Sunday, May 10, 2009

Heather Boaz: Marking in the Moment

Sketch Pages unravels Heather Boaz's markmaking.

How and why did drawing become a focus in your work?
My first experiences with drawing were at the University of Kansas, I took a studio drawing course almost every semester, in addition I did some printmaking, esp. lithography. I loved litho because it’s an intensely physical, sensual experience. The heft of the stone, the smell of the mineral spirits, and the viscosity of the gum Arabic activate all of your senses. The visceral nature of this process was almost more important to me than the prints were, which lead me to more performative, process oriented drawing activities. One of my instructors took our class to draw at the Med school where an anatomy class was dissecting cadavers. Exploring the secret interior of the human body in a way similar to early anatomy drawings made during the Renaissance by DaVinci and Antonio Pollaiuolo, was profound for me. Moving out of the studio, into an entirely foreign situation, the smell was astounding and the whole experience was one of revulsion and fascination. I have always been interested in the body, but seeing uncanny lifelessness in it’s gory glory, albeit with wary med students eyeballing me, touched upon some vital part of my work. If there is any consistency throughout all of my various bodies of work- that is it- the body and it’s ephemeral counterpart (or lack thereof). Drawing functions for me as the line or seam between body and spirit.

What is the significance of the mark making activity in your work? What other artists (who focus on marks) have influenced you.
It depends on what I’m working on, For this particular series, sometimes it’s a process of transcribing the body, sometimes it’s related to writing text but it goes in the opposite direction than we are used to, normally communication begins with the body and then transforms into words, instead I’m going from words back into body, but my body as a filter through which information enters and becomes decoded or rearranged and then pours back out. I want to use drawing, the act of transcribing movement as a way of finding hidden meanings, a more direct communication straight from the body, a secret undecipherable primal language. The marks themselves are usually repetitive or drawn out somehow, with some sort of imposed direction in terms of how many marks, or how long to make them. I try to reduce the marks to the most minimal that I can, so that it’s formation is dictated as much by the movement alone as possible. However, depending on what I’m working on, the mark really becomes something different- at times I draw from life or from images and obviously those have a very different intention. I don’t have one preferred style or method of mark-making, from one series of drawings to the next I will use marks that feel appropriate for the ideas that I’m working with.
When I began making these drawings I was more directly influenced by Rebecca Horn: Drawing Mask and Ana Mendieta: Body Tracks, but now I find a lot of connections to artists I wasn’t consciously thinking about or aware of like Dennis Oppenheim, Mel Bochner, and Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint works. I have recently become acquainted with the works of William Anastasi, which I love.

In your videos, you write of taking the physical actions of communication and transcribing your body in the act with video. (These actions or gestures become the drawing.) Can you discuss your interest temporality.
I don’t know how conscious I am of dealing with temporality in the language works, I can see how the presentation of performance (past) with the drawing itself in the present might create a schism of sorts, or the way in which a very fast movement or gesture becomes permanent, but I don’t think I’m dealing with it consciously. To me the disappearing ink drawings are dealing much more directly with temporality. You have these ink drawings or stills, moments which are frozen in time, forever suspended, coupled with the hand drawing this living, moving, changing element, contradicting this suspension of time. The disappearing ink itself is so fleeting, constantly in the process of disappearing, much like time, we try to hang onto it, but it’s futile. Using the disappearing ink itself is an exercise in allowing the drawing to move and be more like life, constantly moving into the next moment, there is no erasing because what you just did is already gone, and it all happens in one shot, there are no cuts, and then it is sped up to an inhuman pace. To me these conflicts of time, the artificiality of time as we have devised and organized it is often irrational. I use subject matter like fire and water which are ephemeral, unfixed, and reflective of time’s constant flow, while stopping it simultaneously, the use of the loop also plays with a sort of eternity, forever looping, but never really going forward,

Describe the role that absurdity and humor play in your work.
My work frequently revolves around language, and very often I employ puns or one-liners, to me these are humorous and often reflect the paradoxical nature of reality. I tend to lean toward contradiction or sharp contrast in my work in terms of high vs. low culture, I think this juxtaposition usually equals humor. The use of everyday banal activities in contrast with a somewhat minimal stoic aesthetic creates a fairly absurd situation. There is also a sense of futility in my work, combined a kind of impracticality which I think is funny. I also think that most things in life, when taken out of their context and really looked at, can be interpreted as completely absurd.

Is you idea of (de)coding with Morse code (and your email password) a metaphor for absurdity?
Not intentionally, but it is pretty absurd to decode a code into something even more cryptic.

