The following panel discussion took place on October 12, 2002 as part of The Drawing Center’s 25th Anniversary Benefit Selections exhibition, organized by Catherine de Zegher, former Executive Director of The Drawing Center. The symposium brought art historians and scholars John Rajchman, Jaleh Mansoor, and Mark Wigley together in conversation with the artists Yun-Fei Ji, Julie Mehretu, and Terry Winters.
On the occasion of The Drawing Center’s current exhibition Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions, we are featuring excerpts from the conversation, highlighting discussions about the process of thinking with drawing.
JOHN RAJCHMAN: Catherine [de Zegher] has asked if I might make some opening remarks to start off this panel, concerning the larger questions—is drawing central and how is it central? Let me begin with a few words from conversations with two artists whose works have figured on these walls. The first quote is from Richard Serra. It’s 1992; he’s talking to Nicolas Serota at the Tate Modern: “Drawing [he says) is always an indication of how artists think. Offhand I cannot name anyone’s work worth its salt where drawing isn’t key… when I talk about drawing I don’t mean drawing as a discipline different from that of painting and sculpture. There is the drawing of drawing and there is drawing in painting as there is drawing in sculpture…” The second quote comes from William Kentridge talking to the curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in the book William Kentridge. He says: “My work is about a process of drawing that tries to find a space between what we know and what we see … ” These declarations come from quite different artists and bodies of work, yet each poses a question that suggests a larger hypothesis and a related impression about this commemorative exhibition-they are both concerned with what it is to think with drawing, in drawing.
My hypothesis might then be put in this way. One way in which we might see drawing as “center” is in its role as a way of thinking-even, or especially, when the spaces or times with which it works are not themselves “centered,” spatially or socially, with respect to our identity, pose, orientation, or movement, as in the case of these two artists. In this way, drawing can become central to the ways artists work with other mediums or media, as in the case of these two, with film; and indeed, paper and pencil do not exhaust the materials of drawing itself. My impression is then this: The drawings on the walls surrounding us involve many different styles, materials, processes used over the last 25 years; at the same time, and for this reason, they trace a kind of historical cartography of the ways drawing intersected with issues of critical and even philosophical concern, which matter for anyone involved with drawing today. It is a testimony to The Drawing Center that this be the case: Over these years, it has become known not simply for its meticulous exhibitions, but also for the way it has kept alive questions of drawing itself, and the ways those questions remain central to ongoing practices and discussions.
For of course there are not only different ways or styles of drawing, but also of thinking-perhaps as many as there are artists and thinkers. For instance Richard Serra, who started off with drawing, was never interested in making drawings of his sculptures, but rather has never stopped filling notebooks with explorations of peculiar forces and movements which his sculptures help to make sensory-for example, kinesthetic syntheses irreducible to the Gestalt orientation of objects given to the eye of an external consciousness. He once imagined that drawing might thus help him free sculpture from conventions of painting or architecture, expanding its field, though we now know of similar kinds of explorations in both arts, and, in a singular way, in film. Indeed when, later on, William Kentridge tried to use drawing to overcome what he perceived as limitations in painting, it was in turn to discover issues of duration posed in film and animation. The questions or problems one explores in “thinking with drawing,” in other words, are inseparable from larger social and scientific determinations of space and movement, cities and the nervous system; that is why the encounters with those working in other media or disciplines tend to be so rich and unforeseen. One such encounter may be with philosophy or philosophers, who help formulate in their own terms the problems that artists implicitly pose when they try to think in or with drawing. Let me evoke two philosophers to suggest what I mean. Each, I’d like to propose, in a certain sense moved in the opposite direction, imagining ways that thinking could be seen as a kind of “drawing,” as it were, sketching the space and time of “states of affairs.” Each would thus articulate a logic that would discover a resonance with architects, first in an industrial mechanical European setting, then in our “post-industrial” informational global one; and each would thus be able to say, in a different way, “don’t think, look!,” opening a zone of thinking between what we see and what we say. My first philosopher is Ludwig Wittgenstein, especially in his early Viennese phase before the War that, among other things, would dramatically redistribute the geography of philosophy as well as architecture. Influenced by aeronautic engineering and Ludwig Boltzmann’s Mechanics, Wittgenstein at first advanced a “picture theory of meaning,” where the logical concatenations of elements in propositions match with those in states of affairs, against the background of a strange Loos-like silence or void, into which thinking, having advanced this theory, would retreat. A distant offshoot of this Viennese moment is then the page from Bertrand Russell’s Logic in this show, which, having made its way to Johannesburg, is drawn over by William Kentridge, suggesting not only another time and place, but also another logic of picture and thinking, in which, after the War and its decolonizing aftermath, his own work would move.
