Where do I begin and end? And where.
As I strum the thing, do I pick up
That which momentarily declares
Itself not to be I and yet
Must be. It could be nothing else.
(Wallace Stevens, “The Man with the Blue Guitar”)
Cento: a patchwork, a poem created entirely from lines quoted from other poets.
The other day in conversation with a group of women friends, I brought up the question of identity and the role that appropriation plays in the construction of self. My view was that we quite literally produce an every-changing sense of self through and in the work of others (books, the arts, conversation, etc.). In my case, I feel there is nothing of my own in this ‘self’, (ie. original) but that all of it, all of it comes from others. To me this is clear from the way I create my drawings. They are quite literally drawn from the writing of other authors and the image making of previous artists. That is, the production of self, both individual and shared, is a becoming, through and with interactions with others – choosing, acting, living—composing a life within a social context, an inextricably social context. Even if most of my work is produced in isolation, its source is always dialogic.
I’m working on a variation of the what then series, this time starting from a lightjet image and then adding scribbles and text drawings overtop. This is the technique I’ve been using for 3 years now (cf. the Withdrawn:scribing Nancy series). The collaged bits of magic tape are new to this project, but not new to my working process. The tape adds another dimension to the petals, and gives me another opportunity for adding text.
The process of working on/with an expensive medium such as the lightjet print creates an interesting tension. There’s no erasing possible. The ink and dip-pen overdrawing has a will of its own, with dribbles and blobs an inevitable part of the process. Sometimes the blobs add their own charm, other times, I’m not so lucky. Regardless, it is this tension, this dialogue between medium and hand that keeps me coming back for more encounters.
I’ve been reading Nancy’s Being Singular Plural these past weeks and was struck by his argument for understanding ourselves as beings together, always beings—that before anything else, before individuality, before being in the world, there is plurality. The very essence of existence is plurality. There is no such thing as one, alone, existing in the world, in any form of life. I am of course, reducing Nancy’s complex ideas of relationality and ontology into a form that I can grasp, so my apologies here, but, this fundamental concept of our existence gets to the very ground of relationships. We view ourselves as separate individuals, and so we are, but at the same time, we are inextricably bound to one another through the very fact that life is always already together, and without that, there would be nothing, no world, no life. We try so hard to remain separate, I and you, we and they, one and others, my country, your religion, their class, her gender, his appearance, etc., the list is long. And at the same time, we try to negotiate togetherness within the perceived separations. A tricky balance.
Looking at the first 4 images that I recently completed and posted, I thought the seriousness of the blackness in this new series needed some lighter contrast (metaphorically, literally?) so I have added marks in blues and reds to the next group here, which add a more playful feel. The actual text tattooed on the rose petals is much harder to read in these black versions, and that’s fine. The text is visible only close up. I’ve also tried another variation of scribing—writing directly onto the surface of some petals with acrylic (while they were still fresh).
I was talking about drawing with a friend of mine, Karen Coflin (who is a wonderful artist). We were trying to define contemporary drawing and she said, “Well, it’s about mark-making.” That is a very satisfying description and I think that is what makes drawing so interesting, the infinite variation of personal languages (gestures and marks) that manifest through this art form.
I’ve been working on a new series recently. It’s going through various permutations, so basically I am at the exploration stage. Here are 4 images from the first permutation. Still rose petals, still Nancy texts, but dark petals arranged in doubles. They remind me of leaky lungs. (The petals have always alluded to body parts). The Nancy text fragments speak about existence and time – well, to me they do.
Last week I did a workshop at the Roundhouse Community Centre as part of the Memory Festival. We worked with the red rose petals, and participants were asked to inscribe a memory, draw a design of their choice, or use a piece of text from the exhibition as the starting point for their own idea. All the inscribed petals were then placed into a labyrinth made of rose stems and leaves, on the floor of the exhibition hall. It was a fun afternoon with participants of all ages. Some amazing work was created on the petals, including text inscribed in various languages. I heard some wonderful stories and memories too! Here’s a sampling of the beautifully inscribed petals.