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Blog – Artist-in-Residence blog post 4: Attempting definitions

Posted on Nov. 11, 2013 by Benjamin Forster in Artist and curator Interviews.
Mark Brown's rendering of a fictitious artwork as described by Senior Curator Glenn Barkley.

(Mark Brown’s rendering of a fictitious artwork as described by Senior Curator Glenn Barkley, isolated from an installation floor plan.

A long overdue attempt at a definition.

“...a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart’.
— Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form (1969)

Drawing is (maybe):
• primary and/or preliminary
• a movement of a point through space
• an intervention in or modification of a physical substratum
• the material of knowledge
• a method of demarcation
• intentional and/or unintentional
• a process
• temporal
• thinking
• endless
• a trace…

This attempt at definition presents numerous unquestioned assumptions that begs for more clarification.
primary or preliminary — does that presuppose a teleological end point of drawing — endless — but there is no end to drawing, how can there be a beginning — thinking — does that mean drawing is always human (intent being an often categorical distinction between human and not-human) — a movement of a point through space — what is a point? is it the ideal of Plato and/or mathematics — real or metaphor — space — does this pre-exist drawing — or does drawing create space? — An intervention in or modification of a physical substratum — materialism vs phenomenology — temporal — in linear time or …. — the material of knowledge — and all the epistemic can of worms that that entails.
(This mode of thinking is an infinite regress and the pen will always tear through the page )

'Drawing is a 'dialogue’ between the artist and his drawing’.
— Kenneth Beittel, Mind and context in the art of drawing (1972)

Drawing articulated as involving an artist. Children draw. Elephants paint. And even trees draw particles of gold up from the water table (but now I am just playing with the ambiguity of the dictionary definition).

'Herein lies the vital, unique quality of drawing, which distinguishes it from the other visual arts – its expression of time, movement and change’.
— Philip Rawson, Seeing through Drawing (1979)
(Hold onto this idea – an expression of time and movement)

Oh no, it’s overloaded, but thats the point. Overload. Perhaps through pushing the terminology into a state of crisis we are then able to use it, in a broken and deformed state, to place disconnected concepts/objects into unexpected relationships. Could this then even be useful? whatever that means.

'— “But is a blurred concept a concept at all?” — Is an indistinct photograph a picture of a person at all? Is it even always an advantage to replace an indistinct picture by a sharp one? Isn’t the indistinct one often exactly what we need?’
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (2001) §71

Throw away the idea of use and need altogether, maybe this broken and deformed play on words is just that – play. It’s playful.

An aside:
A parade of proper names. This fragment of words keeps echoing through my thoughts. The constant reference to X or X or X or X. It’s a tapestry that we weave in order to understand, but mostly to communicate, the ‘world’. We are a series of words transcribed endlessly on surfaces (or maybe this generates the surface), always placed in relationship to other such transcriptions, marks, X’s. Benjamin Forster, first on a birth certificate then later a death certificate. Benjamin Forster written on a logbook for whatever, equipment hire at university, etc. Benjamin Forster exposed on an ultrasound of a sore testicle. Bank statements. Time sheets, notebooks, art magazines, exhibition invites, facebook feeds, police records, cheques. Crossed-out neatly on the electoral roll. Benji, Benjola, Ben, B scrawled on now lost love letters, SMS’, emails. 3= the signature on the reverse side of my VISA card. The ‘I’ that is us, as subject, is constructed out of a constant act of drawing – the residue of a process. We are a trail of proper nouns.

We could be reminded of Freud’s metaphors for the unconscious. He suggests that perception is never directly accessible, rather it is perceived only through the traces left behind on the surface of the unconscious. Its our awareness of this process (the mechanisms of perception, this deferred tracing) that generates our concept of time. — Perhaps.

