Drawing and Visualisation Research
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  • Is your work dependent on particular kinds of movement?

    If we think of drawing as performance, does it help us to understand the process any better?

    Is seeing as much an act of the body as of the eyes?

    What kinds of visual notations for dance and movement are currently being developed?

    How might technology enable us to translate performances into drawings, or vice versa?

    How can the physicality of drawing be exploited?

    What is the relationship of movement to drawing?


  • Jane Tormey - home page

    How To Do Things With Drawing1

    This, the first collection of contributions to the section 'Performance', introduces a range of ideas that suggest the need to differentiate between the terms 'performance' and 'performative'. Using a theatrical model, the idea of 'performance' can be seen as an acting out, a representation or mimesis, following some directive and suggests a passive operation where the participant actualises something already determined. In contrast, J.L.Austin's How to Do Things with Words describes a 'perfomative statement' as referring to itself in the process of its own making. As such, it does not describe or report, cannot be said to be either true or false and cannot be verified. A performative statement declares its own doing as in 'I am drawing', as opposed to a 'constative statement' that is already defined before it is said. Austin's model provides an interesting analogy for drawing, both in terms of the procedure itself, and in terms of the differentiation between what might be termed a 'constative' drawing, which would represent or describe mimetically, and a 'performative' drawing, which can be seen as changing its own terms, as it performs itself. In doing drawing, a drawing is seen to constitute itself - it creates as it describes. And the one who is drawing directs their own form of production.

    More recently theories of performativity introduce the possibility of producing meaning that identifies an alternative to established convention. Austin's 'performative statement' operates within a given framework as a semiotic gesture, which demonstrates an intention as it 'enacts what it names'. Judith Butler points to the reliance on convention as both confirming itself in traditional description, but also as providing an opportunity to shift the frame, to shift dominant conventions. In this analogy, a drawing is a domain that is particularly suited to performative effects that 'become the condition and occasion of further action'.2

    If one considers the temporal nature of the performative act in thinking back and thinking forward - responding to marks made, taking out and adding and anticipating possibilities, one can see that the positive dynamic is one transparency of process. What is particular about drawing is the procedure of addition and erasure, of gesture and change, of instinct and thought. The nature of the gesture (drawn mark or software agent) incorporates the expression or meaning in the manner it is drawn. As a 'deconstructive' process, it refers via subtraction, to what is absent as well as present to description. In Thinking Through Mark and Gesture,3 Brien articulates this process of positive subtraction as part of a constructive performance that necessitates the engagement with other senses than sight - touch and smell and sound. The empowerment latent in performative drawing is the physical execution itself. Mark Hill's Drawoids both expose a literal history of the physical content beneath and visually articulate a performance that determines itself though its own behaviour.

    Rachel Gibson's consideration of drawing as play and choreography makes the useful connection between the physicality of performance and performance as a potential space for conception, where the gestural act 'embodies a moment of thought' and the physical meets the psychological. Our understanding of space and time and their relation to a creative act such as drawing reacts of course to a succession of disturbances. It is interesting that this collection introduces a number of them with the emphasis on activity rather than object, subtraction over addition. Peter Wood describes drawing as a kind of mise en scene - a record of a performative event that operates in a temporal moment, whereas Gibson conceives drawing as a more enduring intervention in time and space. Wood's reference satisfies the definition above as 'performance' in the sense of performing to satisfy expectation of a particular function. However his interpretation changes the framework of expectation; he presents architectural drawing addressing aspects that are conventionally ignored - i.e. what goes on in a building rather than the building itself and introduces the possibility of drawing in reverse, in negative, as subtracted space, displaying what is normally absent or not stated. It suggests drawing as active and imaginative performance rather than a tool of neutral translation, as projection transcending time and place and as a place of 'demonstrative' production. Wood's possibility of drawing as a discursive exploration, reminds us that drawing is at first performative and 'only after a thing' - a product, and switches emphasis from the dominance of original production toward a consideration of drawing as a 'site of conception' rather than one of 'translation'.

    Mary Clare Foa's discussion of drawing maintains a performative process that resists the definitive, and celebrates the ephemeral. The notion of trace presents drawing as both procedurally transient in its construction of itself and in 'performing' transience as an interaction with the environment. Foa's account explains a condition that is both drawing as a record of performance and drawing as performance (drawing the drawing) and suggests that the conceptual thinking that drives the drawing process is a performative experience, drawing a parallel between the normal practice of drawing on location with a more concerted, intentional, purposeful performance. What is suggested in Foa's collection is an emphasis on the physical interaction performed by physical movement and a recognition of the performative process being a central characteristic and an underestimated constituent of drawing. Like Foa, Linda Sgoluppi's work is described as interaction with the environment - as an 'interactive dynamic between element and artist'. But here the emphasis raises the issue of the conceptual process involved, concomitant with that of 'making'. Sgoluppi's tale of the elusive transient pavement slogans drawn in water, beautifully illustrates the notion of 'performative' self-constitution as it prioritises the characteristics of process and trace completely - in its performance. The validity of drawing can be seen to lie in removal as well as in addition and in the concern to preserve the conceptual potency in the elusive art - of pavement performance, of the walked line, of lines in the sand and in the inevitable erasure.

    Since conceptual art has adjusted the hierarchy of product over idea and process, and has incorporated performance (e.g. Bruce Nauman's Art Make Up, 1967-8, Richard Long,'s A Line Made Walking England, 1967), ideas and process themselves have become products. Drawing is shown to be particularly tuned to demonstrating process and idea simultaneously in the process of its own performance and is particularly amenable to choreographic interpretation. The topic of drawing and 'performance' suggests a number of areas for further enquiry: the physicality of process, the function of addition and subtraction, drawing as an interactive dynamic and as the 'site of conception'.

    Jane Tormey 2005

    1J.L.Austin, How To Do Things With Words (1962), Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
    2Judith Butler (1993) Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of "sex", New York: Routledge, p.187.
    2Alyson Brien, Thinking Through Mark and Gesture in 'Syntax of Mark & Gesture', TRACEY, 2002.