Remembering is mind-wandering into the past. We can also wander into the future, imagining what might happen tomorrow, or next Christmas, or when the Antarctic ice melts. The evidence shows, in fact, that people spend more time thinking about the future than about the past. Nevertheless, there is a natural continuity between future and past, as time glides relentlessly from one to the other. What we’re about to do quickly becomes what we have done -assuming we actually do it. Sometimes we don’t, and when that happens we’re inclined to say: ‘Well I forgot.” Even forgetting, it seems, can apply to the future as to the past.
(Corballis, 2014, p.36)
Mark making is almost always about cheating time and challenging physical space. Think about it. Even the act of signing your name on a document is making a mark that represents your endorsement of something, so you don’t have to continually tell someone you agree, or take the time to travel distances to approve something in person. Writing is about communicating ideas across distance (either in time or space) writing enables people to communicate without having to be present. Similarly making images is also about communication but in a more abstracted or ambiguous way.
In the early days humans drew on cave walls, traced their hands: I was here, like the anticipation of future haunting. Those early renderings were literal traces (of hands) as well as figurative ones, the evidence of existence. There is certainly a strong link between the process of drawing and the concept of trace: “If drawing is the art of the trace, this would mean that it has a privileged relation to the non-visible” (Newman, 2003, p. 96). Drawing is perhaps the simplest expression of mark making and as such the formative example of expression.
Whatever else art is about, the impulse to create is also the impulse to mark the world, to sign it as you might a school desk “Justine waz here”, to prove you are present in the world, and to assure yourself that one day, long after you have gone, long after you have bled out of living memory, somewhere there will be proof you once existed.
Drawing is a temporal activity on numerous levels. Usually it is created for a future audience who are not present at the time of its making. But additionally, drawing holds within it the passage of time that consitutes its own making… drawing is the trace of time spent with a surface, inherent in the mark is the deliberate touch of the artist. It would seem that the immediacy of drawing, as the most pared back form of mark making, is able to hint at the intangible and the ephemeral “… drawing is closer to the movement of time, to lived temporality” (Newman, 2003, p. 96). John Berger also notes the connection of drawing to time: “Isn’t the act of drawing, as well as the drawing itself, about becoming rather than being. Isn’t a drawing the polar opposite of a photo? The latter stops time, arrests it; whereas a drawing flows with it” (Berger, 2008, p. 124).
The process of drawing operates on different time streams. When I draw I am present in the moment, this moment, right now as my pencil touches the paper, but I am also present in the moment before and the moment after, because of the direction of movement, and at the same time I am somewhere else, somewhere internal, looking backward, looking forward, seeing the beginning and anticipating the end.
An investigation into the language of drawing is a hairy endeavour. At the heart of it are two main questions: What is drawing? And what does it do?
In Michael Newman’s essay for the book The stage of drawing: Gesture and act (2003), he starts by exploring Pliny’s story about the potter’s daughter who traces the outline of her beloved’s shadow on the wall in order to preserve a memory of him when he goes away. The focus of Pliny’s story is that her father then presses clay to this outline in order to create relief portrait, but Newman draws attention to the daughter’s original act as being the primary representation.
What the daughter does is depict something that is fleeting, a shadow, and does so in the most immediate way she can. Her impetus is not to create a portrait of her lover, but to capture a silhouette he has temporarily cast on the wall. Newman suggests that she may use this as memento and therefore as a substitute, but I disagree with this statement, a shadow is not a person (Newman refers to Pierce’s “indexical” sign – that is a sign that refers to what it signifies by virtue of being related to it), when she drew it on the wall the daughter would have already been turned away from her lover. In the act of copying his shadow she holds on to her lover in a way she already realises is tenuous. It is an imperfect double, even before she draws it, and so is a recognition of her understanding of the implication of absence. “Drawing, with each stroke, re-enacts desire and loss” (Newman, 2003, p. 95). There is no substitute, only a trace.
So what is a trace exactly? Tim Ingold, author of Lines: A brief history (2007) defines it in this way: “In our terms the trace is any enduring mark left on a solid surface by a continuous movement” (p. 43), Newman however struggles with the definition, questioning whether traces and marks are the same thing or not:
Is the mark itself a trace? Or the trace of a trace? Or a mark from which the trace withdraws? Or the effacement of the trace? At stake in these questions is the relation of the drawn mark to the one who leaves it and the one who receives it. (Newman, 2003, p. 94)
Newman goes on to suggest that the mark is a prescise gesture that obliterates the trace (2003, p. 95) but perhaps that is a subtle difference, could it be that the mark is the lasting visual manifestation of the trace, and therefore related very closely and almost indistinguiable from it?
To me the trace is a haunting, it is a copy, but not a substitute. In the act of re-presentation, the subject is re-created (translated) and becomes something other. It refers to what is absent, at the same time as being present as something different. The trace is irrevocably linked to drawing because both operate within a liminal space, the knife-edge between presence and absense.
But the effort still to be made is great. So many years will be spent searching, studying, classifying, before my life is secured, carefully arranged and labelled in a safe place – secure against theft fire and nuclear war – from whence it will be possible to take it out and assemble it at any point. Then, being thus assured of never dying, I may finally rest.
(Boltanski, 2006, p. 25).
Invention is often built on an existing idea, a small kernel around which the innovation grows. If you were to follow one of these filaments it would lead you backwards and forwards, through repetitions and variations, like some kind of illogical map. The iteration of an idea contains both the familiar and the strange. To a curious mind ingenuity is a problem solving game.
The knight piece in chess traverses the board in diagonals. A knight’s tour is a mathematical riddle in which the knight must navigate the chessboard in such a way that it lands in every square once only. It is at once an intellectual puzzle and a parlour trick.
Justine Giles, 2014. Diagram of the Mechanical Turk a chess-playing automaton that bested Charles Babbage twice [ink on paper, 455 x 560mm]
Justine Giles, 2014. I went home to find the Chess Challenger 7 and came back with my father’s old calculator [framed calculator, 250 x 300mm]
Justine Giles, 2014. Image of Charles Babbage as seen in the Science Museum, London in 2009 [graphite on paper and panel, 250 x 300 mm]
Justine Giles, 2014. The right hemisphere of Charles Babbage’s brain as seen preserved in the Science Museum, London in 2009 [graphite on paper and panel, 250 x 300mm]
Justine Giles, 2014. Chess Challenger 7 reconstructed from memory with the help of two siblings and Google [watercolour and graphite on paper, foam core board, 380 x 240 x 65mm]
Justine Giles, 2014. June 2014, Turing test beaten? [screen-shot print on paper, 420 x 297mm]