Here are brief thoughts about places; reflection and diffraction; and dissenting, following CAS research group session four (Drawing languages for Dissent, June 2020)
The group’s first session took place at The Lights (Andover) at the beginning of March, but due to COVID 19 the other three sessions took place via zoom. This is a completely new experience for many people. Though one feels grateful for having a tool of communication that enables seeing, listening and speaking with others in these highly unusual times of lock down, the yearning to be together in one physical space are growing stronger. It may be for this reason that Maija’s opening exercise was so meaningful (below).
William Kentridge’s talk, entitled ‘Peripheral thinking’ (Ritchie Lecture series, Yale University Gallery, 2015) addresses the idea of learning from the edges. Kentridge talks about keeping track of life in the studio. How do we track our thoughts in the studio? This question was explored by an exercise Maija gave the group just after she read aloud her introduction. The instruction was to respond to the objects in one’s own room using drawing and/or writing. Five minutes were given. It was an opportunity to acknowledge the fact that we are all in different places; to share something from each of these domestic places, which, despite the geographical distance brought us closer together.
Video made by Yonat Nitzan Green, in response to image supplied by Maija, Drawing Languages for Dissent; Session four
Reflection and diffraction
The drawings were shown with each participant recounts her/his process. This way of observing through participation: writing, drawing and a brief reflective conversation, is a research method that combines reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action (Donald Schon, 1991). Diffraction methodology allows to study, both, the apparatus and the object. ‘It is a method of diffractively reading insights through one another’ recognizing differences (Barad, 2009). Participants note their observations, incorporating both rational and imagination forms of thinking. Sharing involves speaking about their drawings, describing their thoughts and feelings. This enables un-expected insights and connections to emerge and enrich the conversation. It adds to the individual’s own understanding of his/her process of thought, as well as making visible the differences and similarities between the participants. In this way a shared and more coherent view of the group begins to emerge.
Kentridge’s assertion that ‘Fixing a thought is impossible’ raised some questions. How might a thought be grounded? What are the relationships between thought and drawing? If drawing can deconstruct a social convention or destabilize a thought pattern is it not the same force that allows drawing to ground ideas in its own particular way, even if this grounding is loose, temporary, open to different interpretation?
Maija considers Kentridge’s articulation of centre – ‘the truth of the centre is only comprehensible in relation to what is outside of it’ – with thoughts about personal boundaries. She writes: ‘My body is in the centre of my personal space.’ She describes her sense of identity as a negotiation between inside and outside, and a ‘space between’ where this negotiation-dialogue takes place. She identifies the ‘edge’ as the ‘terrain where “dissenting artists” enter a dialogue of questioning.’
Dissent is at the foundation of any artwork, an intrinsic feature of art for the simple fact that an artwork is founded on a subjective interpretation of experience. In the conversation that ensued one participant’s dissent was described as questioning her matrilineal heritage, while for another dissent was described as a sense of responsibility for continuing her matrilineal heritage. The creative process involves, amongst other things, scrutiny and daydreaming, feeling one’s way through difficult questions about the world and one’s relationship with it.
As Kentridge said: ‘Walking, thinking, stalking the image … It is not so much a period of planning as a time of allowing the ideas surrounding the project to percolate.’ (Krčma, 2010). The artwork cannot be born without some level of dissenting from social, cultural, material conventions. It is this element of dissent that has the power to stimulate imagination and thoughts not only in the artwork’s maker but in its viewers, too.
The practice of dissent is described as ‘a negotiation between what is part of me and what could subsume me.’ (Maija refers to Janice’s phrase, 6th April 2020). I wonder how this statement might be interpreted from and with the experience of mothering. I look at Kentridge’s and Maija’s drawings of a circle. The former is made of a single line assisted by a simple apparatus producing a perfect circle; the latter is made by layers of lines that were done intuitively. The phallocentric, patriarchal perspective produced the myth of perfection as removed from the messiness of everyday life. In fact, many women, mothers and care givers find themselves at the ‘heart’ of life with all its messiness. The layers in Maija’s circle recall a trace, a movement of bodily materiality, layers of tissues in the uterus; a varied, pulsating movement, living surfaces. Layers of organic tissue, both, connect and separate ‘what is part of me and what could subsume me’. Indeed, in pregnancy one’s sense of identity can be threatened. A better understanding of what we are made of, considering materiality, feelings, connections with others, human and non-human, may contribute to the kind of boundaries we construct with others, boundaries that enable shared existence.