘are concretions of time:’ each medium and each artwork serves to ‘delay, condense and spread out time in their own way.’[1] To think of the way time is made concrete in artworks is different from examining how it is thematized in art. The latter involves the conveyance of ideas about time using conventional language, whereas the former is not a matter of symbolic codes but of existential connection. A drawn mark, whatever it contributes to depiction, is first of all a trace of the hand that made it. Likewise, an analogue photograph results from the imprint of light onto a photosensitive surface. This is the indexical aspect that drawn and photographic signs share.

Drawing, however, is perhaps too heterogeneous a category to be safely classed as a medium. While, as Rosalind Krauss has argued, an artistic medium is not reducible to the ‘material conditions of a given technical support’, it is nevertheless a set of conventions derived from those conditions.[2] The materials, techniques and functions proper to drawing throughout its history are so varied that claims for the kinds of unity and coherence characteristic of a medium are difficult to sustain. But while the necessary and sufficient conditions required to establish drawing as a logically discrete category remain elusive, ‘drawing’, as a noun at least, is cohered by a network of ‘family resemblances’, to borrow Wittgenstein’s term.[3] Although with many exceptions in each case, drawings have tended to prioritize line over colour; to involve dry rather than wet materials; to touch rather than cover their surface; to be of minor (provisional, private, preparatory, supplementary) rather than major status; to be unique rather than reproducible; to be modest rather than heroic in scale; and to arrive serially rather than singularly.

In its variety and openness, drawing has leant itself to various forms of ‘hybridization’, particularly since the thoroughgoing critique of Modernist insistences on the purity of artistic mediums. One particularly rich seam of recent exploration has concerned the relationship between drawing and the moving image, particularly film. Film is composed of a linear sequence of discrete stills inscribed by way of photochemical processes. The celluloid filmstrip is passed through the projector to give an illusion of movement, allowing the eye to fill in the tiny gaps between frames. Each frame constitutes an immediate and involuntary registration of light falling across a surface. Drawings, too, are most often composed of a series of imprints, ‘indexical diagrams’ of the work of the artist’s hand.[4] The finished drawing may be literally still but our looking always involves movement. Indeed, while both drawing and film share an indexical basis, their comparison foregrounds the difference between the continuous, extended progress of the drawn line and film’s sequence of instantaneous frames. The eye’s traversal of a line mimics the passage of the maker’s hand, and a corporeal empathy animates the marks with an imaginative texture.

If each artistic medium offers a way of making time concrete, then to get closer to how specific artworks function we might consider the way each one also composes time. That is, how artworks organize and specify temporal experience, how they lend it particular affective and conceptual qualities. Broad shifts are evident in the kinds of time that artists have striven to articulate in the modern period, as they have variously registered, adjusted to, resisted and mimicked modernity’s radical re-organization of temporal experience. But what of the response of contemporary artists to the digitized, accelerated and increasingly administered temporalities of today’s world? The work included in this exhibition tends to foreground formal, technical and process-based aspects of art making, the formulation and elaboration of which bear indirectly but insistently upon such wider concerns.

Contingency and the Image

One aspect common to many artworks in the exhibition is a resistance to forms of intentional control guiding the production process. This can involve a radical absenting or voiding of conscious direction from the act of making, in favour of a kind of willed automatism, a strategy often married with a set of very precise decisions attending the work’s initial conception. However, I want to first concentrate on artists who loosen rather than void intentional direction in the generation of imagery. This enables an inventive, flexible response to opportunities and problems thrown up within the thick of material practice. South African artist William Kentridge and Irish artist Alice Maher each adopt processes specifically geared to this bracketing of predictive calculation, as the activity of making opens up a receptive space for the arrival of unforeseen visual ideas.

Other Faces (2011, catalogue pages pp.100-113) is the most recent addition to the celebrated series of ‘Drawings for Projection’ that Kentridge began in 1989. The production of the series spans the years from the election of F.W. de Klerk in 1989, and his unexpected public commitment to ending apartheid, to the democratic elections of 1994, to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, and into South Africa’s ongoing and fraught fallout from its traumatic recent history. Although insistent that art cannot directly address ‘the rock’ of apartheid without being crushed under its weight, politics is certainly a crucial part of the world that Kentridge’s art constructs. The ‘Drawings for Projection’ are primarily organized around the fortunes of two characters, the naked poet Felix Teitelbaum and the once voracious, now subdued property and media magnate Soho Eckstein; since 1994 the poet has been ‘in exile’ and Kentridge concentrates on the increasingly vulnerable and melancholic figure of Soho, now lost and confused amidst a fractured society beset by disease, poverty, anger and violence.

Kentridge’s works are to be distinguished from CEL animation in that they record the process of drawing, erasing and redrawing on a small number of sheets, rather than involving the production of thousands of separate images. The artist shuttles back and forth between the drawing and his film camera, recording each incremental alteration. For Kentridge, the process of moving back and forth, which he describes as ‘stalking the drawing,’ generates a kind of objective chance or fortuna.[5] Whereas to produce a traditional animation, a studio needs to work out its content fully in advance, Kentridge describes fortuna as a contingent and transformative agency that guides him from one sequence to the next, enabling the development of visual ideas that were not (and perhaps could not have been) planned ahead of time.[6] With the erased traces of previous states still visible, the movement of people and objects in these films brings with it a kind of weight, density or drag. The process of change takes effort and happens at a cost. In this way, the artist’s formal and technical means resonate powerfully with his thematic concern with history, memory and the weight of the past upon the experience of the present.

