Essay

Along lines and contours, a polyphony in the making

– Dr. Flavia Loscialpo

Just like a piece of cloth, composed of threads intersecting one another, the invisible warp woven in the space of the KG 52 Gallery is made of drawn, sketched, imagined, projected, evoked, unravelled lines. A plurality of lines in which explorations, metaphors, abstractions, recollections, and investigative wanderings crossing the universe of drawing play a central role. Sixteen artists and designers come to dialogue: Helen Storey, Simon Thorogood, Charlotte Hodes, Lucy Orta, Philip Delamore, Hormazd Geve Narielwalla, Rob Phillips, Donatella Barbieri, Doyeon Noro Kim, Heather Phillipson, Darren Cabon, Karin Askham, Tony Glenville, Penelope Watkins, Agnes Treplin, Yuliya Krylova.

What immediately emerges from this convergence of voices is that all the contributions to the exhibition stem from an inquisitive attitude around the role of drawing in conceptualising and representing the body. If drawing is experienced by each artist along a unique path, in which it can even become absent, so is the body. A body in formation, deconstructed, disembodied, a performative body, its traces, shapes, volumes and voids are articulated by the participants through an endless questioning and reinterpreting drawing.

The variety of such contributions reflects indeed the different ways of understanding and practicing drawing that are connected to and supported by LCF. It is a lucky circumstance, a fruitful encounter that Drawing and the Body reveals. The methodologies implied by the single works, and the directions to which they point, manifest themselves through a texture of resonances and differences. When the pieces are posed next to each other, their collision can in fact disclose the possibility for an unexpected dialogue. It traces the contours of a ‘polyphonic’ occasion: not a monological discourse on drawing from a privileged perspective, but rather a multiplicity of voices and gestures that dramatize the position of drawing as that realm where numerous disciplines intersect one another. A topology of drawing is an impossible one to sketch, due to the characteristically multifaceted nature of drawing itself, of its manifestations and applications. Drawing indeed is at once medium and process, performative act and idea, it is sign, symbol, signifier, and it is diagram. It is a space of negotiation for both established meanings and what is yet to be known, defined and articulated. It is a medium for analysis, for the acquisition and facilitation of understanding. It is observational tool and recording practice.

In all its expressions, drawing is always already home to the conceptual and the perceptual. It crosses domains and specialisms. Not by chance, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Constructivism, Suprematism and de Stijl, through emphasising the geometrical aspects of the line and by using simply ‘orthogonals’, aimed at creating a universal aesthetic language. In the name of the Gesamtkunstwerk conceived by Walter Gropius, a cross-disciplinary journey, encouraging the coalescence of art, design and architecture, was inaugurated.

Following the lines in action within the works exhibited in Drawing and the Body, one is taken on a walk through art, design, illustration, performance, interactive and digital technology. This is not just a walk through borders and apparent distinctions, but it is a walk on the verge of drawing as a process, while it unravels itself. And significantly when randomness, incidents, mistakes and unexpected results all reveal their heuristic function, unlocking new possibilities of signification and representation.

It in his text Francis Bacon: the Logic of Sensation Gilles Deleuze provides an interesting definition of the ‘diagram’, a term that he borrows from the semiotic theory of Charles Sanders Peirce who had highlighted the important role that diagrams play in mathematical thought. The diagram or graph, says Deleuze, is ‘chaos, a catastrophe, but it is also a germ of order or rhythm’ (G.Deleuze, Francis Bacon: the Logic of Sensation, Continuum, New York and London, 2003, p.102). The creative quality of the diagram consists in the fact that, as an early drawing, it generates information for something yet to happen. Recurring to typical Wittgensteinian expressions, Deleuze affirms that the diagram constitutes a ‘possibility of fact’, out of which the fact itself will emerge. From chaos and chance germs of rhythm can then emerge, guiding through the process of creating. Within the works presented, and particularly in the methodological conversations with Helen Storey, Simon Thorogood and Philip Delamore, the explorative and experimental nature of drawing reaffirms itself. Independently from its actual and final configurations, drawing emerges as the carrier of the creative process itself, and of the continuous negotiating that characterises it. In the drawing gestures of the participants resonate scribbles, diagrams, permutations, accidents, lines taken ‘for a walk’ (Klee), lines that slip off the track and disclose unpredictable solutions. In such interpretations, drawing can even become absent, being only evoked or alluded to.

