Drawing Relations (1)

Protocol Drawing Process

Sarma 1 Jun 2010English

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Contextual note
This text was projected during a lecture held at the Zukunftskolleg of the University of Constance in June 2010. First published on Sarma on the occasion of the project "Walk+talk", organised by Philipp Gehmacher at the Kaaistudio's in Brussels, 15-19 March 2011.

Example: ohne titel [untitled]
(Reconstruction of a face over a continuous period lasting approximately 1 hour)


1. Preparation

A format is defined (size: X, aspect ratio: Y) along with the surface (tracing paper), the drawing instrument (very thin paint brush, trimmed at the tip) and the coloring substance (a particular ratio of slightly diluted concentrate of black Indian ink). The determination of these components is crucial, as this influences the drawing process both in detail and as a complex procedure. The individual parameters are in concrete relation to further relevant dimensions, such as the spatial and temporal distance from the site of perception, or daily and long-term influences on the processed memory. ohne titel [untitled] is based on an encounter made about one-and-a-half years ago with a woman at a home for Alzheimer’s patients in Berlin.

The body assumes a relaxed position above the flat sheet of paper. The height of the chair is adjusted accordingly, so that the body may easily bend above, or rather, into the surface. The eyes are approximately 25 cm away, a distance that allows the vision to oscillate between seeing and losing sight of the paper’s edge. This puts me in simultaneous states – or better said, in constant shift between states – of being in the format and of being before the format.

The paper emerges heightened as material and recedes in the same movement. It forms a shallow surface space. This spatiality constitutes itself as a perception space before the placement of the first mark.

The described constellation is held for a moment before the brush is dipped into the paint and applied. A condition of standstill is necessary. The channels of sensual and cognitive perception must be free and open, i.e., occupied as little as possible by strong impressions occurring immediately beforehand. The process can be construed as a radical bundling of the ability to perceive and its distribution across the format.

A balance occurs between the heightened materiality of the paper as a surface and as a shallow space. This balance may be compared to how, during certain weather and light conditions, it sometimes seems possible to read a particular landscape in the temporal layering of past developments (paths, field, demarcations, buildings): from a distance, such as while flying over a landscape, a spread of plant growth, colored dirt, etc. points to relief-like structures – to a space that as spatial and temporal “depth” seems to be a kind of projection space folded into this surface.


2. Point of Recollection

In order to begin the reconstruction, a point of the remembered perception must be localized as precisely as possible. Here I proceed differently depending on the series and projects. For ohne titel [untitled] a structure is needed that allows for a particularly exact breakdown of the process. This is due on the one hand to the large interval of time and the duration of the events to be reconstructed, and on the other hand, to the fragility of the facial movements to be followed. In the form of a score, this function is assumed by the acoustic structure of a musical recording on CD belonging to the drawn subject (Johann Sebastian Bach: Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould 1981). Playing this recording during our meetings functioned even then as an external temporal reference.

The period of time to be reconstructed through drawing in ohne titel [untitled] corresponds exactly to the course of the musical structure. The drawn time follows the musical linearity according to the principle of “frame for frame.” In contrast, in the later animation the sequence of drawings as frames does not correspond to the chronology of their creation. The drawings are unevenly distributed, analogue to the markings in the paper’s surface. They do not necessarily refer to sequential moments, but always refer to particular moments in the duration of the reconstructed period, and thus remain more closely related to one another in sections. Each of these complete film sequences currently correlates to a unit (aria) of the Goldberg Variations. I listen to the pertinent musical sequence once or more until I succeed in localizing and actualizing a specific perception (not yet visual!) at a concrete point of the event.

This exemplary form of recollection is as hard to describe, just as it is basically a part of each everyday perception and recollection. The later drawing is in no way identical to it but still hints at it. It is important to understand the quality of this recollection aid. At the same time, in the paradox of a precise inconceivability (hybridity or its permanent avoidance thereof), this same quality confirms non-indifference.


