Sunday, January 17, 2010

Drawing Recall

I write all the time but I have not drawn in over a year. When I write, I prefer to be around people as long as I can ignore them and they do not interrupt me. The best place for me to write is on packed commuter trains because of the motion and commotion. I require visuals to start with and trains offer montages of internal and external sights and stories. They also structure your time with their schedules and they remind me of my younger, carefree years crisscrossing Europe on the slightest whim, which is simply liberating. In order to draw, however, I need silence and stillness and to be entirely calm and relaxed, with no one observing. The best settings are cold, dark winters or still, hot summer nights, especially when everyone is sleeping and you know you can draw until dawn.

Yesterday, midday, I reluctantly slid my Borden & Riley sketch book, Sakura Micron pencils and generic pencils out of their hiding places. I was not inspired or even in the mood to draw but I realized I needed to simply try it again so I retired to my big warm bed and curled up with some supplies. I drew for an hour or two and though I am not happy with the drawings as drawings, I liked being in that very familiar zone again and I also like what I was trying to do. I was drawing to recall the past, specifically art projects I did twenty years ago, which I had never documented. For most artists, drawing is where it all begins, not only as one's developed skills but also at the conception of most projects. Richard Serra, for example, constantly draws visual notes-to-self. Once a piece of art is finished, however, scanners and digital cameras cap the process of creation with documentation and a second, virtual life. The conceptual and original drawings are always valued as the first step of the project and the thinking through of certain ideas but once the work is complete these same drawings lose their validity a little bit. People want to see how things really look, not approximations. Maybe this is because a drawing of something can signify that the attempt was never realized, like some of Claes Oldenburg's monumental objects.

Before computers, the 35mm slide was the standard way to document your work because, like a negative, there is a lot of information in film and this is what museums, galleries and schools reviewed for consideration. The problem is that certain things are simply gone and there is nothing to take a picture of. The first drawing I did yesterday was of a project I did for Ann Hamilton. We were asked to make sculptures/projects that were not a visual experience for the viewer. This, of course, is an impossible task because even a purely audio piece is visual and what I ended up making was "something to look at". My campus/college town was networked with bicycle paths and dense with bicycles and in addition to that, I was a cyclist and also made bicycles from odd parts. I wanted to do a piece that included a bike and bicycle parts, required some welding (because I had just learned to weld) and was entirely about motion. I made two large square frames from 2x4 lumber and stretched them with old bicycle tubes. The frames were hinged and the bicycle tube webs touched each other when the frames were closed. One end was fixed to a pivot post and the other had an axis with a gear welded to it, which was attached to and turned by a bicycle that I rode in circles around the pivot post. I blindfolded the viewer and sandwiched him or her in between the rubber meshes and then rode so the viewer was rotated and revolved.

Another project I documented with drawing yesterday was a site specific piece around the same time, which I collaborated on with another student. We chose the school library as our site. A unique feature of our campus was that it was on a point and was surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. So we did a series of cut-out books and left them innocently about on reading tables. Some were filled with sand, others had ocean water with seaweed hanging out, while others had tape recorders which played back our recordings of waves and sea gulls. These audio books were shelved in the stacks and could be heard only if you passed by them.