Time, Motion Capture, The Body

Posted by: admin on: January 21, 2012

Involuntary Drawing: Time, Motion Capture, The Body

Saturday 18 February 2012, 1 – 6pm, followed by a reception

The Boardroom,
University of Westminster,
309 Regent Street,

This half-day symposium concerns the ‘optical unconscious’ of movement captured by machines; from the earliest experiments of chronophotography to the latest motion capture technology, as well as by the automatisms of gesture. The artists discussed are interested in making visible motion that would otherwise be invisible – such as sound waves, trajectories of movement over time, or a ‘bodily unconscious’. They track movement in the form of photographic or graphic traces. Some artists work with devices originally designed for medical observations, such as the cardiogram or electroencephalogram. In all cases, the trace is one involuntarily laid down — a shadow cast by something below the level of consciousness. This event is supported by the AHRC Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacies.

Margaret Iversen, University of Essex
‘Index, Diagram, Graphic Trace’

The index and the diagram are, on the face of it, incompatible types of sign. The index has a close, causal or tactile connection with the object it signifies. The diagram is a sign that involves statistical abstraction, such as trends in the stock exchange or weather. In this lecture, I consider a hybrid type of representation that has aspects of both. The graphic trace is an indexical diagram. It takes from the index a registration of something unique – an impress of an individual – while incorporating the diagram’s abstraction from what is immediately given in perception. The graphic trace in art is explored in relation to the index and the diagram, drawing on an essay by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the chronophotography of J.-E. Marey, the semiotics of C.S. Peirce and the work of artists including Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gabriel Orozco and Amalia Pica.

Stephanie Straine, University College London
‘Falling… Ground/Drawings by Bill Bollinger and Alex Hay’

My starting point is the twinning of gravity and the involuntary trace. I will focus on two works that explore, through very different material manifestations, notions of falling, gravity, graphite, drawing, paper and space: Ground Drawing by Alex Hay (1968) and Graphite Piece by Bill Bollinger (1969). Both are situated at the ground level, and both are made using graphite. These ‘work activities’ rely on the body becoming taut and pseudo-mechanised, while still revealing traces of the involuntary bodily pulses that are more explicitly registered in Hay’s Grass Field performance at 9 Evenings in 1966. The involuntary shudders and twitches of the machinic body and the amplification of these minutiae are here given their first, experimental airing in Hay’s practice. While Ground Drawing involves close surface mapping predicated on ground pressure, Bollinger’s Graphite Piece is executed with a lightness of touch that would seem to signal the vanishing point of the artist’s hand. These two works negotiate the sliver space of the boundary line, putting pressure on ideas surrounding the ghostly body in withdrawal, shifting temporalities, and the making visible of traces tracking both movement and making.

David Lomas, University of Manchester
‘Medium & Message: Surrealist Automatism and Some Contemporary Instances’

The talk will take as a starting-point André Breton’s essay The Automatic Message, which posits a derivation of Surrealist automatic writing and drawing from mediumism. Within this tradition, the writing or drawing subject is understood as a passive conduit – a medium – for the transmission of messages. Surrealism rejected the idea that the automatic message comes from the beyond and implied that its source lay in the unconscious. The Freudian notion of psychical determinism supported this view. Breton’s well-known metaphor of the artist as a ‘simple recording instrument’ further reinforced our conception of the line as a veridical trace of unconscious forces or phenomena.

My paper will look at contemporary instances of automatic drawing by William Anastasi, Jem Finer and others that engage these themes but that cause us to rethink the Surrealists’ assumptions. These artists are cognisant of information entropy. They tune in to background noise rather than message. What if Surrealist automatism was all along just a machine (dispositive) for generating randomness?

Anna Lovatt, University of Nottingham
‘Trisha Donnelly: The Body Electric’

In 2002, Trisha Donnelly rode into the opening of her first solo show on horseback, dressed in the uniform of a Napoleonic soldier. Announcing that she was ‘only a courier’, she delivered a decree of surrender, concluding: ‘The emperor has fallen and he rests his weight upon your mind and mine and with this I am electric. I am electric.’ Since then, much of Donnelly’s work has been concerned with the ostensible transmission of messages from distant times and places, encrypted or distorted like the wordof- mouth accounts of her unrecorded performances, which she prefers to call ‘demonstrations’. Her diverse artistic production – which also encompasses drawings, photographs, sculptures, films and audio-works – thus conflates the spiritualist and technological connotations of the term ‘medium’. In this paper I will consider Donnelly’s drawings as the visible traces of invisible, but sometimes audible, phenomena. Whether mechanically generated or inscribed by hand, these graphic traces are presented as involuntary signals, passed through electrical or psychic conductors.

