Ready for our first meeting, the CAS Research and Drawing Group have been reading Tim Ingold’s Introduction to ‘Lines; A Brief History’. We have been drawn into a contemplation of lines, dots, traces and surfaces.
Ingold says ‘non-linear’ in non-western or other-than-colonial thinking assumes that ‘life is lived authentically on the spot, in places rather than along paths.’ This surprised me. Linear in the ‘straight line’ sense was (I thought) a ‘left-brain’ (goal orientated) way of thinking. Non-linear was ‘right brain’ (diffuse focus). Imagine then, a single dot giving rise to an explosion of dots. This might be seen as the ‘inner process’ that gives rise to ‘outward movement’: one thought or word makes visible a series of seemingly unconnected points, and it is the connection of those dots in the minds eye of the perceiver that a picture is drawn. A picture of the world. Doesn’t it require being still and ‘on the spot’ to make those connections between points?
Let’s look a little closer at the nature of the ‘dot’ so we can explore ‘dotted lines’, and joining lines. Yonat Nitzan-Green writes:
‘On the one hand there is a perception of line as movement and growth; yet, on the other, there is a dotted line, or in Ingold’s words: ‘a succession of instants in which nothing moves or grows’ (p. 3). I use dots in my drawings, in connection with dust, particles, the Hebrew language and questions of boundaries. Ingold, however, seems to associate dotted lines with diagrams. He brings an example of Darwin’s diagram of The Origin of Species, where life is drawn inside the dot, ‘not along the lines’ (p. 3).’ – Nitzan-Green Yonat (2020) YNG Notes Tom Ingold Lines A Brief History, 9 February
Ingold seems to think that non-linear is an ‘on the spot’ living. Rather than a line from A to B, just a dot. With no movement from one dot to another. This assumption led him to realise all places have a sense of identity because of movement between places. In other words, a dot on a map is not just a dot on a map but a dot in relation to other marks.
When wandering in a meandering line, a dotted line may in fact signify the footprints of feet on the earth, singular or a small family of footprints. For me, a drawn dotted line is tentative, whereas a flowing line suggests a clearer torrent of movement such as in established roads. This brings to mind the notion of mapping movement and the relationship between things. (It seems I can’t separate the notion of lines from cartography).
Returning to Ingold’s notion of a dot ‘not moving’ I consider how I am learning that stillness is no bad thing. As we create a path through our life, day, or personal wilderness, dots may be seen as a succession of instances in which there is stillness; an opportunity to notice what is present. In a mental landscape of surfaces and landmarks a dot is a moment of pause, time for recognition or observation. Just like a full stop in a line of text.
In this way, a dot may also be seen as an ‘inward movement’ rather than an ‘outward movement’. I use dots to create a puncture mark as my needle pierces paper. These dots do ‘draw life inside the dot’ but in a way that retains movement and growth. Here, the energy of life passes through from one surface or plane to another dimension, the ‘underneath’. When stitching on a thread of paper, there are two sides, the ‘top’ and the ‘underneath’. This means the lines made by my thread are only partially visible at any one time.
I showed my first threaded paper sketch at a CRIT in 2017. In notes from discussion, Dawn Evans wrote:
‘A piece of A3 heavy paper with stitched cotton lines, and “signpost text” . The piece includes a still threaded needle, which retains tension between the cotton thread on the face and on the reverse of the paper… In many ways we felt that this piece poetically identified a landscape where Maija’s practice and theoretical considerations found themselves, the outward face showing traces of many routes with text signposts, neatly framed inside the boundaries of the paper, yet the reverse offered a less formulaic view, a foil to the surfaces outward face. Something dangerous, wounding, challenging, improvised as in an un-choreographed dance.’ – Evans Dawn, 2016, CRIT Notes 12 November
Like the puncture that goes in under the ‘skin’ of paper, beneath the ‘face’ or surface of it. Yet a puncture in the surface of a piece of paper — (paper being the medium I deliberately chose for its association with drawing images and writing text) — those puncture marks have a more permanent sense of the paper being marked and ultimately changed by the passage of movement.
It turns out this transformation is what Ingold means by ‘traces’. This was not clear from the text I read, instead Amanda Bates (at Monday’s research and drawing group) explained to me that Ingold defines threads as “physical filaments which do not need surfaces” and traces as “marks made on a surface by passing.”
