Sherman Sam, 'Insider: inventing drawing' (Commissioned Text, 08/2008)

Insider: inventing drawing

TO BE HONEST, that’s what an artist must do. What do I mean? I think that one has to be true to one’s heart, or at least try to follow it. But how to follow, or for that matter eve hear one’s heart, can be an entire life’s endeavour.

‘I want/everything I make/to reflect my/whole life’ is what the four drawings say albeit inverted and backwards. It is a quote taken from Yvonne Rainer, and in full this extract from an afternote reads:

I can only reflect the reality of my own experience, which continues to be about loving, hating, acting stupid, ‘waking up’, trying to ‘sleep’, being in despair, being courageous, being terrified, getting excited, getting outrages, laughing. A story about a woman who is courageous is not enough for me … I want everything I make to reflect my whole life. I think that is why those paragraphs floating fascinate me so: they have no time or space, they are pure events or states that the audience can very concretely apply to themselves, if they choose. (1) [Italics mine]

Kate Davis is certainly an artist with a well-tuned sense of history. In previous exhibitions her work has been responsive and attentive to works of art, their history and context. Here, these new pieces are in part a response to her own exhibition in the same space four years earlier. Look through her body of work and you’ll find that KD has been subtly inserting herself into Art’s history. Her image and body, even palm prints, have long been elements and measures in her growing visual language. Carl Andre, Käthe Kollwitz, Faith Wilding, Lucie Rie, Carolee Schneeman, and now Franz Gertsch have all provided voices in her various works, but it obvious that it is Davis’ voice – or maybe I should say hand – that overrides:

I’ve been aware of an increasingly prevalent personal voice in my own practice (despite, or perhaps because of the reliance on a historical context to work within or against) and I’m interested in using ‘Outsider’ and the dialogue around it, to question the role and possibilities for self-representation and the subjective voice today.(2)

But there is another voice that may shed light on this occasion of drawing:

Here is a first hypothesis: the drawing is blind, if not the draughtsman of draughtswoman. As such, and in the moment proper to it, the operation of a drawing would have something to do with blindness, would in some way regard blindness (aveuglement). In this abocular hypothesis (the word aveugle comes from ab oculis: not from or by but without the eyes), the following remains to be heard and understood: the blind man can be a seer, and he sometimes has the vocation of a visionary. Here is the second hypothesis then - an eye graft, the grafting of one point of view onto the others: a drawing of the blind is a drawing of the blind. Double genitive. There is no tautology here, only a destiny of the self-portrait … (3)

Of course I’m not proposing that KD is blind or speaking of blindness, though I am saying she is a draughtswoman. But like the grafting, then crafting together of these different view points, Rainer, Gertsch, Schneeman, Camus and of course, her own, a kind of portrait or image is slowly being constructed. She has already said that she has been ‘aware of an increasingly prevalent personal voice’. Those running shoes, the familiar hands, thighs, jeans are elements presented in each drawing. Is there already a destiny here towards self-portraiture? Is the representation of self a working towards ‘truth’ in this case? Perhaps a move to finding one’s self or way… :

Like Memoirs, the Self-Portrait always appears in the reverberation of several voices. And the voice of the other orders or commands, makes the portrait resound, calls without symmetry or consonance … If what is called a self-portrait depends on the fact that it is called ‘self-portrait’, an act of naming should allow or entitle me to call just about anything a self-portrait, not only any drawing (‘portrait’ or not) but anything that happens to me, anything by which I can be affected or let myself be affected.(4)

However arriving at some ‘truth’ in drawing may be more complicated than it seems. For JD, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida whose voice we read above, one cannot be putting pencil to paper ad seeing at the same time, hence the constructed image is already an act of memory.(5) Wait, you say, but KD is not quite working directly from life, as each image is constructed through photography. In drawing she is actually translating a readymade image. Nonetheless the issue of drawing, and memory, is still very much the same. In that ‘un-realism’ – that is, the detachment one attains from working with photography rather than life – there is already a stepping back.(6) Does KD work from her images of Gertsch or is she working from the one in a book?

For JD the condition of the self-portrait is equal that of the ruins. There is no mirror, just memory in the end, which leads to fragments and constructions. Likewise here we see only parts in each drawing; parts of KD, parts of other artists, parts of a sentence. And then each drawing is part of a greater whole.

If this is so how then is a blind draughtswoman to be honest?

Every time a draftsman lets himself be fascinated by the blind, every time he makes the blind a theme of his drawing, he projects, dreams, or hallucinates a figure of a draftsmen, or sometimes, more precisely, some draftswoman. Or more precisely still, he begins to represent a drawing potency (puissance) at work, the very act of drawing. He invents drawing. (7)

The origin of drawing, inventing drawing, un-drawing, originary drawing, these are all terms that JD deploys or seems to imply. As in his writing, he is pointing to possibilities beyond his text and the texts under examination: a fold or spacing, writing before writing, or in this case drawing before drawing. True drawing?

KD’s drawings may at first appearance not seem to be striving towards this, however they are not mere conceptual photorealisms. The white spacing – like Rainer’s floating paragraphs – in each automatically cancels the drawing’s realism and returns us to the texture of the paper, the feel of the graphite working on paper. Nor are they ‘true’ self-portraits.

These are drawings. And that is what KD achieves here. She is inventing drawing for herself. But is she losing herself and finding drawing? That question is perhaps for another exhibition. So in offering that KD is drawing her self, I have also – via JD (my very own seeing – ear dog) – offered that the self-portrait is already lost. What we have left is KD drawing herself drawing (to speak in JD’s tongue). Eventually, in time, even KD will drop away, and all we’ll have left is drawing.

Let us recall that, in the case of the blind man, hearing goes farther than the hand, which goes farther than the eye. The hand has an ear for preventing the fall, that is, the casus, the accident; it thus commemorates the possibility of the accident, keeps ot in memory. A hand is, here, the very memory of the accident. But for the one who sees, visual anticipation takes over for the hand in order to go even farther – indeed much farther. What does ‘farther’ mean, and farther than the far-way itself? (8)

To listen to one’s heart, that is what I am trying to say here. It is difficult to hear sometimes, for all the noise.

1) Yvonne Rainer, A Woman Who … : Essays, Interviews, Scripts (Baltimore, 1999), p.164. 2) Kate Davis, gallery press release for ‘Outsider’, 2008. 3) Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins (Chicago & London,1993), p.2. 4) Ibid., pp. 64-5. 5) ‘As soon as the draftsman considers himself, fascinated, fixed on the image, yet disappearing before his own eyes into the abyss, the movement by which he tries desperately to recapture himself is already, in its very present, an act of memory. Baudelaire suggested in Mnemonic Art that the setting to work of memory is not in the service of drawing. But neither does it lead drawing as its master or its death. It is the very operation of drawing, and precisely its setting to work.’ Ibid., p68. 6) As I write this I am looking a photo of an image of a drawing of a photo (and in that photo is another photocopy). 7) Ibid., p.2 8) Ibid., p.16. Do you hear him?