EDITORIAL: DRAWING IN-SITU
The notion of drawing in-situ is by its very inference an open proposition, and one that promotes a myriad of potential interpretation. That drawing should be so closely aligned to a sense of the immediate, of the here and now, comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever utilised drawing to record, interpret, question or reflect on a lived experience. Drawing in-situ provides us with the possibility for encounter and exchange, a speculative enquiry that has the ability to expand our relational understanding of the world around us.
The act of drawing in-situ opens up the possibilities of time and space, a ghostly legacy borne from the provisional act of mimesis. In ‘Species of spaces’ George Perec describes the complexities of articulating spatial experience, writing: “Space is constantly in doubt: I have constantly to mark it, to designate it. It’s never mine, never given to me, I have to conquer it ” (Doyle 2002: 5).
This notion of the provisional is expressed in a small pen and ink drawing on paper, the Arrival of Louis-Phillippe (1874) by Turner, in which the anticipation and tension of the event is hastily marked out in codified shorthand, indicated by a series of lyrical gestures as pen strikes paper. The marks are laid down in cursive, musical notations that appear to dance across the sheet in a fleeting moment of capture. The drawing engages us on a primary level as an autonomous structure whose energy, fettered only by the papers edge, is informed by both decision and indecision. It acknowledges both the authentic recording of unfolding events and the simultaneous blindness formed by the gap between events. In this sense Turner’s in-situ drawing is discursive, trapping a set of variables in a brilliant conceit.
Almost one hundred years later, the attitude of the subject is replaced by the attitude of the artist in Paul McCarthy’s Face painting – Floor, white line (1972), part of a group of video performance works made between 1970-1975. Here McCarthy acknowledges his physical assertion in the work, using his body to push a white painted line through a space. In an essay for The End of the line: attitudes in drawing, Brian Dillon reflects on an attitude within drawing that resonates with both of these approaches, irrespective of the century gap that separates them: “ to draw is to gesture meaningfully, but at the same time mutely, innocently, without a sense that one is making sense” (Dillon 2009: 11). McCarthy’s irreverent gesture is mediated through film, challenging the position of the experience as reality through an archived retelling. It borrows much from the legacy of Turner’s drawing in so much as it acknowledges both the absence and presence of the artist in the conception and perception of space. It retains the immediacy and sense of unfolding drama as the artist struggles to define the experience of drawing in a particular time and space.
But what is it to draw in-situ, and what does it mean to those who incorporate this approach in their practice? In an expanded field of drawing, the historical markers of topographical or architectural fieldwork collide with a new understanding of spatial concepts emerging from satellite technologies, 3-d printing, and rapid prototyping. In Drawing Now: between the lines of contemporary art, drawings are described as “aggregates of experience [that] only suggest and refer to ‘reality’ or appearance” (Downs 2007: XV). So what are the determining factors that characterise or frame the act of drawing through its relation to working in-situ? And in what ways might drawing in-situ become this aggregate of a lived experience. These are some of the many questions explored in the submissions for this edition of Tracey, Drawing-in situ. They include a diverse range of paper’s offering a broad range of approaches and methodologies including reportage, place-oriented practice, in-situ observation, social engagement and intervention. Sarah Casey and Gerry Davies (A Garland of Thoughts: Ruskin and Contemporary Sight/Site Sensitive Drawing) offer an insight into the collaborative relationships formed between drawing practitioners and other cognate disciplines. The focus of their enquiry addresses the practice of artists whose activity involves engaging in innovative drawing practices beyond the situation of the studio. Caroline Ali (Trace) explores the theme through an intimate encounter with a drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Birmingham City Art Gallery. Through the act of re-drawing the work in-situ, she speculates on the wider theoretical questions about drawing, questioning the role of observation, recording, memory and fragmentation that result from her working methodology. Michael Croft (Ushered, Left; Curtailed, Right) considers how the experience of drawing in-situ, can be heightened by a continued occupation and re-working of drawings on site. In particular he questions what he terms “the tendency of eye-dominance in vision” in relation to drawing in a site-specific context.
The indexical relationship between the visualisation of space and place and the materiality of drawing was a theme shared by many who submitted papers. Sharon Jewell (Contracted site: artist on paper, drawing) discusses the complex relationship between a spatial perception of space and the drawing surface, proposing that situation (in its relation to site) “is variously extended and contracted depending on the nature of mediation between surface and environment”. This is also examined by Charley Peters (Drawing in the Reality of Space) in a series of site-specific drawings titled Logical Atomism. Peters refers to this work as “a conduit for authorship, which determines both the form of the drawing and the record of its location. In Logical Atomism the pulled yarn bridges the space between hand and the landscape, making the drawings’ locations both subject and surface”.
Among the most common assertions to emerge from the submissions is the notion of drawing as a site of slippage between perception and experience. Juliet MacDonald (In Passing) alludes to this in her drawn exploration of the dynamics of busy urban spaces. The narrative is multi-layered as it compresses time and activity into a single plane of reference. As such, MacDonald refers to this in-situ activity as “a perceptual experience that was always slipping away”. And so this returns us to the notion of drawing in-situ as a speculative strategy, whose elusiveness ensures that the agency and currency of these practices are maintained.
Dillon, B. (2009) On the elements of drawing. In: The end of the line: attitudes in drawing. London: Hayward Publishing pp. 8-14
Downs, S et al., ed. (2007) Drawing Now; between the lines of contemporary art. New York: I. B.Tauris
Perec, G. (1977) Species of spaces. London: Penguin. In: Doyle, M et al. (2002) Drawing on space. London: The Drawing Room pp. 5-8
Norwich University of the Arts.