Susan Morris, Artist
‘Drawing in the Dark’

For my presentation, I will discuss and show images of a recently completed body of work: Untitled Motion Capture Drawings. These were produced by recording, with a high-tech motion capture device, the movements I made while engaged in making another, pre-planned, drawing; they trace a kind of bodily unconscious.

While I was making the pieces from which the Motion Capture Drawings were eventually cast, I sensed that, during the drawings’ evolution, my body became inhabited by something outside of the work, other to it. Something accompanied the drawing, either from its immediate environment or related to the circumstances of its production.

The motion capture sessions make visible that which occurs simultaneously and as if underneath a set of marks as they are being laid down; they occupy a space parallel to these marks. In this paper, I explore the idea that what echoes in my body whilst I am drawing is perhaps a product of this space — a dark space, akin to that described by the psychiatrist Eugène Minkowski (in Le Temps Vécu,1935) as a space ‘of groping, hallucination and music’.


Margaret Iversen is Professor and Visiting Fellow in the Department of Art History and Theory, University of Essex, England. She is author of Beyond Pleasure: Freud, Lacan, Barthes (2007), Alois Riegl: Art History and Theory (1993), and co-author (with Douglas Crimp and Homi Bhabha) of Mary Kelly (1997). Recent publications include Chance (2010) and Writing Art History (co-authored with Stephen Melville, 2010). From 2008-11, she was director of the interdisciplinary AHRC-funded research project, Aesthetics after Photography. She is currently writing a book on photography, trace and trauma.

Stephanie Straine is in the final year of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD at University College London and Tate, under the supervision of Briony Fer and Mark Godfrey. Her thesis explores alternative trajectories for drawing in the era of conceptual art. She completed her undergraduate MA Fine Art at University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art in 2008, followed by an M.Litt at University of Glasgow in 2009. She is currently the co-editor of Object, a peer-reviewed journal of graduate research and reviews at UCL’s History of Art department, and is co-curating the upcoming exhibition Franz Erhard Walther: DRAWINGS at the Drawing Room, London in March 2012.

David Lomas was born in Australia where he did his first degree, leading to a qualification as a medical doctor. He moved into art history with a Master’s degree and subsequently a PhD at the Courtauld Institute. Lomas was Associate Director of the AHRC Research Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies until 2007. He co-edits the Centre’s online journal, Papers of Surrealism, and has organised a number of events under the auspices of the Centre, including a conference on experimentalism in science and avant-garde culture. He co-curated Subversive Spaces at the Whitworth Art Gallery in 2009, which explored legacies of surrealism in contemporary art. In 2008, Lomas was awarded AHRC funding for a three-year project on surrealism and sexuality, which resulted in the exhibition Narcissus Reflected (Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 2012). He is the author of The Haunted Self: Surrealism, Psychoanalysis, Subjectivity (Yale University Press, 2000) and a new book entitled Simulating the Marvellous: Psychological Medicine, Surrealism, Postmodernism (Manchester University Press, 2012).

Anna Lovatt is Lecturer in Art History at the University of Nottingham and an editor of the Oxford Art Journal. Her current research focuses on drawing in the context of Minimal, post-Minimal and Conceptual Art and she has published widely in this area, including articles and catalogue essays on the work of Bob Law, Sol LeWitt, Dorothea Rockburne, Anne Truitt and Ruth Vollmer. She is currently working on a book which focuses on New York-based drawing practices of the 1960s and 70s.

Susan Morris is an artist primarily interested in automatic writing or drawing. Her PhD, On the Blank: Photography, Writing and Drawing, was completed in 2007 at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London. Recent exhibitions include Timewarp (Centre Rhénan d’Arts Contemporains d’Alsace, 2009) and Sontag Montag (Five Years, London, 2009). In 2010 she was awarded a Wellcome Trust grant to make new work for the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. Large tapestries woven directly from data tracking her sleep/wake patterns over a period of two years are on permanent display at the hospital. Work related to this project has also been acquired by the UBS Art Collection, Switzerland.


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