Christine Dodd who was also present said she is looking at crocodiles at the moment so understands the ‘thread’ as an intentional movement such as when the crocodile moves it’s feet forward, whereas the ‘trace’ is the marks its tail makes as it follows the movement behind. While this may complicate the metaphor I think it helps to illustrate that both traces and threads are intimately connected and only appear separate as their different qualities give rise to different concepts. I don’t think you can have one without the other. A trace creates a line, and a line creates a trace the same way light and shadow, night a day dance together.
Are lines in exercise books, floorboards, brick walls and pavements a different kind of line? This is another question Ingold introduces in the introduction to his book. He says,
‘These lines were puzzling. They ruled surfaces but did not seem to connect anything with anything else. Their source, I realized, lay not in the geometry, but in the taut warp-threads of the weavers loom. Once more, threads have been turned into traces in the writing and of surfaces: the surfaces of rule, upon which all things can be connected up.’
All is not as it seems. Of course these lines connect one thing to another, perhaps in a more active way than a mere perceptual connection. In a brick wall the line is the space between, it is an edge, a definition, a demarkation of space. Referring back to needle and thread, these lines are spatial stitches, they are a meeting point, a touching point between things. Where the touching is between two of the same, as in a ruled grid, a pavement, or a brick wall, a surface is created. Contrary to myth, there are no cracks in pavements or brick walls – the so called cracks are joins. But the imagination tells us we might fall through the *cracks.
* (Refer below to the poem ‘Chasm’ re: fear of falling through the cracks).
Consider the relationship between lines, surfaces, and traces in Fig.1. I’ve described the touching between ‘same’ things (like a bricks in a wall or squares in an exercise book). Where touching is between different spaces, environments or ideas, a break is created. But that break in sameness begins a new connection, a different kind of relationship between different material elements, concepts. Have a look at Fig.2. where the difference is between light and dark, between black and no-black. When an out*line creates ‘negative space’, a relationship is created between the inside and the outside. A line is perceived where the quality of one thing meets the quality of another.
Do you ever stop and face the chasm of emptiness
And half believe that’s all there is
And have to fight
To draw back across the gap, the shawl of colour
Woven with the patterns of your life?
You can read the pattern then
And wear it, warm and safe inside its folds.
You can turn your back on holes you might fall down
…or fear you’re already falling down.
How flimsy is the shawl of colour,
Threads of light,
Fibres of love.
It’s snatched up by bitter winds
And smoothed by the gentle hands of care.
Is the chasm an emptiness we needn’t fear,
Something wrongly perceived?
I know my life is not empty but that doesn’t stop the
dark of empty space from swallowing sight.
And I flounder grizzly and lost.
I deny the colours in the shawl that’s shifting in the wind.
The shawl, my map to a whole life
Is a fragile, shifting thing.
I cannot grasp it, I cannot command it
But I can wear it round my soul, I think,
And then could I confront the emptiness I question and dislike?
For how much despair it can inflict when it catches me
And catches me in limbo
And forces me into doubt.
I question if it can be filled or if
it takes the form of whatever I fear or miss,
or fail to understand.
Liepins Maija (2003) Chasm, unpublished
With this poem I return to the idea of paper-thin skin pierced by the needle. The underside is the shadow side. The face is what the ego knows itself to be. As a teenager this poem began an exploration of the different aspects of self in relation to one another and the fabric of life itself.
‘There is no line
It works as a drawing exercise
But to live by it is to lose
Spacial awareness in a sea of objects
Focus in a mass of information.
Abandoning form and boundary lines
Constructed by the mind
External action is fruitless
A leak of energy, unmastered
You see everything but also nothing
Raw material remains unmanifest.
It helps to know the eye and the active mind are pulling focus,
Ordering reality, not passive observers.
There is no line until you make it
Just don’t fight too hard to keep it
As the tension between forms is the
Agitation sparking creativity
Which never can create without grinding,
Pounding, exploding forms and
edging out on the wake of change
that which must die
Not because it can’t co exist
But because it is food for your task
Material for new forms
Maija Liepins (2017) No lines, unpublished