Although with important differences, Alice Maher’s working method in a recent series of works shares significant aspects with that of Kentridge (Flora, 2009, catalogue pages pp.115 123). Maher uses a scanner to record the work of inscription and erasure on a single A4 sheet of Hahnemuhle paper. Working in pencil and on a small scale, the visible erasures again mean that the physical effort of production is built into the work’s final form. Not every stage in this process is given visibility, however: the mutations progress largely by way of a sequence of stills which report on quite considerable alterations rather than displaying each increment.

Maher’s figures inhabit an indeterminate, mutable space, the page becoming an elastic arena of seemingly endless transformative possibilities. Indeed, the forms and characters that appear in Maher’s films are often the fantastical products of an imaginative life let loose in the repositories of myth and folklore, rather than of the observation of objects in the material world. As in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, these forms enjoy (or endure?) the capacity to move between animal, vegetal and mineral states. There is fluidity not just between things but between classes of things. These strange hatchings, growths and hardenings take on metaphorical resonances, as if aspects of the psyche – the spreading of desire, the building of emotional connections, the toughening of the ego’s defences – were figured in the way in which bodies are augmented, doubled, cut apart, fused together, bound, pierced, protected and otherwise reshaped.

The logic of the transition from one motif to another is guided less by narrative or symbolic association, than by a more basic formal rhyming and rhythm: oval shapes beget oval shapes, heads become eggs, forms persist and mutate in a kind of topology of continuous self-deformation. As Roland Barthes wrote of the erotic universe of Georges Bataille’s novel, Story of the Eye, ‘The world becomes blurred; properties are no longer separate; spilling, sobbing, urinating, ejaculating form a wavy meaning, and the whole of Story of the Eye signifies in the manner of a vibration that always gives the same sound (but what sound?).’[7] A sequence is set in train and the life of forms is as close to guiding its progress as any iconographical programme.

In Henri Matisse’s Themes and Variations (1941-42, catalogue pages pp. 124 – 135), contingency enters less at the level of the image than of the mark itself, which unwinds with its own oneiric momentum. The charcoal ‘theme’ drawings, which resulted from a series of relaxed sessions between artist and model, signal a process of growing acquaintance. Once ready, however, Matisse would then release his pen or crayon in a series of rapid pure line drawings, conducted in an atmosphere of absolute silence and concentration. Flashing past like cinematic frames, Matisse referred to them as ‘the cinema of my sensibility.’[8] The intense encounter between artist and model was conducted within the voluptuous, otherworldly space of Matisse’s studio, which Louis Aragon referred to as La Grande Songerie – the Storehouse of Dreams.[9] And these dreams, we feel when looking at the sexualized model, dressed up by the artist in his favourite costumes, were already permeated by the fantasies and projections of the silver screen.

Matisse compared his drawing to ‘the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness.’[10] Responding to a sequence of slow-motion footage, shot in 1946, in which Matisse’s hand was captured in its wayward wanderings between strokes, the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote of how ‘the chosen line was chosen in such a way as to observe, scattered out over the painting, twenty conditions which were unformulated and even informulable for anyone but Matisse, since they were only defined and imposed by the intention of executing that particular painting which did not yet exist.’[11] The hand danced across an emergent artwork: its achievements were the result of corporeal rather than cognitive calculation, the latter being purposefully held in suspension to enable the expressive eloquence of the former. The result, Matisse wrote, was a form of ‘plastic writing’, his spare line taking on the iterability and distilled clarity of language.[12]

A relationship between drawing, writing and cinema is also made explicit in the work of poet and artist Henri Michaux. In 1951, Michaux extracted sixty-four sheets from a torrent of twelve hundred or so Indian ink drawings made over the preceding months and published them in his book Mouvements (catalogue pages pp. 140 -151).[13] Each sheet displays an array of supple black glyphs, reproduced life size and organized into grids with varying regularity: the traces of a liquid movement now stilled. In their visual economy and discrete spacing they fall between automatic drawings, ideograms, alphabets and pictograms. In 1957, the artist described his drawing practice in cinematic terms:

I wanted to draw the consciousness of existing and the flow of time. As one takes one’s pulse. Or again, more modestly, that which appears when, in the evening, the film that has been exposed to the day’s images, but shorter and muted, is rerun. Cinematic drawing. [14]

Michaux’s aspiration was to elaborate an alternative mode of expression to formalized French: his new language would not depend upon arbitrary, predetermined, conventional units, but would instead be composed of bodily traces corresponding to the dynamics of his singular experience in time: ‘Signs above all to retrieve one’s being from the trap of the language of others … Signs, not to be complete / but true to one’s passing’.[15] The brush was to act like a seismograph registering the tremors of psychic and corporeal life. For Michaux, drawing provided a more satisfying record of identity than any photographic or mirrored image. ‘The mirror is not the place to observe yourself’, he wrote in 1946, ‘Men, look at yourselves in the paper.’[16]

