Critical Review Essay

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Video still from Joan Jonas Draw without Looking (2013)

Discuss the intersections of drawing, performance and video in the work of Joan Jonas with specific reference to Drawing without Looking (2013)

Making one performance from Joan Jonas’s extensive artistic practice the subject for this critical review arises from an interest that I still don’t find easy to articulate. Let me try, though: it possibly articulates first as question: ‘But is it drawing?’ I laugh at the question, and still I pose it. I keep posing it and keep seeking its answer(s). Is writing drawing? Is an instruction drawing? A performance? I realise that these questions are not new and find the relevant body of work (e.g., Sawdon & Marshall 2012, 2015; Garner 2008). I first turn towards  an in-between: the ambiguity that resides in the practice and object of drawing, and Derek Horton’s (2015, 1) refusal to answer my question above as guiding line for my own enquiry which eventually leads me to Jonas’s artistic practice:

to investigate the opportunities that arise if we are ambivalent to the answers to such a question, subvert any answers that might be given, or challenge the question itself.

Horton continues to chart the field for such ambivalence and ambiguity: the ubiquity of drawing, the relationship it maps out first between a working practice and a finished object, but later then too between something private (the working out) and something public (the finished drawing), and to arrive at the importance of ambiguity in exploring the ‘interpretative relationship between people and things or ideas (or representations of them)’ (ibid).

Joan Jonas (b 1936, New York) has explored such questions through performance, video and drawing spanning her artistic career from the early 1960s to date. The question of who and what and how and for whom; of artist/ performer, of artwork and process and of audience have been utilised by her with great attentiveness to chosen forms and intersections.

I chose one of her recent pieces, Draw without Looking (2013) (DwL), which at its centre poses the question of transmission, transition and translation. It is devised as a performance for camera and live streaming, i.e. it only exists in a digital, transmitted form. In it, Jonas, of course, draws, talks, writes, monitors, videos and screens, and above all: performs. An analysis of the performance (which is accessible freely and easily in its intended form: a YouTube clip, albeit no longer live) serves to explore Jonas’ notion of interdisciplinarity, transmission and the role of ambiguity in production, transmission and reception for her work.

The essay is structured as follows: I firstly introduce DwL before turning to the negotiations of different forms and practices in Jonas’s work. For this, I attend to three themes: fragments and transitions, spatial constructions and digital live transmission. The final part relates this at once back to the opening remarks around ambiguity and traces the relevance to my own work in the context of Drawing 2 and beyond.

Read the full review here: Critical Review Final 300918

reflection on parallel project and critical review

This post constitutes the final post concerning the durational course work of the parallel project and the critical review. They are completed last and discussed in tutorial 6.

 

Let’s reflect then:

Parallel project

— the material is presented here.

This changed, looking back from now, remarkably little. Yet: in the final weeks of the course it seemed to acquire an intensity that I didn’t quite foresee: the readings and practical work I have done around both ambiguity and interdisciplinarity seemed to offer a broadening and deepening of what the themes and approaches were that I took to this module. And while I know well how projects conclude, it nonetheless comes as surprise. It also allowed, notably through the review of the material that I submit for assessment (digitally and analogue) for a rather extensive survey of the past 16 months.

I am thrilled to see continuing and deepening lines across the module: from the early drawings and explorations around the filing cabinet — a void, a gap, but what on earth is this about?; the questions over what is performative in trying to photocopy some paper on an institutional printer; to the work I did at my parents’ place, The Hornet Tree, an insistence on particular materials and the dialogue with my father over ambiguity and divergence; and the box of m(e)use | use me that contains and spills out, sensorially in a number of ways, with crumpled paper from 12 months of small interventions in the corridor space and beyond.

So: while wondering whether any of this was drawing, I pushed at some boundaries, attended to them carefully, inquisitive, in text, spoken word, movement, gesture, with lenses, tracing paper, pens and some ink too.

The g-drive folder as outcome was the first to arrive and it seems fitting too for the kind of work that I have done: concise, to the point, as big as it needs to be — and I enjoyed the discussion we had in the final tutorial about this not being a lack of ambition but an interest in ambiguity but also whether significance lies in small, ordinary materials and gestures.

After assignment 3, Green, we talked about moving image material becoming more significant, how 5 could be an artist book in moving image form, how the parallel project could be moving image, and that my Critical Review would settle on Joan Jonas’s practice. Towards the module end (faster than I had planned), I lost a little sight of that video idea and so am grateful for Doug raising it again, notably through: my voice, the way how I would speak through the concerns of the Hornet Tree, how I would articulate and start a tutorial with ‘You know, I observed this, and then this, and then this and then that happened…’

So, here, then the parallel project indeed relates back and looks back to the module itself, it reorganises the materials and lets them become something else still. The video is not just a narration, an instruction; I begun to include the key clips – visual, and also found sound recordings – in the work to author it and let it unfold. In this sense, it draws on a number of sense and sensations. That it speaks out of the screen to ask the viewer to engage directly with some other materials is a good move, will it work? I appreciate how we attended to that in our discussions, and like how Doug observed that, without feedback, we don’t know if the silence and dark screen at the end of Hornet Tree is too long, and the viewer thus misses the key resolution — but: I wanted to try and test it, and so I went and did it. Same here.