From this variety of trajectories, a figure, or better, a trace appears: the trace of the body, with its complexity of tensions and meanings. In all the modalities of its being-in-the-world, of its measuring and conflicting with stereotypes and mythologies, the body is the physical and cultural territory where the performance of the identity takes place. Paradoxically, in fashion some designers have stimulated a fertile reflection questioning the relationship between the body and the garment, as well as the concept of ‘body’ itself. In particular, in the early 1980s the work of Japanese designers as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto was considered a direct attack on western ideas of the body shaping. Their designs, apparently shapeless, were radically unfamiliar. And yet such a new ‘shapeless’ shape was subtly threatening the parameters prescribing the exaggerated silhouette of the mainstream fashion of the times. Later in the decade, the so called ‘deconstructivist’ designers, by rendering visible the operations that are part of the dress construction, demonstrated how the body is inhabited by its idealization, and suggested different possibilities of giving voice to the corporeality. As Barbara Vinken has observed, the great contributions of avant-garde designers such as Martin Margiela reside indeed in having revealed how fashion ‘brought the ideal to life, an ideal which, however, was such located out of time, untouched, like the dummy, by the decline to which the flesh is subject’ (B.Vinken, Fashion Zeitgeist, Berg, Oxford and New York, 2005, p.150.).

Whether in art or in fashion, the drawn body implicitly calls into question the relationship between the individual body and its idealization, as well as traditional conceptual pairs, as subject/ object, inside/outside, nature/culture, which govern our way of talking and thinking about the body. If abstraction can take place only through a process of simplification that each time selects certain common features, this means renouncing to the singular differences existing between ‘real’ bodies. Interesting is the case of Futurist fashion and the tuta, a ‘universal’ one-piece garment created in 1919 by designer and artist Ernesto 10 Michahelles, under the pseudonym Thayaht. Inspired by concepts of simplicity, functionality and reproducibility, the tuta in its innumerable versions has deeply permeated not only fashion, but more generally everyday life. Originally, it was composed of straight lines forming a T shape, and even in the variant for women was deprived of any ornamentation, reflecting thus the Modernist aesthetics. Being adaptable to any occasion and allowing a complete freedom of movement, the tuta followed parameters of universality and uniformity, and responded to the ‘new’ need of favouring through clothing the ‘vertiginous movement of human life’ (Umberto Boccioni, “La Pittura Futurista”, lecture given at the Associazione Artistica Internationale, Rome May 1911, in Futurism, ed.by D. Ottinger, Centre Georges Pompidou and 5 Continents Editions, Paris and Milan, 2008, p. 55). Within the history of art, design and fashion, this is just an example of how the body is being continuously moulded by the contemporaneous Zeitgeist.

Nowadays, the emergence of new technologies, as body-scanning, has just started to disclose an exploration of the body in its full and irreducible peculiarity. Listening to the body in movement, or in transformation, is a central motif to many of the works displayed in Drawing and the Body. If the representation of the body assumes in some of them the contours of a stylized formula, this formula is a sort of handwriting or the underlying structure for the stratification of the creative process. Through the lines, diagrams, scribbles and re-interpretations of drawing presented by the sixteen participants, the body manifests itself. It is a plurality of testimonies, a dialogue that could go on and on, every time starting again for it misses, and in principle renounces to find, a last word. After all, as Sybil Moholy-Nagy writes in her postintroduction to Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook: ‘The dot, extended into a graphic curve, cannot come to rest…it urges on to further explorations, both in space and spirit’ (Paul Klee, Pedagogical Sketchbook, Faber and Faber, London, 1968, p.63).

Flavia

Pattern of the tuta, published in 1920 by the Italian newspaper “La Nazione”, 2 July 1920.