The performance drawing at Gallery 46, Whitechapel London, titled, Work no. 1 (Circle Drawing) 2hours 10minutes, London, 2016, took place during the private view of the group show topophobophilia. It was a live performance, part of my ongoing investigation into the role the body in drawing.
Focusing on the durational element and physical processes of drawing, using traditional materials graphite and paper, I drew circles the dimension of my arm until I could no longer hold the graphite.
Continuously for two hours and ten minutes, I drew.
The aim is to maintain a constant movement and draw a visible line that embodies effort and pace. At different times, the speed and effort increases as I become aware of the audience and camera and video documentation. From the position and rough surface, the skin on my knuckles tore and traces of blood appeared on the paper. These markings are an unpredictable outcome of the performance represented in the drawing. As well as from the varying pressure in combination with the fragility of the paper and the strength of the graphite, all these elements are recorded in the drawing as an outcome of the drawing process.
Eventually fatigue becomes a factor, and in order to keep on drawing I need to alter the position of how I am handling the graphite stick, but also standing and moving my arm. While continuously drawing and forcing pressure on the paper, I shift the weight of my body from one side to the other, attempting to find a more comfortable bend in the arm and placement of my head and neck; it is this part of the performance when testing the relationship between mind and body become more apparent. Eventually, decisions have to be made and the role of the body starts to challenge – I question when can I stop.
Listening to the swooshing of the paper, I can sometimes drown into the rhythm and continue. When engaged in the process, again like that long distance runner, the body can sometimes feel compelled to sustain the movement and the awareness of pain wavers. That moment when someone can be unaware and not consciously thinking about the physical body, or struggle – but where the experience of running or drawing as a continuous, smooth process. A moment by where fluidity of the arm swinging is in sync with thoughts, unattached to the sense of the physical feeling of having a body, but where the mind drifts. Altering the sense of time passing and diving into vast deep ‘pockets of time’ where space and time disappear.
With the audience growing louder, and someone mentioning it has been over two hours, it seems then each circle drawn is more painful than the last, and the drawing process becomes more demanding of the entire body; the thoughts of stopping increase. The upward movement is consequently derived from my feet pushing into the ground, and the knees bend to increase the force of driving my arm around, while the downward movement is affected by gravity, appreciatively acts as a recovery position. At this point during the performance, the whole physicalbody is noticeably putting effort into drawing circles and at times with my head resting against the wall and sweat dripping on the floor, the mental fatigue must have been visible too.
Whatever the final decision was. It was over.
While undergoing an undergraduate Art and Art History programme in 2004, Circle Drawing, (re-titled Work no. 1 Circle Drawing) was performed for the first time in Toronto, Canada. This work has continued as an on-going series and subsequently initiated a large fine art research investigation; A Line is a Brea(d)thless Length. In this performance, like at Gallery 46 most recently, I stood two feet from the wall with a stick of graphite in hand capturing the outline of my arm drawing a full circle. Perhaps in the beginning the ambition was to continue the process for as long as possible, exploring the limits of the body and how this continuous task might determine the outcome of the work. Although since that first drawing, I am not exactly sure it was made to test how long I could draw for, but rather, to explore the effect that the body had on marking the paper, to undergo a process, make work and further experiment between ‘chance and order’; what happens when you do something, and do something for as long as you can.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, movement has increasingly defined drawing, not only to represent movement in the visual traces of an action carried out in time, but also by utilising philosophical and theoretical concepts conceived a form of mark making as ‘thought’.
Rather than conventional, observational drawing this work uses a task-based process employing the principle of movement and time to create work and ‘a space’ for more than just thinking, but mentally training and fighting to fulfil perhaps some desire of expression. For myself, drawing can be defined in many different ways but here it could be as philosophical investigation, conceptual premise and as evidence - a record of a physical, strenuous process for exactly two hours and ten minutes.