In all this, I seem at one of the most exciting points in this rather extended degree course:  there is a literal voice, and in its clarity it also helps to articulate all those other voices that are involved in my art-making, an art-making that is visual, textual, increasingly dares to be performative; it takes in things I learned before: critical social theory; dialectics; a body/dreamwork coaching and counselling training; a dissatisfaction with academic publishing; a keenness on finding those other spaces and places that are never entirely utopian but offer a hunch, a first step from here to there. Onwards, right.

 

The Critical Review

— the material is presented here.

This is more straightforward: it is concise, a mere 2000 words, which I stretch just a little past an additional 10%. I made it simpler and simpler, the structure bears little resemblance to what I wanted to do. And yet: in the final phase of writing it became more complex again and I am pleased to see that it offers to condense a series of thoughts around transition/fragment; around spatial projections and constructions and around intermediality that will help me move further with my own work.

It is good also not have struggled to much with voice in this, some is a fairly informal narration that when it is important changes register to argue its case. It isn’t a difficult writing style for me and I feel in this format lies a way to move back into an academic register (albeit a different field to my original social science one) without having to lose some of the forms and modalities that I value from writing more associatively, fiction (albeit theory-heavy), if not to call it poetic.

Doug suggested in the last tutorial to add Katrina Palmer’s work to this review. In turn, I reframed the conclusions into resonances with my own work (which seems more fitting in any case), and yet: Palmer isn’t easily integrated. I sense I would need to re-structure much of the original focus to allow one other single work to surface so late on. So, in that sense, she remains for a different time and instead features in the reflections in the blog.

I really like what Jonas does – also the mythical stuff she does, even though I barely talked about it. I am thrilled that I chose to look at her work and a focus on the technical aspects around projection and transition were really well suited to unpack in detail what is going on in her work and why I think it works so well and what in it resonates and can work with my own work too.

Definition ‘Generative Art’

This, from a 2016 residencies projects (in which Leah Mackin, whose Untitled (Weave) I talk about here, took part).

Powers and White chose to focus their project on generative art, an ideal medium to create conversation about the nature and meaning of art. The term refers to any art practice that employs the use of an autonomous system, including a computer algorithm or a machine. As such, generative art upends many of our usual expectations of art. Generative artists focus on the process, rather than the result, and the artist’s role is to create a system that can generate art spontaneously over time. As White describes it, generative art, “doesn’t look a certain way, it’s not made with particular material. It’s more about an open-ended question: What happens when you give over part of the control to a system?”

As Powers notes, the entire framework of 2×3 could be seen as a generative arts project. Metaphorically, the exhibition itself is the “system” he and White are employing, with the control given to the artists, who have no restrictions or requirements imposed on their work. However, strictly speaking, the system at play in 2×3 is the photocopier and the artists will have an opportunity to explore and develop art using this system during the course of their mini-residencies. Artists involved in the generative art movement have been using photocopiers in their work since the movement’s inception, most notably Sonia Landy Sheridan, who founded the Generative Systems program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1970.

(http://paradisecitypress.org/2016/08/2×3-a-generative-arts-project-art-about-making-art/)

 

I think Mackin’s projects are going to be very useful to understand where the autonomous system resides and what roles a human has in this.

The Critical Review : first thoughts

While ideas about the Parallel Project had been there right from the start, it is only now that I begin to consider the Critical Review more closely.

It is in the context of the second assignment, on material properties and the performance of myself and the photocopier that ideas come to coalesce and also link back to the parallel project too.

The minimalist performances (or conversations, as I call for the statement) around the photocopier revisit the theme of the Gap that underpinned assignment 1 and point towards questions of agency, autonomy, movement and control (with the parallel project considering myself as a drawing tool; possibly to become more specific in relation to the institutional space in which the current pieces of work are located).

The Xerox art review that I began pointed toward Generative Systems, as autonomous drawing systems, conceived during the 1960s in the context of emerging computer-aided graphics. Sonia Landy Sheridan set up at the Art Institute of Chicago a department with a focus

on art practices using the then new technologies for the capture, inter-machine transfer, printing and transmission of images, as well as the exploration of the aspect of time in the transformation of image information (Wikipedia 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_art)

— her practice to a large extent was based on photocopiers.

I think rather than considering the autonomous system itself, I am interested in the question of the interface: the interaction, provision of input/ working with the outcome, i.e. the exchange between human/machine (autonomous system). So, some of the questions concern e.g. the wider politics and philosophy of the Donna Haraway’s Cyborg, or Karen Barad’s agential realism.

>> the questions these raise for drawing or a drawing practice needs to be articulated more clearly though; I have the sense that it lies in some opening and exploration of agency, that gap between machine/human, possibly as well to do with the transmission faults, hickups, blockages therein.

>> do I want to explore a particular set of art works or practices? do I want to ask a specific question, possibly more philosophical?

>> I am conscious that I find some aspects of autonomous systems rather boring: is there something about art for art’s sake in it for me? what is the point of them (rather than technological virtuosity)?

 

Next tasks:

  • formulate a number of questions to narrow this down
  • what art works, movement, practices do I want to consider
  • what is the role for philosophical debate in this?
  • what is the link to the parallel project: how can they facilitate and inform each other?
  • survey Haraway’s Cyborg work in relation to artistic practice (then, now)
  • draw out Barad’s argument for an artistic practice (again: who are practitioners, what can I take from this?)