Sometimes I wish I was more diligent and could have been keeping a daily inventory of the whacky things that I see each day..... Wandering around a new city - dialy life still stirkes me as completely extraordinary. I saw some huge billboard saying something about contemporary art today - it was over a street in the northern tip of chelsea - where caryards meet ocndos meet contemporary art spaces.
Outside the streets were icy, with one of those rapier like winds that sting your eyes and make the tears freeze on your face -inside free piss was flowing. Each white box lit up
like a little beacon of delight......
I was headed for the uber white box, literally called "white box" - where they had a retrospective for the toronto based rad-mag off the '80's called impulse. there were tables and walls full of photos,cuttings and lots of fun weird little things - like some guy's microfilm comic strip and a display of documents and images from SITE. site was the acronym for Sculpture In the Environment who were a bunch of artists and architects who got together in the '70's to make some pretty amazingingly deconstructed shopping malls. Impulse had bits from their fragmented shopping mall - as well as the lava'd parking lot - ccars set into and covered in concrete..... which reminded me of the forest blockaders in tassie..... way to go!
so what was I doing swanning around in the chelsea art-cube world? - wishing I could imbibe some of the Grolsh beer being popped open ever second. If it had been congnac - or even a half decent vin rouge I probably would have succumed
Acutally, I had tagged along with Carollee Schneemann - who invited me out after our interview...... I know this sounds like crazy name dropping but I've realised that New york lives from a continuous circulation of namedropping and story telling. the narrratives and networks are the cultural life blood of a city that is also rapidly changing - and turning into some really weird version of strathfield, or something. Condo's eat up whole areas - really fast. and being white, arty, queer and aspirationally upwardly mobile (ie doing a PhD) I feel like part of the problem. which is the arty, bright eyed, alternative, go getting high culturaly capitalled rif-raf like muggins are the thin edge of the wedge for the staid culture eating, financially capitalled, psychic vampires that eat up cities,, suck out the life blood and turn them into apartments, parking lots and shopping malls. It's happened already in Brooklyn - and bits of manhattan. anyway - said thin edges of wedgers - living off a sliver of hope, possibility with smatterings of conscientious social contention - slip aghast as the ground slides under beneath us and gets teflonned into consumerised antimatter - and so all we have left is our stories, the names, the brief brushes with fame, utopian possibilities, eternal nostalgia. it's certainly how i feel about newtown - so I'm fully OK with the name dropping nostalgia thing.
It also contributes to the increasing shudder I feel around williamsburg - which is homogenisedly young, white and clean cut cool. Everyone there looks like the fashion students from east sydney tech. It's a bit scary - and they all look 10 years younger than the yuppies pushing prams or walking dogs in park slope. which is like Balmain. eugh
so, my interview with Carolllee was amazing, as expected - though I was mostly rather speechless and I don't think I sounded intelligent or asked nearly half of the questions I wanted to ask. I guess one of the reasons I love and adore what she does - is that she's like a beacon of hope for what I really, deep down believe about art, and about drawing as a form of critical praxis.....
I HATE the way that drawing and life drawing has been mobilised as emblematic of traditional skills. and the type of drawing that emerges from this discourse is DEAD, dead drawing, by and for psychic vampires who are afraid of their own and others bodies, senses and experiences and want to foreclose any possiblity of ART being a way of re-imagining and experiencing the world
. I HATE people who insist on drawing being 'hard' and needing some form of 'mastery' whihc is shorthand for denying the self. Denying the power and beauty of vulnerability, of failure. I'm not saying that drawing ISN'T hard - or isn't intense, because, like any serious practice it can be, extremely personally, physically, and mentally challenging. (When the ciy winds hit me like a slap - I remember sitting on cliffs in belle Ile, moaning aloud from the cold - going half mad from the wind - but staying there drawing for 3 hours... because I HAD TO). Carollee's vintage piece "up to and including her limits" really articulates what drawing is for me. It is about pushing yourself - completely, being utterly immersed in space, and thrown into both the space around, suspended with your own bodily force as the only momentum. and marking, marking marking, this process of reahcing out to make matter mark across space, to trace what we see - through our skin, through our muscles as much as with our eyes. Seeing and drawing is embodied, empathic and life affirming, and is a profoundly human pursuit. In addition to being a legend performance artist, Carollee is also an exquisite draftsperson - and she showed me a catalogue of the chorecographic sketches through which she developed her performance work. Renaissance primero pensieri eat your bloody heart out! this is not reflection of a continuous tradition - but an exquisite point in the life of the universe where imaginations, connnections, images and possibilities meet across time and space. It's a rhizomatic miracle - not a dead arboreal lineage. Carollee has also taught drawing and life drawing for about as long as I've ben alive or something - and is critically engaged with it as an empathic discipline, a practice that is absolutely contemporary, because its a means of observing and engaging with the present.