For my second philosopher, we need to shift geographies to France and the new styles of thinking, the new “logic of sense” that emerged there in the aftermath of the War, and then fast-forward to 1988. Thus we find Gilles Deleuze, in conversation with Robert Maggiori in the French newspaper Liberation, saying this:
“… everyone has his habits of thinking … ! tend to think of things as ensembles of lines to unravel, but also overlap. I don’t like points; faire le point (summing up), seems stupid to me. It is not that the line goes between points, but that the point lies at the crossing of several lines … “
There is much one might say about this style of thinking. Deleuze imagined that individuals and groups, we ourselves, are made up of multiple lines, tracing movements or trajectories, in the manner explored, for example, by choreographers or drawn by dance, such that there are as many entangled lines in our lives as on our hands or feet. We have a peculiar relation with such lines. They run through us, prior to our individual or group “identities” in ways irreducible to the classical distinctions between the real and the imaginary or fictive or what is inside and outside us, tracing crystalline circuits linking “the real” and “the virtual” to one another; and in all the arts we find the invention of singular procedures or diagrams to “render” them or make them “sensory.” Deleuze distinguished different sorts of such lines. There are segmented ones that can be hard or supple, linear or circular, binary or complex, and strange “abstract” ones that take us to unknown or unforeseen destinations. More generally, Leger developed a notion of the existence, in the very logic of pictorial space, of diagrams or cartes of things not unformed, still “becoming,” for which there exists no prior calque-no prior model from which to draw. Pictorial space thus becomes tied up with a question extending beyond Leger’s cubism, elaborated in many different ways: how to break up words, how to break open things, to find the strange entangled “lines” of which they are composed. In all pictorial space, we find at least the potential for such “diagrammaticity” irreducible to the codes that combine geometrical figures or figurative givens, closer to topological questions of inside and outside. That is how, for example, Deleuze proposes we think about the new “criterion” of horizontality that Leo Steinberg associated with the “flatbed” of Robert Rauschenberg’s combines and the discovery of a new relation of “brain and city,” which would then be explored in another way in Michael Snow’s Wavelength.
But how then might we “think in drawing” today? In what new ways will we use drawing to show what always comes before-or from “outside”-those powers that determine what we say, see, or do, offering us new zones at once for drawing as thinking and thinking as drawing? In other words, in what ways will drawing continue to be “central”?
Let me turn to the panel.
Terry Winters: I’ll limit my remarks to my practice as a painter. Drawing is central to my work: everything moves out, in all directions, from drawing. Drawing is both a way of thinking and a visualization system. It’s the fastest tool at hand. Through manual labor the haptic imagination is activated – revealing graphic expressions of vitalized geometries. Like de Kooning’s glimpse, drawing’s immediacy creates accelerated content. Drawing is the prototype, the first time the image is seen. My approach is a diagrammatic one in which each image becomes a superimposition of maps. Objects and information are transcribed as events; pieces of existing data are re-assembled into new patterns. Hopefully, an alternative engineering of fictive dimensions is established where intensities escape easy identification. Signs are generated to be felt and sensed. As recording instrument and experimental device, drawing can make things “unhidden.” Emergent becomings are produced according to immanent and transformable conditions. In other words: Invent, test, and play.