Studio Work

The work of British artist Susan Morris can also be viewed as a kind of displaced self-portraiture, one which takes the involuntary movements of the body as its object, rather than any image of external appearance. The ERSD series (2012, catalogue pages pp. 152 – 163) is one of three sets of works deriving from data collected in a motion capture studio. While engaged in a pre-planned repetitive activity, Morris wore reflectors on different parts of her body. The activity was captured as data files, transcoded into line and printed like a photograph onto archive inkjet paper. The web of fine white lines is formed negatively by printing a matte black ground. Organized in sets of three, the Motion Capture Drawings diagram Morris’s movements as ‘seen’ from the front, from the side and from above. The matrices of white lines, endlessly looping back and forth, up and down, to and fro, hang within an impenetrable black field, unanchored from any secure spatial or temporal coordinates. The kind of shuttling back and forth characteristic of Kentridge’s studio procedure is here isolated and diagrammed. However, these interminable movements suggest less the opening of a space for creative invention than the making visible of a form of repetition that is compulsive, protesting, under duress; repetition as a kind of ‘spontaneous forgetting’, as the artist puts it.[17]

Referring to the same slow-motion footage of Matisse’s hand, and in explicit dialogue with Merleau-Ponty, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan wrote of ‘the rain of the brush’, which for him had to do with glimpsing a kind of spontaneity that escaped the Symbolic Order – something akin to the expressivity of animals.[18] In Morris’s case, the involuntary movements of the body (belonging to the Real in Lacan’s terms) are caught up in a pre-determined and monotonous labour. They register a specifically human, ‘creaturely’ dimension of embodiment, characterized by compulsion and constraint, rather than an improvisatory openness.[19] The resulting images, inhabiting a space between drawing and photography, assume both the scale and formal coherence of some of the most ambitious post-war abstract art. The transactions between two, three and four dimensions in Morris’s work intersect in complex ways with the choreographic, sculptural and obstructive webs of Pollock, Hesse and Duchamp respectively.

Morris’s project constitutes a mode of self-portraiture that is grounded in the operation of the index, as opposed to the mimetic image or symbolic code.[20] It is also one which responds quite precisely to the nature and capacities of digital technology, which allow the artist to record the intangible. Digital data, constituted by a vast sequence of intangible I/0 binary units, is also built on discontinuity. Subject to deletion rather than erasure, digital images can be instantaneously removed from view. What was readable suddenly becomes corrupted. For Lacan, Morris’s most important theoretical reference point, the Real is defined as that which is cut out of subject in its assimilation to the Symbolic. The Real is radically discontinuous with and disruptive of ‘reality’: from the point of view of conventional meaning, the Real is a sheer zero.

Tacita Dean’s Still Life (2009, catalogue pages pp. 64 – 75) attests to a very different kind of studio work. The film was shot in the studio of painter Giorgio Morandi, recently re-installed inside the apartment in Bologna in which the artist lived with his sisters for fifty years. Its looped locked off shots, each present a section of the paper that covered the surfaces on which Morandi arranged his still life objects. As Dean notes, the artist’s compositions were far from arbitrary:

The space between his objects was rigorously and mathematically worked out. Set squares, rulers and a knotted string hang on the studio wall. The table surface and the lining paper are covered with intricate markings and measurements, often initialed or marked with a letter where, you assume, a decision was finalized. They are like found drawings, unintentional but remarkable.[21]

As framed by Dean’s camera, these cryptic yet hypnotic markings evoke a tradition of early abstraction. The stationary shots remain long enough for the eye to linger and for the image to take on the kind of decelerated temporality more common to painting and drawing than to film. And in a characteristically self-reflexive move, the spots, creases, holes and blemishes that decorate Morandi’s lining paper resemble the random flecks of dust that animate the surface of the celluloid film as it whirrs through the projector before us.

Dean’s impassioned celebration of analogue film is well known.[22] In its aesthetic richness, its ability to hold the traces of finite things in a finite medium, and its translation of time into a physical, tangible line, film holds specific capacities and constraints that are not substitutable for digital transfers without considerable change to the aesthetic and conceptual stakes. This is not about the purity of any medium (Dean has made distinctly painterly films, blackboard drawings that recall cinematic storyboards, photogravures that combine writing and image), but it is about medium specificity. The material, formal and structural ground of any work of art is essential to its identity.

An auratic trace of Morandi’s studio, charged by the absence of its owner and his activities, Still Life presents art as a kind of concretion of thinking. The painter’s markings and measurements are residues of one aspect of a rich, precise and intricate system of thought, elaborated within this small world. For Marcel Duchamp, however, painting had moved too far from ‘the grey matter’.[23] He dismissed the pleasures of the studio and la patte as ‘olfactory masturbation’: sensually exciting but ultimately unproductive.[24] Indeed, in 1923 Duchamp announced that he would give up art for chess; in 1952, he elaborated:

Objectively, a game of chess looks very much like a pen-and-ink drawing, with the difference, however, that the chess player paints with black and white forms already prepared instead of inventing forms as does the artist… Beauty in chess is closer to beauty in poetry; the chess pieces … express their beauty abstractly, like a poem … From my close contact with artists and chess players I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.[25]

While Morandi’s plottings and glyphs might signal that his painting was not so alien from the abstract elegance of chess, the idea of ambitious art involving conceptual gambits and readymade objects became much stronger in the years following the Morandi’s death in 1964.

