March 2021, deep in the middle of the UK’s second pandemic lockdown, the research drawing group recommences to interrogate the subject of ‘community’. Who is it, where is it and how and why might artists be present in it?
Who is ‘Community’? Drawing Dialogue
Drawing Languages of Dissent Part 2 – 1 st session – Monday 1 st March 2021
This is the second year of CAS research group. Our focus is on artist-community relationships. The overarching questions are:
What kind of interaction might take place between artist/s and the community?
What does working with the wider community mean?
Who is this community?
Is it a one-way interaction where the artist gives from his/her knowledge? Is it a two-way interaction where both sides exchange something? Or is it a multi-directional exchange that impacts on all participants, both, within and beyond the sessions?
If the latter, then how?
These questions will be considered in all the sessions by:
a) reading artists’ accounts of projects with different groups, as well as other thinkers;
b) reflecting on participants’ own experiences, using the method of ‘expanded conversation’ developed by PIRG (see links at bottom of article). This method brings together texts, words and drawings.
Angela Rogers’ ‘Drawing Conversations: drawing as a dialogic activity’ (2007) seemed a good starting point as it explores the potential of drawing as a tool for conversation. Conversation can be seen as a tool located at the heart of socialisation. Today with the pandemic turning our lives up-side-down and outside-in, we might ask: How do we understand the concept of conversation, both, before and now during the on – going COVID 19 pandemic?
Text: Angela Rogers, ‘Drawing Conversations: drawing as a dialogic activity’ (TRACEY, ‘What is Drawing For? October 2007).
The research project
Angela Rogers’ research project involved drawing with visitors in the ‘Drawing Room’ exhibition at the Phoenix Gallery in Brighton (9th September – 21 October, 2006). Situating drawing within the structure of conversation Rogers questioned how might drawing be understood as a ‘social activity’ (unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from Rogers,
2007). Rogers was interested to find out how drawing can facilitate the social encounter of conversation, a) ‘as an initial meeting with strangers’; and b) ‘as a way of colleagues connecting with each-other differently’. She understands conversation as ‘one-to-one, face- to-face, turn-taking encounter’. Rogers sets the parameters of her project very clearly: the
materials, the paper size, the beginning and end. This creates a safe working environment. She also states clearly that the purpose of the drawings is not to be viewed as an artwork but as means to materialise the social encounter of conversation. Rogers tested the idea that drawing can make the conversation visible and tangible.
Martin Buber’s notion of ‘inbetween’ and David Bohm’s model of ‘non-contingent dialogue’ are theories used by Rogers to analyse her findings. Martin Buber (1878-1965) ‘places enormous emphasis on one to one human encounter’. He invented the notions ‘I-You’ and ‘I- It’. The ‘I-You’ describes a relationship of connection, a respectful co-existence between people, or people and things, associated with dialogue. The ‘I-It’ describes a relationship without connection ‘where I treats people or things as objects to serve [my] own end’, associated with monologue.
Quantum physicist David Bohm (1917-1992) developed his model of dialogue in respond to the wide spread of social fragmentation ‘and lack of shared meaning’ in our time. Specifically, he considered the question ‘what it means to be human?’ suggesting ‘collective dialogue’ as to ‘collectively explore the prospect of an enhanced humanity’. In his model of group dialogue there is ‘no purpose other than dialogue; it is without goals or agendas apart for a commitment from participants to examine assumptions and their effects on our thinking with the aim of arriving not at agreement but some kind of shared understanding.’ That shared understanding doesn’t have to include all the ideas that were raised during a conversation; it is enough that some level of understanding had been reached.
The issues that surfaced through Rogers’ drawing conversations project were: first, drawing’s openness and adaptability; second, benefits and difficulties regarding shared responsibility for a completed drawing; and third, questions of distances and intimacy in a shared drawing.
Similar to Rogers’ approach, the emphasis in this workshop is on drawing as a process.
Drawing is understood it its widest sense: a mark-making, a self-expression that can be figurative or abstract, a sketch, a scribble, a composition of different elements, or other.
While Rogers’ project was based on shared drawings, our workshop examines conversation and its relationship to/with individual drawing-making.
Rogers’ intention to test the idea that drawing can make the conversation visible and tangible reveals an implicit assumption, suggesting that conversation is invisible. This raises two questions: 1. What might be gained from making a conversation visible? 2. What is it that becomes visible in a conversation that otherwise remains invisible? Additionally we explored: How might drawing facilitate conversation ‘as an initial meeting with strangers’ and ‘as a way of colleagues connecting with each-other differently’? What is the significance of difference?
Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group: http://www.pirg-research.com/) NITZAN-GREEN, Yonat; MITCHELL, Belinda; BENNETT, Jane A. Sites of Conversation. TRACEY, [S.l.], v. 14, n. 1, p. 1-12, oct. 2019. ISSN 1742-3570. Available at:
CAS research group – 1st session: Drawing Conversation
I made a false start with a brief game of visual consequences with myself (where you draw a humanoid figure’s head, body and legs in turn), before lighting upon the idea of interpreting randomly meaningless marks as a form of dialogue with the process that made the original marks. This is related to an interest I have in drawing trees with convoluted growth; human perception will often discover faces or creatures in the fantastic shapes, a phenomenon that is called pareidolia.
I wanted to use something that was external to myself. Looking around the studio, I saw the cardboard upon which I had painted several strips of wood black, leaving a series of blotchy straight lines.
What could I see in it? There didn’t seem to be much to start with but perhaps there was a figure or two there… And it turned out, as I drew with red acrylic ink from a pipette (trying really hard not to make my drawing more realistic than the lines suggested), that the two figures were having a conversation.