Drawing brings spiritual entities into existence-the inside and outside are conflated into one psychic domain, formed by impulses, connections, and projections, drawing is used as an operative abstraction for the construction of pictures.
RAJCHMAN: Perhaps we can take this question of the relation of drawing to “new media” as our starting point. It seems that the artists have addressed this question in different ways, talking about drawing as an activist medium, or as a way to slow things down like poison, or else to tap into unseen intensities; and we should give them a chance to say more. To get things going, perhaps we could pick up on something Mark said in talking about “experimental” architects using computer animation and the kinds of relations they might have with artists who work with drawing. How does this activity and possible exchange across the arts or disciplines differ from the questions already posed in the sixties through the influence of Black Mountain, Marshall McCluhan, and Buckminster Fuller?
YUN-FEI JI: What do you mean by “the sixties”?
RAJCHMAN: Well, let’s take the case of Robert Rauschenberg whom Mark mentioned. In what ways are artists who use computers in drawing or at least use drawing to get a condition that involves computers doing something different from what Rauschenberg was doing then?
WINTERS: Well, they’re only doing something different because there are so many new technologies since Rauschenberg made those paintings in the sixties. But I think he was essentially asking how a handmade painting addresses or confronts the issues of mechanical reproduction. How does running technologies through the process of painting torque them or open them up to a new kind of meaning? I think it’s still a worthwhile undertaking for painting to deal with new technologies-to experiment with them, to use them.
JALEH MANSOOR: I’m not one of the artists, but it seems to me that the artistic practices we’re looking at now are worlds and worlds away from what Robert Rauschenberg was doing, insofar as it was 40 years ago that Rauschenberg brought the new condition – an internalization of information and media technologies – into the framed space and it’s been a done deal for some time now. The task is for artists to differentiate how they deal with internalizing the conditions of-even to say “of a mass-reproducibility” would be really archaic, as the conditions are virtual – of the logic of the computer.
WINTERS: I think that is critical. The kind of virtual forces that are implied by these new technologies need to be made visible, somehow. This doesn’t have to happen through digital means; it can also happen through the analogical analysis that’s accessible through painting and drawing. In fact, drawing possesses a bandwidth that’s wider than digital technology’s. I think it’s sort of utilizing aspects of both, like including the computational capacities of the digital with drawing’s gestural and material investigations, and it might allow for some kind of new discoveries. Mark’s argument about the negative and the positive and the white line on the black screen is very interesting, but how much of that is just a consequence of the material quality of the technology? I mean, Matisse and Picasso were making white line linoleum cuts; it just comes out as a nature of the medium and how it works with the electronics of the screen that forces that kind of thinking. I think there is a great deal in printmaking that relates to the computer and the use of technology in order to generate an image.
MARK WIGLEY: I’m not sure what to answer; I know what my point is. I know what the argument is as I offered it, but I’m still thinking a lot about the black. You see, it’s true what you say, that it’s sort of in the nature of the technology. What I was trying to say is that it’s been in the nature of technology at least officially since the 1840s. That is to say, the architect could only be an architect in as much as he flipped positive and negative on a daily basis. When is the new media going to not be new anymore? You know what I mean? When was it officially called new media and how long are we still able to call it new media? That would be my argument, to insist on the fact that the computer, for example, was structural or ready in the late fifties and sixties. So this is the beginning of an engagement. So maybe the truth is the younger artists of today are not really using what we might call “new media”; we might call it new media by associating the latest technologies with the arrival of computers. But maybe it’s not, it’s not of that order. Maybe the artists of today are not facing a new technology; I’m not sure. Officially, you guys are experts: When did the media get called new, which implies that media can be old? When did that happen?