Diagram and Dispersal

The ‘rendez-vous’ of Duchamp, chess and abstract art has proved energizing for the London-based artist Tom Hackney. In 2009 Hackney began a series of paintings which translated found chess data into abstract paintings, where each move corresponds with a single layer of either white or black gesso, very precisely applied to a linen ground squared up in an eight by eight grid. Once a game was chosen, each of its constituent moves, from opening to endgame, was translated one by one in sequence. As in Mondrian’s work, the hand’s visibility is reduced to a minimum, and the resulting paintings recall the spare rigour of Suprematist and De Stijl paintings from the 1910s and 1920s.

The series of Projection drawings included in this exhibition (catalogue pages pp. 92 – 99) bring the consequences of the chess paintings to bear on drawing in specific ways. Here Hackney records a whole game rather than a translation of each move, building a kind of topography of thought. The moves of Duchamp’s games are translated into a three-dimensional projection, whereby the points of the four corners of any square are ‘raised’ incrementally according to a 60 degree projection, each time that square is moved over. In the final drawings, varying shades of black ink are applied using an airbrush to build a three-dimensional tectonic surface. Just as Hackney’s method constitutes a very spare way to concretize information in visual form, the chess data itself stands, by way of its clarity and simplicity, as a kind of sheer index of thought. Here, Hackney emphatically re-aligns abstract picture making with ‘the grey matter’. The ink settles on the surface without the influence of the hand; like dust, it falls in accordance with the weightlessness of the thought it translates.

The imperceptible accumulation of dust signals the passage of time, but an entropic, lifeless kind of time. Duchamp had famously used its contingent accumulation in his The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915-23). As was heralded in much of Duchamp’s work, photographic technology had in large part taken over the work of mimetic depiction, traditionally the province of painting and drawing. So a Duchampian, post-photographic and post-Fordist drawing might be aligned with the imprint of light, the accumulation of dust, or the repetitive, deskilled labour of modern industrial production, rather than the spontaneous expressive flourish or the construction of a mimetic image.[26]

Irish artist Brian Fay’s work involves an equally emphatic subtraction of the image as that of Hackney. Fay’s series of six inkjet prints, Dust and Scratches, Buster Keaton: One Week, 1920 (2007, catalogue pages pp. 78 – 87 ), are the result of a laborious translation of flecks and blemishes on the celluloid filmstrip of Keaton’s short slapstick comedy. The action of the 1920 film involves the construction and destruction of a build-it-yourself Adobe house. Using a combination of analogue and digital drawing technologies, Fay shows us none of Keaton’s images but instead presents the patterns of dust present on the filmstrip. This move comes as film itself is threatened with obsolescence, and the work continues Fay’s concern with imperceptible signs of entropy and decay in Old Master paintings.

To make a companion work, False Dust and Scratches, Buster Keaton: One Week, 1920 (2007, catalogue pages pp. 78 – 87), Fay used then-contemporary iMovie software designed to mimic the look of distressed film. While his prints are the result of a frame-by-frame transcription of each fleck and line visible on a DVD copy of Keaton’s film, this work constitutes a more liberal mirroring of the film’s decay. Fay’s decision to focus on Keaton films of the early 1920s was guided by the centrality of those years in the history of high Modernism, but more specifically by Keaton’s early enthusiasm for the potentials of filmic editing and trickery.[27] Indeed, here Fay presents his own deadpan, faintly farcical elaboration of the digital mimicry of analogue effects.

Also dramatizing the vulnerability of the photographic image to erasure, Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s Vanishing Point (2004, catalogue pages pp. 164 – 171) stages the deterioration and re-emergence of a landscape photograph. The artist had immersed the photograph in a bath of bleach and recorded the slow disassociation of pigment from surface into a blur of horizontal streaks. The piece was then edited in reverse and run as a loop so that the image disappeared and re-emerged seamlessly. In contrast to Fay’s, Ní Bhriain’s title reveals nothing of the specific nature of the image being dissolved; instead her titles describe, often poetically, certain conceptual objects or descriptions of states of being. In Vanishing Point, the becoming and unbecoming of the image of a rural landscape lends itself to metaphorical readings. While maintaining an open field of associations, within an Irish context the disappearance and retrieval of the land might invoke the nation’s history of mass emigration, and the power of remembered images of a lost homeland.