Without choosing a particular philosophical bent – or specifically promoting Derridian metaphysics as THE, in contrast to A – I am drawn towards Derrida’s notion of the trace. Initially it was superficial; enticed simply by the use of terminology and its possible relationship to drawing. However, upon further enquiry, I realise that Derrida’s ‘trace’, and his closely linked strategy of writing ‘sous rature’ (or as Spivak translates ‘under erasure’), could be adopted as a lens through which to see my use of ‘drawing’ while at the MCA.

For Derrida the term ‘trace’ is interchangeable with a series of others, it is a liquid signifier or a signifier of the signifier of a signifier. It relates to the implied origin of signs, that grand transcendental signifier (for Heidegger, BEING), which is always absent. My definition here is insufficient. Spivak writes – he ‘gives the name ‘trace’ to the part played by the radically other within the structure of difference that is the sign.’ So as he writes, ‘The trace is not only the disappearance of origin, … it means the origin did not even disappear, that it was never constituted except reciprocally by a non-origin, the trace, which thus becomes the origin of the origin.’ And Spivak again, ‘Derrida’s Trace is the mark of the absence of a presence, an always already absent present, of the lack at the origin that is the condition of thought and experience.’ This is really at the heart of Derrida’s interest in writing and language. Writing for him, that is in the 1960’s when language was expanding as the cross disciplinary grand signifier, embodies these ideas as it is/was considered secondary or derivative to speech. Speech then/now being primary, or the origin of writing, and thus writing was/is the signifier of the signifier (that is speech), and in this it comes to represent the absolute horizon of language. All of language ‘conceals and erases itself in its own production’, through this constant deferral to the origin as a ‘signifier of a signifier’.

This is interesting as he begins to push terminology and concepts to the point of breaking, and in the breaking we can momentarily see the ‘ ‘, which is unspeakable, but as we capture this in words it has already slipped and the terminology must be abandoned, or ‘put under erasure’.

At least this is my current understanding of reading Derrida.
Take it with a grain of salt and no authority at all.

Graphic Trace
Forgetting Derrida for a moment —
Margaret Iversen in ‘Index, Diagram, Graphic Trace’ (Tate Papers, issue 18) articulates three distinctions*.
(*Referring to my earlier definitions – demarcation – could this essay also be a drawing?)

An index ‘has a close causal or tactile connection with the object it signifies’ – they talk of photographs as indexical.
A diagram is a translation of statistical data into lines and forms, or the transcription of temporal relations into spatial. – we all know what a diagram is . . .
A graphic trace is then an indexical diagram. These are indexical as they are ‘the impress of an individual’, and diagrammatic as they are an ‘abstraction from the immediately given in perception’. The examples she gives are cardiographs or seismographs.

This demarcation of specific modes of ‘drawing’ or ‘mark-making’ offer us a theoretical framework for viewing the relationships between objects and their different graphical signifiers. Although apparently reasonable and even enticingly well thought out, this act of demarcation, when interrogated, is also slightly absurd.

An object (O) translated/transcribed onto another object (O(+trace)).
Is it the distance between the ‘original’ object and the signifying object that determines these distinctions?

O «—» O(+trace)
an index?

O «————————» O(+trace)
a diagram?

O «————» O(+trace)
a graphic trace?

Are these distances then just a selective partitioning (a lens or a framing)?
Is this not the production of arbitrary sets from a continuum? Could we move to talking about a spectrum of traces?

O «————————————————… ?
Does this need to be linear?

Why do we assume a one way relationship between traces? That is a trace is always of something other – but could this other be the trace of a trace of a trace? A complex web of traces.
We also seem to always assume a causality A then B? This assumption of temporality is apparently embedded in our concepts of signs, but does it have to be?

Pause and conclude.

To conclude I would like to draw upon Humpty Dumpty’s words as represented by the pen of Lewis Carroll — ' “When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” ' But seriously this concerns more than just words – underlying this talk of drawing is a sincere proposition towards a new metaphysics – a drawing as pre—

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 undertook a 6 month residency at the MCA during 2013, after which he was commissioned to create a work for the MCA.

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