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– Artist-in-Residence blog post 2: Towards taxonomy

Posted on Aug. 16, 2013 by Benjamin Forster in Artist and curator Interviews. View Comments

A post it note - the transcription of words spoken - stuck to the bottom left of a computer monitor at the MCA's reception.

A post it note – the transcription of words spoken – stuck to the bottom left of a computer monitor at the MCA’s reception.

I came across this note yesterday when talking with Stephanie Ferrara (Receptionist) about her role at the MCA.


Interlude – Interestingly conversation has become my main strategy in approaching the MCA as a drawing machine. Mostly because in order to understand how drawing operates within this organisation, it’s important first to have an clear image of the organisation as a whole. Conversation, or informal interviews, with staff members scattered across the organisational chart is enabling this slowly. These interviews last approximately an hour, and basically we discuss the aims of my residency, their role at the mca, and I ask a few questions about drawing. It’s a strategy that has been developing pragmatically, with each conversation informing the next. It in itself could be seen as a sketch toward a more scientific approach, however, for now it remains hopelessly make-shift.

Some of the questions I ask –

1. Do you draw unconsciously or not
a) in meetings?
b) on the phone?

2. Do you –
a) use drawing to communicate ideas quickly to others?
b) leave notes for others?

3. Do you keep note books –
a) for your work at the MCA?
b) for personal life ?
c) if a and b, then do they slip into each other?

4. How do you use drawing, in the most extended sense, in your role at the MCA?

5. Do you notice any other incidental mark-making at the MCA that I should look at?

To date I have informally interviewed only a dozen of the staff – with roles scattered laterally and vertically on the organisational chart – from the Director, HR, Finance through to Educators and the Installation team. Daily conversation around the kitchen and in the corridors are also significantly feeding my research. Staff are beginning to deliver me their note books, discarded notes, in addition to advice about little hidden marks around the MCA. It feels like a treasure hunt.

To return to this note – it caught my eye on this well ordered but noisy desk mostly for the sentiment, but also as an example of a particular type of office note (not functional, but somehow necessary). I also felt like its message was pertinent to my stumbling research – somehow reassuring. Although in asking Stephanie for permission to photograph the note, it became even more interesting. She told me about the life of this note – from the reassuring words of Keir (Ex Digital Manager), to ephemeral note, to conversation starter, moving from desk to desk. These words, a cliché or trope by themselves, begin to function as a drawing in the most extended sense. It’s the movement and impression of an idea or thought throughout the space, traced on other staff members and even on me. This ordinary post it note captures the breadth of my research at the MCA, drawing literally or actually to drawing metaphorically or metaphysically (virtual).


Towards a taxonomy of drawing

This divide is also the beginning of my taxonomy of drawing…

After two months down – three empty pages remaining in my notebook – pen scrawled todo lists scattering my workspace – I am starting to arrive at clarity. A constellation of ideas for possible works are emerging, along with a sense of excitement for the time left.

Here is a brief list of my current ideas for works.
Note – these are all hypothetical and only presented here in very rough sketch form.

Taxonomy – a museological display of samples of all the types and classifications of drawing at the MCA, alongside a graphical representation of a taxonomy of drawing types. Beginning with the fundamental distinction real and virtual.

Signatures – a tryptic of projections utilising the signatures (artists and others) from the three different modes of acquisition for the MCA collection – Cultural Gift Program, Non-tax-deductible Gift, and Purchase.

Forms – a collection of prints made by superimposing the handwritten marks made on common forms on top of each other. For example all the time sheets for the casual staff for a month. This would result in a series of forms where common areas of drawing become densely black, and anything outside of the normal fields would become obvious.

Desk Time-lapses – a series of video time-lapses of the desks, without bodies. Looking specifically at the movement of paper and notes in the office environment, or the evolution and decay of whiteboard drawings.

Unconscious Marks – I am currently collecting the unconscious drawings made by staff members with the plan of making a work. Revealing the latent forms of drawing that underpin an organisation. These are not functional, but are the product of function. Residual and maybe a bit psychoanalytic.

Movement – A series of video works made from the collecting the invisible traces of movement in the MCA. From the visitors movements in the galleries through cameras and wifi access, through to the travel log of the collection and the cab charges of the staff.


Further references emerging

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger – Philosopher of Science
Looking at the doodles and scribbles of scientists as suggesting a counter narrative to the formation of knowledge told by science communication. He examines, what is the epistemic role of drawing and note-taking. He is broadening the discussion that was started by Bruno Latour in Laboratory Life.
Thank you to Nina Samuel for pointing me in this direction – extremely relevant as I am observing how the various strategies to notes and scribbles at the MCA become crystallised in a consistant shiny public facade.

Jorge Luis Borges – one of my favourite authors and a constant source of inspiration.
In reference to the emergence of taxonomy within my research, I am reminded of Borges’ reference in his essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins” to the fictitious Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. Borges would have us believe it is an ancient Chinese encyclopædia, translated by Franz Kuhn, which includes a taxonomical list that divides all animals into fourteen categories.

- Those that belong to the emperor – Embalmed ones – Those that are trained – Suckling pigs – Mermaids (or Sirens) – Fabulous ones – Stray dogs – Those that are included in this classification – Those that tremble as if they were mad – Innumerable ones – Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush – Et cetera – Those that have just broken the flower vase – Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

This is a constant reminder of the absurdity that really underlies my earnest research. Is a taxonomy of drawing even possible?

Foucault’s Order of Things – one of those books I picked up and never finished but appears relevant again. The plan to read is there again. Borge’s Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, also inspired this work of Foucault’s.

More to come.
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Benjamin Forster

Benjamin Forster’s practice may be positioned within contemporary drawing, bringing together digital and biological technologies, installation and print to trace the boundaries of logic, economy and the role of the artist in art making. He received a Bachelor of Visual Arts with
 First Class Honours from the Australian National University in 2009.
His Drawing Machine project was exhibited in Hatched 09: The National Graduate Exhibition at PICA, as well as the International Symposium on Computational Aesthetics 09 in Victoria, Canada. In 2012, Forster’s work was included in PRIMAVERA at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 2012 and NEW13 at ACCA in 2013.

Benjamin is undertaking a 6 month residency at the MCA during 2013 and will regularly contribute blog posts to the MCA website.

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