The dynamic of intelligible order and liquid dispersal also animates Ní Bhriain’s Residuum (2007, catalogue pages pp. 164 – 171). At night, footage was taken of a building under construction and wrapped in white sheeting that wavers and buckles in the breeze. This footage was then back projected onto a surface and re-recorded through a tank of water, into which ink was then injected. The ink gathers and unfurls in front of this shadowy, incomplete architecture. Ink and architecture: both of the film’s elements are structures in progress, attesting to a world in flux. The viewer is in thrall to a liquidity that has its own forms of articulation and unruliness, setting up a tension between structural order and dynamic dispersal – a floating, shape-shifting object, like a thought.

Leading and Following

The white linear plumes gathering in Pierre Bismuth’s recent video, Following the Left Hand of Jacques Lacan – the soul and the unconscious (2010, catalogue pages pp. 42 – 51), make the relationship between motion capture technology, automatic drawing and psychoanalysis explicit. While this film uses digital software to track Lacan’s charismatic and even rather histrionic hand movements, in his earlier series, Following the Right Hand of… (2008-9, catalogue pages pp. 42 – 51), Bismuth traced the gestures of iconic actresses in marker pen across large sheets of plexiglas. Here, the artist’s hand ceases to be the agent of his own style, and instead is led in its wandering progress by the movement of these screen idols. A film is now less something to watch than ‘a device to produce a drawing’.[28]

What do these traced movements represent? In sacrificing his own corporeal style, does the artist manage to capture that of another? What do an actress’s gestures embody: are her patterns of movement eloquent of a real individual beneath the performance, or of the persona she adopts when acting, with the role demanding that the player’s body be as fully immersed as her mind? What is the relationship between spontaneity and script here, and between the voluntary and the automatic? Bismuth’s particular way of ceding control is eloquent of a post-Pop subjectivity, offering monuments to enraptured, fetishistic attention to the silver screen, as automatism meets celebrity in an arresting combination.

In Bismuth’s work, the artist does not ‘take a line for a walk’, to borrow Paul Klee’s famous phrase, but rather lets it be led. The progress of the line in Duncan Campbell’s film Sigmar (2008, catalogue pages pp. 52 – 63) is more erratic and resistant, and less bound to an external object – except, perhaps, to a voice. The title and several of the images in the film invoke the late German artist Sigmar Polke. Indeed, made just after the artist had finished his film about Bernadette Devlin (Bernadette, 2008), Sigmar, projected vertically, should be understood as a kind of portrait, albeit a rather cryptic and rebus-like one.

Campbell’s camera pans tentatively across a surface: slowing down, pausing a while, moving on. The nature of the surface changes, but it remains a surface to be worked on – patterned, textured and showing signs of use. Rudimentary drawn and painted marks arrive in sequences of stop motion animation. These arrivals are accompanied by and seem to respond to the inarticulate mutterings, stammerings and angry injunctions of a comic yet menacing male voice, speaking in German. ‘In essence the relationship between the voice-over and the drawings – the formal basis of the whole film in fact – is one of antagonism’, Campbell says.[29] Indeed, the voice seems to harry and detain the line in its movements; having managed some vowel sounds, it goes on to explore the slippage between the words Ich, Nicht and Nein [I, not, no]. In these basic units of graphic and spoken language, then, the self is at stake, as is the role of (paternal?) negation and prohibition.

The dialogue between the faltering progress of the drawn line and this absurd voice of authority is eloquent of the experimental truancy of Polke’s practice. More specifically, Campbell alludes to the Rasterbilder and to the ballpoint pen and gouache drawings from the early-mid 1960s, when Polke’s Capitalist Realism was addressing the disillusioned modernity of West Germany. Campbell’s film is alive with a similar comic perversity although, as in Polke’s drawings, moments of surprising elegance also arise, as if by accident. Sigmar ends with an abrupt shift: now the surface scanned is a tabletop seen from above; in a glimmering half-light, a coffee cup, an ashtray and a barely discernible curving object stand in for two eyes and a mouth, which smiles dumbly as AC/DC’s 1977 anthem Whole Lotta Rosie plays out in the background.

If Campbell’s film conveys the streak of perversity characteristic of Polke’s achievement, then Dennis Oppenheim’s early video piece, Two-Stage Transfer Drawing (1971, catalogue pages pp. 172 – 179), has about it the more innocent optimism of 1960s hippie culture. Hirsute and topless, the artist draws on his son’s back. As he does so, the latter faces a wall and attempts to simultaneously transcribe the felt touch on his skin into equivalent marks on the wall in front of him. The body, then, is both active and passive, both the receiver of impressions and the generator of new traces. This reciprocity between activity and passivity is common to both drawing and sense experience, particularly touch, in which the touching subject is always also the touched object.

The kinds of time at stake in Oppenheim’s film are several. Firstly, there is the relay between the drawn mark on skin, the felt impression, and its attempted translation in a new drawing. The body becomes the site of transfer, but not without its own delays and interferences. Secondly, the bodies involved in this transfer are themselves the result of the translation of genetic code into proteins by living cells. The artist draws on a body that itself owes its existence in part to his own, and which it involuntarily replicates. The copying of drawn marks becomes an analogue for the reproduction of genetic information, with these various registers of attachment playfully staged in this deceptively simple action.