In many of your videos, I sense a generic person making marks without a face. This person could be living now or in the past. However, when I see your face in others, the marks get assigned a gender, age, etc. What is your take on these two approaches to your videos?
Interesting question, I think the sort of “everyperson” approach references the modern/minimal tactic of eliminating specific references to my identity, trying to create a more universal interpretation of marks being the sum total of their making- which the accompanying text then deflates. And the ones which I can be seen in are more specific to me and my body, many consider talent something you are born with, so I was trying to discover what innate abilities I might have, where does my “specialness” lie, perhaps it is dexterous feet or extra special lung capacity, or maybe my lung capacity is only average.

Can you talk about the importance of video camera’s presence as you work.
While making drawings I almost see the camera as an extra set of my own eyes, I tend to watch myself drawing in the LCD screen. Almost like I am out of my body, objectively watching and in my body going through the experience at the same time. Sometimes I feel like the videos are redundant, that the drawing itself is often the only documentation of the experience that is necessary, however due to the various unusual methods I employ to make the drawings, I felt that wall text describing the process wasn’t enough and many people asked me if I “really” did things the way I said I did- so I started to videotape the process- I keep the footage usually raw and unedited (unless there is a time constraint) . However I do find the frame to be very useful, I feel like the frame is a stage of sorts within which certain things can happen that just couldn’t happen live due to the way in which it’s cropped or zoomed in or sped up. The camera is also at times simply a way to document and loop activities.

How do you see technology pushing the boundaries of your drawing further in the future?
I’m not sure. I do expect to continue using video and projection, but still in a frankly simple manner. In terms of technology itself, I’m interested in what our obsession with technology and the need to be connected, communicating, and in touch at all times through technology, and what that has done to our bodies and our collective memories. It’s almost like we are extending out toward each other like electrical wires all strung together in a tangle, reaching out from one pole or person to the next criss-crossing, sparks and bursts of communication and information flow through one body and into the next like the flow of electricity. If I used any sort of technology it would probably be one of a very pedestrian variety, like texting or something very commonplace and fused in the body. I’m more interested in how adaptable we are to new technologies and how before we even realize it our bodies form these instinctive bonds with our tech. and movements which reflect the absorption of technology into our beings. There is a very specific way in which we hold a mouse, we all curve our hands similarly, move them at a similar speed, if we were to mime or mimic holding a cell phone to our ear we would all do approximately the same gesture, and it would be an intimately familiar gesture. However, depending on various cultural factors there might be some differences. The movement of our bodies in reference to technology is like a vernacular, it’s fascinating to me.

What is in the works?
In terms of new drawing, I’m working on some site-specific drawings using overhead projectors and video. I’m also drawing a lot of ropes, braids, tangles, knots and other twisted things. I am always adding to various bodies of work, I have a couple more disappearing ink works I’m doing and a few more body drawings as well to add to my collection.

Kate Joranson: Drawing with the Everyday

Above Images: Kate Joranson's Table Top and Column Drawing

Kate Joranson's work acknowledges the residual effects of everyday activities, such as running one's hand along a wall, or sweeping the floor, as a source for mark-making and a record of one's experience. Her work has been exhibited at the Drawing Center, the Mattress Factory, and galleries in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia. She works as a reference librarian and adjunct art faculty and lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband Steve Stelling.

Sketch Pages talks to Kate about the ideas behind her process.

Can you describe your drawing process.
For one kind of rubbing/drawing, I cover a table (or other object) with paper and then burnish it with a spoon or other burnishing tool, and then take a rubbing of it with graphite. Beginning with burnishing helps the paper form to the surface of the table and creates another layer to the rubbing. I’m transferring the table’s surface in all its irregularities and history to the paper.

Other drawings are made by using a power-sander. I use the sander to take a “rubbing” of the table, removing areas of the paper that are covering the lumps and bumps on the table. I go back and forth between sanding and adding graphite. I used this process to take a rubbing of a column as well.

I also work with various powders, such as powdered concrete or powdered graphite, to make temporary drawings on walls and floors.
Column Drawing

What is the relationship between your art and everyday life? How did you become interested in the intertwining of the two?
There are so many sensations we experience everyday that we might not think to acknowledge, or take time to describe. Many of these have a visual residue or leave a mark that I want to attend to. As mentioned earlier in my bio, examples are running your hand along a wall and sweeping the floor. I want to pause and extend these activities, and find their mark-making potential. I think that doing this will help me to imagine mark-making (and art in general) as something that happens as a result of how I take in the world around me.

I’ve also been thinking about how much I like doing everyday things! Gardening has become really important to me, as well as cooking, walking/hiking, and learning about ecosystems. I’ve been finding that the further I get from the insular MFA-world, the more I’m compelled to enjoy activities like these, without the feeling that I’m neglecting my studio practice. These kinds of things don’t need to be in competition with studio practice, but can function alongside it, or even replace it for periods of time. I’m remembering that there are a lot of ways to be engaged with the world.