It is easy to say what memory, which draws attention “to itself” is not: It is certainly not (yet) image.
It is not truly an object.
It is also not language, if language is a notion.
It is fluid, yet specific.
It is often connected to a concrete perception (noise, odor, movement) without being identical to this. An impression that is thus linked to recollection – or rather, its indication – can be an association or a memory. Its quality is often associated more with a physical experience than with a description of a visual perception.
It is never describable because it is fundamentally temporal.
And yet – and this is a paradox of the process of remembering – it may be abstracted as a POINT in time, which may be spanned across the duration of the drawing. The concrete moment of recollection is not drawn, but becomes instrumental as a repeated update, a trigger mechanism for the reconstruction of visual perception.

Such a reference point is thus sought and found at a point in the temporal structure of the recording.

How is it at all possible for this methodology to fill longer temporal sequences (in the steady film rhythms of frames at 1/12 seconds), without the risk of points in time being doubly occupied as the number of drawn frames increases? A possible answer lies in the process of “erasure” in the moment of coalescing recollection, i.e., its registration as image. Acquired images seem to overwrite memory fragments that resurface in the drawing process. To a certain degree they override the “living” memory of a moment.
This is an assumption based on practical drawing experience. Work experience has shown that a concentration of drawn points of time occurs practically without overlapping to such an extent that there is little need to fill temporal gaps in the movement sequence, that only a few additional frames must be drawn to do this. In many ways, the creation of these temporal structures is analogous to the process of placing individual dots on the drawing surface.

Up until this point, the text describes a one-time process for each drawing segment. From here on, the various steps take place in a permanent, nearly unnoticeable and largely “automatic” oscillation. Although they may be described as individual processes, their order approaches simultaneity, without becoming – and this is decisive – indiscernible.


3. Drawing

If a “point in time” is localized as a trigger mechanism, the tip of the brush is dipped into the ink. With the brush held exactly perpendicular at its approximate center of gravity between middle finger (which always maintains the decisive tactile control) and thumb joint, the hand begins to search for where to place the first dot.

The subject of this sentence is the hand. It could be the eyes or the processing organ, the brain. It is difficult to make this differentiation – after all, it would be possible to solve the problem with an “I.” Nevertheless it seems to be essential, as it is indicative of the process as a complex combination of perception, movement, association, feedback, reading process, inquiry, seeing, blindness, etc. Here, active perceptive and reflexive steps are so closely intertwined yet simultaneously distinct.

The hand thus begins to search in the surface for the place to set the first mark. This movement is more like a tentative exploration than being controlled by the eyes. The eyes, however, observe the movement. They enable the movement to become a navigation through a kind of map with a large degree of separation between the muscle activity of the hand and the visual analysis of its positionings. Still, the hand primarily moves “itself.” Often, the hands’ outer heels lightly graze the paper surface – a movement that keeps the contact to the surface physical, material.

There is great awareness of the edges of the format – all edges. With this I mean that the edges, in addition to being visible, can also be sensed from the body’s composure and the various hand positions. The body internalizes the information of the format in its exact relation to the body. The physical awareness through which the information is accessible could be compared to the relational spatial awareness of the entire body as it moves through a specific space. This is experienced as a kind of “alacrity” and includes ample information on balance, smell, acoustics, air movement, resonance, temperature and texture alongside visual information. This is essentially an associative awareness (as a form of “consciousness” that constitutes both space as well as the body in relation to one another). It integrates untold amounts of information and simultaneously makes it accessible. In the case of the tentative movement on the paper described above, the found and actualized point of recall is a part of this: ultimately the “decision” of this first mark also derives from an association, a relational territory in the surface that seems to correspond to this point of recall.

This position that must be found is extremely decisive, for it profoundly delimits the space for possible further decisions. From now on, each mark will further bound it. At the same time, with each further mark this demarcation will become successively less “global,” relative to the entire drawing. Of this first mark one could say: as long as no tangible information underlies its decision, its placement remains random. Perhaps this is indeed the case, to a large extent. Yet in repeated reconstructions of the “same” memory triggers, the drawing is structured altogether differently when the starting point is different: as a different interpretation of the “same” (“Still Lives” series). The first mark is both incidental (in the complex sense of the word) and yet presents the greatest moment of control. It defines the entire subsequent drawing, or much more: incorporates in its decision the drawing as a whole.