Time Held Up

To hold up time is to both delay it and to extract and suspend it for scrutiny. By exploring the relationship of drawing and the moving image, contemporary artists have arrived at complex ways to render time visible and even legible; here, the concretion of time takes on a kind of formal and semiotic organization that not only translates time into a material register, but also gives it meaningful composition. Physical movements are taken up into the movements of the mind, and the temporal experience of the viewer – physically moving around and mentally turning over the work – becomes structured in accordance with it. Chance and contingency are accompanied by precise and elegant decisions; the associative mobility of language is combined with the muteness and opacity of material objects; and the stillness of drawing, its marks surviving like frozen diagrams of an activity now past, are reanimated – projected again by way of both physical, mechanical apparatuses, and by our own internal, phantasmatic projection equipment.

© Ed Krčma, 2012


[1] Michael Newman: ‘Medium and Event in the Work of Tacita Dean’, in Tacita Dean, London, 2001, p.24.

[2] Rosalind Krauss, ‘Re-Inventing the Medium’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 25, Winter 1999, p.296.

[3] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford and Cambridge (Mass.), 1953, pp.32ff.

[4] Margaret Iversen, ‘Index, Diagram, Graphic Trace’, Tate Papers 18, autumn 2012.

[5] William Kentridge in Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, William Kentridge, Brussels 1998, p.68.

[6] See William Kentridge, ‘‘Fortuna:’ Neither Program nor Chance in the Making of Images’ (1993) in Christov-Bakargiev et. al., William Kentridge, London, 1999, pp.118-9.

[7] Roland Barthes, ‘The Metaphor of the Eye’ (1963) in Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye (1928), London 1982, p.125.

[8] Henri Matisse, ‘Interview with Francis Carco,’ (1941) in Jack Flam (ed.): Matisse on Art, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1995, p.135.

[9] Louis Aragon, Henri Matisse, a Novel (2 vols.). London, 1972, vol. I, p.231.

[10] Henri Matisse in Ibid. vol. I, p.234.

[11] Maurice Merleau-Ponty: ‘Indirect Languages and the Voices of Silence’, in Signs, Evanston, 1964, pp.45-6.

[12] Henri Matisse, ‘Notes of a Painter on His Drawing’ (1939), in Matisse on Art, p.131.

[13] Henri Michaux, Mouvements, soixante-quatre dessins, un poème, une postface, Gallimard, Paris, 1951.

[14] Henri Michaux, ‘To Draw the Flow of Time’ (1957), in Catherine de Zegher (ed.), Untitled Passages by Henri Michaux, New York, 2000, p. 7.

[15] Henri Michaux, Mouvements, in Ibid. p. 44.

[16] Henri Michaux, ‘Thinking about the Phenomenon of Painting’ (1946) in Ball (ed.), Darkness Moves, An Henri Michaux Anthology: 1927-1984, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1997, p. 312.

[17] See Susan Morris, ‘On Repetition (Again)’ in this volume.

[18] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, London, 1977, p.114.

[19] See Eric Santner: On Creaturely Life – Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald, Chicago and London, 2006.

[20] See Susan Morris, ‘Drawing in the Dark’, Tate Papers 18, autumn 2012.

[21] Tacita Dean, ‘The Studio of Giorgio Morandi’ in Tacita Dean: Selected Writings 1992-2011, Vienna, 2011, p.105.

[22] Tacita Dean, ‘Analogue’ in Ibid. p.81. See also Nicholas Cullinan (ed.), Tacita Dean: FILM, London, 2011.

[23] Marcel Duchamp in Cleve Gray, ‘The Great Spectator’ Art in America, vol.57, no.4, July-

August 1969, p.21.

[24] See Thierry de Duve, ‘The Readymade and the Tube of Paint’ in Kant After Duchamp, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, 1996, pp.146-196.

[25] Marcel Duchamp in Francis Naumann, Marcel Duchamp, The Art of Chess, New York, 2009, p.34.

[26] See Benjamin Buchloh, ‘Hesse’s Endgame: Facing the Diagram,’ in Catherine de Zegher (ed.), Eva Hesse Drawing, New York, 2006, pp.117-150.

[27] Brian Fay, email to the author, 27 August 2012.

[28] Pierre Bismuth in conversation with Edwin Carels, The Drawing Room, London, 16 June 2012.

[29] Duncan Campbell, email to the author, 29 August 2012.

 

 

MOTION CAPTURE: SOME NOTES ON SEEING GHOSTS

Matthew Packer

            “it is the first frame, the first limit, upon which all subsequent frames / limits will depend.”

(Daniel Buren, The Function of the Studio, 1971)

We might consider that all artwork travels through a series of frames. Some of it, of course, never making it past the first: the studio. For certain artworks there are other frames to follow. The gallery space is one. Another, perhaps history itself? Each frame a space in which artwork is contextualised, encountered and read. In the end then – perhaps over months, years, or decades – we have multiple frames that jostle on top of one another, shifting slightly with retrospection and revision over and around the art itself.

Of the first frame, the artist studio, what is there left to say? Hasn’t the Artists’ studio already been vacated by now, subject to both fantasy and abandonment in the past few decades? Haven’t we have witnessed an increasing number of artists that have no studio, have given up their studios in favour of a laptop, or have adopted what has been called ‘post-studio’ practice? (This term referring to artists whose practices are based on site-specific responses, social collaborations, or else employ commercial outsourced technologies).