I would like the objects I make and the things I do to be companions with:

- well-used tables, especially work-tables
- sloppily-repaired (or sometimes precisely-repaired) cracked sidewalks
- salt stains on the roads
- intricate winter tree shadows interlaced with tar-filled cracks on the road
- snowdrifts
- leaf-dust on a dry fall day
- seeds and dirt and moisture
- sanding wood
- pouring concrete
- sweeping and vacuuming the floor

What do marks signify in your work?
I’ve been trying to find ways to make marks that are as unself-conscious as those that might result from rearranging furniture in a carpeted room. I look to marks that happen when we’re not paying attention, or might result from work or other activities that occupy our attention. I also look to images and objects that occur, or even grow, in response to their surroundings. I document the salt stains that emerge from heavily salted streets after much freezing and melting and re-freezing.

Snowdrifts are a sculptural example. I have been documenting snowdrifts. I love how a delicate, geometric form, such as a snowflake, becomes heavy and laborious, shoveled and plowed in a huge mass into a purely functional form as a snowdrift. It then melts and re-freezes, becomes discolored and gray, gets coated again with layers of snow, suspends gravel and trash, and develops grotesque appendages as it responds to the late winter weather. The forms are joined to the forces that made them, and to their environment.

Related to this is what I’ve been learning about
Convergent Evolution. This is when two species (independently of one another, often in different areas of the world) end up with similar traits because they have been evolving in response to similar environmental challenges.

Can you talk about the role that non-permanence and temporality have in your work?
It’s great for solving storage problems! It’s helped me keep my process flexible and transportable. And since most of what anyone makes is temporary anyway, it’s just a matter of degree.

It’s helped me to stay focused on the making part, and staying responsive to my surroundings.

Observation and improvisation (seem to) play significant roles in your process. Can you talk about what you are looking to happen for a piece to evolve?

Improvisation seems to be a really practical way of taking my surroundings into account as I’m working. It’s also a way of cultivating an attitude towards the materials. I want to find ways of using materials and tools that are related more to turning the dirt in my garden, tending to a houseplant, and shoveling snow. I want the marks that emerge to be joined to their surroundings, and to their tool. I look for a certain kind of independence as a piece is evolving, hoping to see it take on the qualities of the room or object to which it is related, yet be able to stand firmly on its own.
Cinder Block Drag Drawing

How far will you allow yourself to intervene when carrying out a piece?
This is a great question I am always working on. It varies. When I am beginning a piece, I make a set of initial decisions, which often come directly from the room or site. I want to have the piece operate in a universe, or ecosystem, that is governed/guided by its immediate surroundings. My response to the particularities of the room or object is what initiates the drawing. Sometimes these are air vents, wall or floor measurements, paint texture on the wall, or architectural elements, such as a column (see column-drawing image). I also decide on a material and set of tools, and once the process is in motion, I allow myself to become absorbed in the actions and make changes as I go. Those initial decisions provide a constant tug, and give me something to push against as I work. Sometimes crossing the initial boundaries is just what I need to finish a piece.

Can you talk to a greater extent about how you work with diverse materials and on different surfaces.
Tabletops are a surface I return to often, as are walls, floors, and architectural elements such as columns. Materials I use include paper, graphite, and various dusts and powders. My tools are pencils, spoons, bone folders, power sanders, and other pressure-providing devices as I come across them. I’m working on a piece now, where my hands and a pair of gloves are the tools and materials. I am touching everything in the piece, Garden (ongoing), by Winifred Lutz which is part of the permanent collection at the Mattress Factory. I’ve spent a lot of time in her piece over the past several years, and I’ve always wanted to find a way to respond to it.

How do you decide to document your works? Are the photos more as documentary or do you see them as works of art, too?
I ask myself this all the time. I take photos to document installations, such as cinder-block-drag. I also take a lot of photos as a part of my process. This is in part to document marks that happen around me, but also to just become aware of how the things I notice is always changing. The photos are a physical reminder of (and even a way to measure) that. I have not exhibited my photos at this point. I tend to see them as an ongoing project, documenting marks that I would like to emulate. But my thoughts on this are changing these days and I’m reconsidering this.

What have you been noticing these days?
- torn scraps of shingles in grass
- how much one of my ferns sheds onto the floor
- long elaborate robin songs
- what a cactus looks like when it turns white and dies
- repairs made to retaining walls (Pittsburgh is full of retaining walls)
- how different humidity levels in the air feel in different light
- how woodpeckers twist their heads to dig into/behind tree bark
- crumbling mortar worn away by rainwater
- how I hold water glasses
- the pads of my feet