This creates an association between the awareness of the hand, its position relative to the surrounding format, and the punctually construed recollection present in the consciousness, which is not yet pictured at this point in time. Only thus may the association become a physical one and not merely an analogy.

The hand slows its movement over a certain location on the paper “map”, and the body focuses entirely on the specific area, the concrete paper surface at this point. A shift of weight sinks the perpendicular brush without further movement (of the hand/body) until a point just above the surface of the paper, right before the drop-like swell of the ink touches the receiving paper. The flow of the ink follows its contact with the surface. The spot is the trace of this contact between two materials (the brush hairs themselves do not touch the surface of the paper). The precise quality of the outflow depends on the quality of the ensuing contact of release along with the complex surrounding conditions such as the surface tension of the ink drop (affected by dilution factor, drop size, temperature...) or the texture of the paper surface at the exact marking point (fiber length, temperature, contours, thickness, paper humidity...).

Each spot oscillates between controllability and uncontrollability of the conditions on the micro-level. The microscopic triggering parameters find their greatly intensified effect in the two-dimensionality of the spot: in its bounds, the very specific contours of its edges, its size, the dispersion of ink on the surface defined by it. This information, albeit minimal, creates a new framework across the surface of the entire format.
The spot, as a singular form and as a position, controls the format. One could say:
It inscribes it.
It gives it a direction and thus an instability that is a new unstable stability. One the one hand, the form of this instability is the product of a controlled decision. It is also the result of the general uncontrollability of conditions within a framework that has been precisely defined by the controlled decision.

Once the first spot has been made, the described process is repeated under completely changed conditions.

“Completely,” for now the map is no longer “only” format and material. It now contains a trace (of certain density, form and position in relation to the format) of the contact between two materials. This does not only change the corresponding point, but also the entire relational space surrounding it. And more: it gives the entire space a new quality of relation: material < > non-material, positive < > negative. This structure is not one of emptiness or fullness in the sense of a presence or absence of information, but rather the small spot, dissipating in relation to the whole format, fills it completely with a new quality of “information” (specifically a complex network of qualities including parameters such as weight of material, shadows etc.).

The moving hand deals with a fundamentally other kind of surface. Still, the form of its movement and its “awareness” is the same as that described above. Here however, there is an additional process. The oscillation between the individual parts of the perception apparatus (hand, sense of touch, eye, nerves, brain...) expands toward a stronger reflexive zone that could be described as a reading of predetermined information.

Eye and hand, in as much as it reveals to the eye additional possibilities of exegetical placement (interpretations), search within the increasingly expanding framework of visual information for a visual perception that may be linked to the punctually triggering fragment of recollection described above. As specifically and singularly as possible, this search or reading process aspires to momentary determining in the simultaneous necessary permanent dissolution of this determining.

As with the structure of recollection, this “reading” is difficult to describe – though its inner reciprocity of identification and fundamental de-identification – as a permanent form of feedback, to the same degree in both states.

This form of reading reflection, or the form of reflex itself, interlocks at the point with the tentative hand and its positioning of information, in that it becomes the increasingly dominant part of the recollection form as the drawing progresses. The drawing is created from an oscillation between these components.

In other words: Step by step and increasingly dominant, the existing potential image overwrites the hybrid agility of the original form of recollection (here, of course even the notion of “form” is problematic). The image that is gradually and erratically achieved from the drawing’s work of recollection REPRESENTS the process of recollection. It replaces the remembered as a form of materialized memory.

The process seems to be complete, if the margin of identification and de-identification begins to close, and if, with its gradual completion, the image shifts visually before the remembered. The placement of new information is experienced as a mere formulation. This is concretely apparent as a closure of the surface.