Haven’t we seen the studios of artists from previous generations, reconstructed as museum pieces? Francis Bacon’s studio at Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery or Eduard Paolozzi’s studio at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, two examples that are complete with all the mess that was surely never meant to be seen by public eyes; this mess now revealed as an insight and revelation into each artist’s private world. Haven’t we also witnessed those lavishly illustrated coffee table books that profile the working situations of artists? Books that exist in bookstores somewhere between the shelf categories of interior design and artistic biography, that show us mildly calamitous interiors, magazine cuttings pinned to the wall, other artist’s art, and curious trinkets from faraway places. These interiors, invariably photographed in daylight and with the silence and space of a mid-week mid-afternoon, seem to carry the fantasies of a life in one’s own hands, where work and non-work combine in a perfect dissolution of work entirely. What then can we say about the studio that isn’t cornered between its popular fantasy and its trendy abandonment? The artist studio seems like a petrified, anachronistic space. A space of ghosts.

Some Ghosts In the Studio

In Tacita Dean’s Still Life (2007), we find the ghost of Giorgio Morandi, the celebrated Italian painter most famous for his mutely toned still lifes of vases, bottles and bowls. Shot in Morandi’s Bologna studio where he lived and worked with his three sisters for over fifty years (now a functioning museum, of course), Dean’s Still Life presents us with a sequence of long-exposure close-ups of pencil tracings made by Morandi himself. These tracings, used as place-markers for the objects that would become the subjects of his paintings, reveals a system to Morandi’s practice that otherwise remains hidden in view of his final works. In Still Life, lines curve across the camera frame, rarely revealing themselves as complete contours of corresponding objects. There are inscriptions also, measurements and initials.  Some of Morandi’s paintings, we know (so the history books tell us), took him more than two years to complete, and so when we see these pencil tracings overlap and coalesce in Dean’s film, we might also imagine that we’re seeing the overlaps and accretions of time; one painting as though superimposing it’s blueprint upon another, and then another.

Dean’s use of 16mm black and white film adds another layer to this archaeology of material traces. A film technology made popular and commonly available in the early 1960s when Morandi was toward the end of his life, 16mm film is itself a technology of accretion while at the same time one of obsolescence (the last 16mm processing lab in the United Kingdom closed its doors in 2011). The flickers of dust, the lines and scratches that accrue through the result of repeated projection provide something of a slight and contingent surface animation to otherwise still images; an intermediatory materialisation in lieu of absent objects. “[M]aking a film is connected to ideas of loss and disappearance”, Dean once said. And when we view Still Life, with the details of Morandi’s horizontal working surfaces now facing us upright as a wall projection, it’s as though something sullen and sleeping, has now woken up, come alive and stands amongst us.

In another 16mm projection work, by Duncan Campbell, we find the ghost of punkish German artist Sigmar Polke. Sigmar pans across a variety of patterned and plain surfaces that invoke inspiration and interruption in equal measure. Onto these restless surfaces, splotches of paint appear and animated lines begin, some longer and more seemingly more confident than others, some that find a picture like a human face or the corner of a room, but most that assert themselves as tentative, abstract markings. All of these actions are cut short, however – scrapped and super-ceded by a German voice (the voice of Sigmar himself?) that commands an end to the line’s unfolding and dramatisation.

‘Nein’, ‘nicht’, and the occasional ‘doch’ provide the rhythm of Campbell’s film. These words of rejection and brief encouragement also represent the intuitions and counter-intuitions of a creative process that we might ascribe to Sigmar Polke himself, perhaps the most contrarian artist in the late twentieth century. If there was any doubt about this reference, the title of Campbell’s film confirms it, significantly, on first name terms. Campbell’s approach is more personable and ‘under the skin’ than the traditional surname-only referencing that we find in the history books. Sigmar is a portrait embodied with the spirit of Polke himself, haunted with the capricious actions and radical refusals that continue his legacy. Watching this film, we might even begin to believe that we’re seeing with the eyes of the dead artist. The presentation of Sigmar – with its flipped vertical portrait projection and narrow standing projection screen – seeming, like Dean’s film, to face us like a resuscitated human encounter.

In the white spidery traces of Susan Morris’s large scale Motion Capture Drawings, we find another kind of ghost. This is the ghost of the artist herself. With motion sensors placed on her body, Morris’s works draw upon the data of her movements in the studio. The artwork and activity that pre-occupies this movement is unrepresented and unclear, but we’re able to read certain habits in the density of lines as Morris moves across, up, down, forwards and back from the studio wall.

The studio here is represented as nothing but the black, unregistered space that provides the limit, the frame, for all the tracks and traces it contains. Across the three works presented in Motion Capture…, we see these movements from the side, from above, and in frontal view. These orientations, typical of an architect’s plans, suggest an attempt to provide an objectified awakening to the unconscious and part-conscious behaviours of Morris’s studio practice.