So this is the fire in my belly that keeps me trudging back to the library, and up those bloody marble stairs. And keeps me from screaming aloud after wasting my last $2 on a photocopier that doesn't have metric measurements..... It's what keeps me going, going through interviews of people who I occasionally find offensive, or boring or just obfuscating. And going through bad lying books and bad lying articles that are offensive or boring or obfuscating. Because I believe in the necessity and importance of disrupting the use of history as a bludgeon to destroy the present. when people cite a tradition like its some monolith, they make it into a myth - which like the law of the father, doesn't get challenged easily. So I like to break it up - find little tricks, little by-ways - expose it as a fractured connection of white lies, arbitrary habits, strange chinese whispers, odd moments. Every 'tradition' is just a collection of habits and blind spots - which can be challenged, and changed and contested.
In the USA - people refer to the classical tradition - quite a bit - and they mention some guy called Bargue who i'd never heard of before last month. He's THE MAN they like to copy. Today I trudged up to the extreme sports old school National Academy of Art to hear a talk and demonstration of the BARGUE DRAWING TECHNIQUE. and the place resembled the Royal Art Society so much it wasn't funny. Even the smell. and the weird beige partitions. and the people, of course. Oh God. the lecturer was not an art historian. at all. In fact the whole thing was dilletante city. Most of the questions were about wher she got her fancy drawing tools, and white type of expensive vellum paper to get. Oh fuck. to be fair - she seeme dlike a good drawing isntructor - open to and responsive to her own and other's foibles. The main thing she emphasised was the sight-size method - which I felt like a gorgeous little piece of maxmeldrum in manhattan.
for the purposes of public information - the sight size method was a way of generating tonal copies of drawings or paintings or even statues and objects, and people. It works on the basis of generating a tonal sketch based on the idela viewing position of a picture. this is ye-olde-worlde-genuine you beaut renaissance master territory here. Basically the viewing position - is where a painting especially - but any 2D image should resolve into an effective illusion of three dimensionality. I think you can calculate it as 3.5 times the vertical length of the picture. so if a picture is 50 cms high - you have to stand 1.75 metres away form it to see it properly. Now in the sight size method of drawing/painting - the artist has to make all of the decisions about their drawing from this distance. If you are copying an A4 drawing, onto an A4 peice of paper - then you stand 90cms away from both the oringinal and your copy. If you are dong a life study -then you set up your subject as a TABLEAU and then set up your easel so that the posing figure appears to be the same size as the copy that you will create on the canvas. and you must stand 3.5 x the height of the canvas away. If that distance is longer than your arm - then the process involves looking and making a decision at the viewing point, stepping forward to make a mark, and then stepping back to the viewing point. It requires an enormous amount of self discipline, spatial awareness and bodily control in order to do it. the plus side - is that, like Iyengar yoga - the precision does increase your kinaesthetic awareness of your own body in space and how seeing and mark making becomes and extension of this. the down side of it, is that unlike Iyenga yoga - the bodily schemata is extremely limited to standing upright and still, wiht one arm -pointed straight out, which is shit boring. this shit boringness - the rigidity encourages a denial of the body, and its capacities. If people oculd do sight sizing stanidng on their heads, lying donw, seating, turned sideways or lying sideways -then it could be interesting. as it is, pretending to be a set of compass points or some kind of freaky fleshy CAD program is just silly. (I didn't tell them that's what I thought though.)
the reason why I mention the BARGUE thing - is that I SUSPECT that this is what has made so much of the postwar US drawing so mechanical. Mercedes Matter was really into phenomenology - and yet the New York Studio School produces a 'style' of drawings that is weirdly geometric and cold and very unlike anything that comes out of a body. so I'm interested in people who can help me tease apart this link. I LIKE phenomoenology and phenomenological drawing, I respect people who can obsessively engage with a level of observational precision that borders on complete barminess. but I want drawings to be warm, embodied, open to possibilities and exchanges which communicate the vulnerability of that precision. some do - but it's a funny and strange thing how.