These 3 drawings were made whilst considering ideas around conversation and differences, prompted by discussions had in response to the text Drawing Conversations: drawing as a dialogic activity from Angela Rogers. Not having someone present to engage in a drawing dialogue I chose for my hands to have a discussion. This ambidextrous approach was physically satisfying. The drawings were about the process, not aiming towards a specific outcome, trying to reflect how conversations can organically grow, ideas and words bouncing off each other and responding to each other. I was thinking about conversations, turn taking, restrictions of language, constrictions of etiquette, significant of difference, ideas of making the unseen seen and importance of process. The first drawing was made using chalk and charcoal; as I made this I reflected on how one was slightly erasing the other, the dominance of some marks over others. The marks were responding well to each other but was the difference signifiant enough? The second drawing was more overt in the difference of materials, bringing my recent lockdown ink practice to meet my pre lockdown pencil practice, for them to converse. The ink was very dominant, the pencil started to fill the gaps, pushing through the ink, desperate to be heard. The third drawing was mostly about celebrating and reacting to difference rather than conversation, though the 2 areas of mark making are in dialogue with each other. It needed more time so the pencil could build to a similar intensity as the charcoal.
When considering the questions posed by Yonat I came to the following conclusions. That drawing can facilitate conversation ‘as an initial meeting with strangers’ and ‘as a way of colleagues connecting with each-other differently’ in the form of an ice breaker, a collective shared experience, it provides a focus for conversation to build around. By making a conversation visible it prompts the viewer to consider their own interactions which may generate more meaningful and thoughtful conversations or help the viewer to reflect on how they conduct initial interactions. By documenting a conversation, using drawing as a visual language it brings a more open and honest dialogue. The post drawing dialogue between Angela Rogers and her participants demonstrates how the marks made described how they were feeling and thinking in those moments but not voicing at the time. One would not ordinarily voice these feelings in a verbal initial encounter ergo the drawn conversation accomplishes more than words though the dialogue was more illuminating and necessary to enable understanding of the drawings created as conversations in Rogers presented research.
I was working in an A4 sketchbook as I don’t have much space at home and no wifi in the studio.
I attach yesterday’s drawing. It doesn’t seem to belong with my ‘normal’ work. It is a debate between illusionistic form and mark-making, organising lines and free gestural passages. It seems to portray something about the complexity of the many conflicting things going on in my head, partly in response to the conversation within the session.
With Indian ink and a broad brush I attempted to conquer my fear of covering a virgin surface now made more intimidating by being part of a group, albeit virtual.
I like working alone.
Usually my drawings begin as whispers and gather noise – in this circle of artists I came in strong then began retreating, pouring water over the paper, veiling and layering.
I also wrote a text legible only to me about what I was feeling as I was engaged with the exercise.
It’s dark. I don’t feel that satisfied with the drawing. But it’s a beginning, and I’m interested to see where this course takes me.
“I set myself my own constraints – A4 graph paper, biro and black and white posca pens. Whilst making the drawing I thought about the term conversation, whilst I was focussed on mark making. I was also thinking about the relationship of the different marks in relation to each other in the way that a conversation is about how we respond verbally to each other.”
My feelings on the drawing activity were very much about feeling part of a community, there is something reassuring about creating an experience together and being on line did not diminish the experience – for me the zoom explosion caused by the pandemic has allowed me to feel connected to a previously unknown online community. Having moved in early 2020 to Wales I feel physically isolated particularly as the pandemic has prevented me from engaging with new groups locally or even having a “friend” to go for a walk with, so I have had to redefine what “community” is to me.
Industrial Estate My drawing, made on 1st March 2021, was inspired by the presence of Peter Driver, who is connected with the Open Space Open Hand Gallery in Reading. I don’t know Peter but I’ve visited the gallery space there more than once, and have always been stimulated by the work on view there. During the late 1990s and 00s, as parent to young children and doing jobs unrelated to art, visiting this chilly former Victorian redbrick barracks – was as a person suffering from a form of thirst coming across a most welcome verdant and edifying ‘cultural oasis’. The work I recall seeing there then that stayed in my mind – sorry can’t recall neither the artist’s name – nor or the date – was on the theme of industrial estates, a series of photographs or painted panels, or perhaps a combination of both. Each picture showed a supposedly different industrial estate – identified by a national flag, as if, in a burgeoning globalized world, that made any difference. I’d worked at many of these desolate and soulless places, after leaving school and then as an art student. Today there’s a stronger sense that unchecked and ever greater production and consumption (much of the production but not the consumption now absent from the UK) cannot continue in exhausting the planet – it’s seas and lands, our bodies and minds, indefinitely. I’ve pictured the earth as fractured with a poisoned atmosphere, with a distant Mars lined up as the next ‘victim’. Maybe this is a bleak perspective, but in 2003, scientist Professor Martin Rees wrote a book cheerfully entitled “Our Final Century”. If there is to be a general and global slide into an avoidable dystopia, surely it will commence with attacks on democracy.
I was thinking about control, out of control, surprise and transformation. I was also thinking of de Mare’s notion ‘impersonal fellowship’ (de Mare, 1991, cited in Bohm, 1995. Rogers 2007, p. 7). The idea that impersonal fellowship can be achieved not through knowing the person before, but through a dialogue that is based on genuine connection, warmth and a welcoming atmosphere. Genuine connection can be understood with Buber’s theorisation of ‘I-You’. The ‘I-You’ describes a respectful co-existence between people, or people and things, associated with dialogue.
I have decided to carry on with this drawing to explore the time/space/matter during, as well as between sessions, calling it Echoes of conversations.