In Tom Hackney’s airbrush painting, where no hand touches the paper, we have, again, another kind of studio ghost. Using a system of abstract geometries, Hackney’s paintings chart the play of chess maneuvers performed by Marcel Duchamp during his years playing international tournament chess, which famously followed his ‘giving up’ of art in 1923. The ghost of Duchamp’s chess pieces as they move strategically and combatively across the board are met with a phantom and entirely unrepresented opposition. Here, Hackney provides a visual topography for Duchamp alone, and in reference to a time when Duchamp himself had apparently abandoned ‘retinal art’. The abandonment, as revisionists are fond of telling us, never wholly took place. Duchamp’s work as an artist continued, albeit at a slower more itinerant pace. The abandonment of his studio in fact, was only a foil. In a characteristic act of evasion, Duchamp kept his studio deliberately and suspensively empty, only to covertly occupy another studio for the long-term production of his famous Etant donnes.

***

Some Ghosts, Further Down The Line

“One man will see spirits. Another will hear voices … What is behind these experiences? Or in front of them for that matter?”

(Woody Allen, Without Feathers)

If the first frame is the studio, then what about all other frames? The gallery space with its climate-controlled preservationist technologies and its dry air, bleached white walls, and UV protected windows. A space where, as Brian O’Doherty has written, ‘Art exists in a kind of eternity of display’, and where our bodies as spectators can often seem ‘superfluous, an intrusion’ to its peculiar, pristine sense of timelessness and of being nowhere in particular. Here too, are ghostly, phantom characters. Here we can see figures that bleed into in-distinction in Michaux’s Mouvements, falling somewhere in-between language as the pages turn. Or we can see the phantom hands of screen actresses Sophia Loren and Greta Garbo in Pierre Bismuth’s Following the Right Hand Ofseries. These works, produced in the artist’s attempts to trace the hands of actresses in famous cinematic episodes using a marker pen. Behind framed glass, these actresses stare out at us, with their eyes caught behind the squiggle of lines that are their own unknown doing.

Or else we can sit in darkened projection rooms where ghosts famously lurk, and there we can see images emerge and recede into one another in the film and video installations of William Kentridge and Alice Maher. In Maher’s Flora, we can surely detect the processes of drawing, erasure, and re-drawing on a single piece of paper; these processes recorded on camera at every incremental stage, quickly succeeding each other in the course of their animation. In Maher’s video, we see the human body undergo a constant and fluid extension and retraction of its boundaries, as it collides and is conjured with other bodies and objects: some male, some female, some bestial, and others, out of this world.

In Matisse’s Dessins: Themes et Variations we also see something of the body’s incorporeality as it shifts fluidly between frames. These works, produced as a portfolio of 158 prints of drawings made between 1941 and 1942, exemplify Matisse’s serial approach in studying his subjects, where he would repeat the same motif with slight variations and changes in the movement and perspective of his subjects. The sets ‘L’ and ‘N’ presented in Motion Capture… show a series of drawings of a female model. The slightest shift and change of her position seems to cancel her singularity and definition in any one image. It makes no sense to say that she truly appears in any one of these drawings, but perversely, like a specter, only in all of them.

In Brian Fay’s One Week, After Buster Keaton, and in Ailbhe Ni Bhriain’s Residuum works, we see no body at all. In different ways, their works seemed to have evacuated all but the raw contingency of material life. In Fay’s series of print works, we see no reference to Buster Keaton or his comedic ways, despite the invocation of the title. Instead, we are faced only with images of abstract lines and cracks that represent the slow deterioration of the original film stock. While the print works are renderings of this deterioration, an accompanying video work simulates the effects of an ‘authentic’ old-fashioned film, where for the full 18 minutes of Buster Keaton’s original One Week, we see nothing other than the dust and scratches of a computer programme designed for the fantasy of historical effect.

Like Fay’s work, Ailbhe Ni Bhriain’s operates between the impasse of analogue and digital technologies, using techniques of montage to create works that speak of time and its effects. Residuum centres of an image of a partly constructed building covered in fabric hoarding; an image that is then introduced with plumes of ink that bleed into the image and contaminates all sense of actuality. Vanishing Point also applies this sense of liquidity to an apparently static and stable image; in this instance, a colour landscape photograph is washed in bleach, documented in an entropic loop of dissolution and emergence.

Among these quivering frames and spaces of ghosts, there are, however, some things that are definitively blood, skin and bone. Dennis Oppenheim’s Two Stage Transfer Drawing, produced in 1971, shows the artist with his son Eric copying drawings onto each other’s bodies. The work relies on a sense of touch as much as sight, with the feeling of the marker pen on each other’s the body becoming the way of determining the shape and direction of the proceeding line. Mid-way through the video, the roles are reversed, and what could be seen as a passing from father to son – a lineage in the most literal sense – changes course, as though against the grain of time.

Seeing this film, over 40 years after it was first produced and several years since Oppenheim’s death, we stare at the back of one body as it draws lines on another. It’s as though we – generations later – are the third remote participant without the ability to touch and without a pen. Perhaps, after all this, it is us viewers that are the real ghosts?

© Matthew Packer, 2012