MEHRETU: I think this is the reason I had a hard time answering your question earlier. For me, the computer and the paintbrush are just part of my studio practice as well as that of the younger artists that I’m working with, who have had the Internet from the beginning of their work. For me and them there’s not a hierarchy between instruments. In painting, I see the computer coming into the studio as just another part of the practice, another way of manipulating info and manipulating images.
WIGLEY: That’s a very different attitude from Rauschenberg’s. His was clearly a new-media type moment, and his attitude was that precisely because the media is new, we better all get together and collaborate, because we have to deal with it intimately.
WINTERS: I think it’s taken for granted now that we’re living in a very abstract world and that fact inevitably feeds into the way that painters work; it’s just part of everybody’s daily experience. It’s another motif that gets plugged into the painting system.
JI: I think it takes a longer time for some of these things to take effect, or to have influence. I think that the thing that influences me the most is how I grew up, the politics of social change, how this formed what I’m interested in. I think maybe the next, the younger generation, will come to reflect on this experience more deeply. Also, in early photography we see an invitation to think about things that painting is only now caring or wanting to be. Today, maybe 50 years later, photography has its own language, one that is uniquely photography or thinking of film, maybe for a long time, it latches on to this idea of theater, that its unique language developed much, much later. Maybe time is a factor.
MANSOOR: I have a question.
RAJCHMAN: Please go ahead.
MANSOOR: I hear a difference emerging between the five of us on the right side of the table, and your position. Because I hear everybody saying that the surface, when the artist approaches the surface, it’s already so heavily conditioned by so many forces, and Julie mentioned that the surface is layered with history, time, space, etc., and that’s why she can see the gestural act as marking a kind of, a certain kind of activism, and we heard a lot about how the switch from the model of black on white to white on black was sort of like going from the frying pan into the fire or whatever. So my question for you, I’m asking you to qualify what you mean when you talk about drawing as being something somehow prior to the real, as being rather than fiction, as being rather than the virtual. How can drawing be prior to anything? It can’t, but it seems to be emerging, but it can’t, indeed.
RAJCHMAN: Well, I think we can all agree that surfaces come “historically determined.” That’s just the problem-how to get out of it. One way might be Yun-Fei Ji’s attempt to use drawing as a kind of contaminate or poison against the cliche-saturated environments in contemporary China; or again, when William Kentridge speaks of the “space between what we say and what we see,” he wants to use drawing to undo the regimes that determine and unproblematically link seeing and saying to one another, particularly the situation in South Africa with which he is concerned. Drawing and thinking always have complicated relations with the larger historical determinations of space, movement, time, and image, in which we live and move. Let’s take the case of surfaces. As Mark knows very well, the problem of surface and depth in architecture has a long history in which techniques of representation play a role. In focusing primarily on the technological or “media-logical” sources of such representations, he encounters the old question of surface in pictorial space. For we all now know that the determination of pictorial surface in relation to “illusionist depth” is not something “given” or “essential”; and of course, drawing played an interesting role in dismantling this “historical determination” and suggesting other possibilities. Indeed the focus on space and measurement in Joelle Tuerlinckx’s film pieces might be seen as one continuation of this question, which is incidentally already quite important for Richard Serra, for example, in his film Frame. But what then is the nature of such “priority” of drawing to given determinations of surface and depth-is it really only a matter of substituting “matrices” for “grids”; aren’t there other kinds of space and other ways of thinking about space, which also serve this function, some yet to be invented? I’m not sure that your own story of death, absence, obsolescence, and mediums is the best way to pose the problem or get at this “priority.” For me it is an approach that relies too much on the increasingly unhelpful stance of the melancholy critic. The question of loss and “what-comes-after-painting” strikes me as the very example of a false problem, which nevertheless remains historically determined and overdetermined even now. Surely it is time to think in other ways.
MANSOOR: I should qualify the question because I intuitively agree that drawing manages to get into a space that is somehow outside of, and somehow prior to, all of these layers. But I’m not certain if it’s coming out how exactly that works. If drawing is a kind of fold, if it folds those layers of determination and spits them out as something else, does it therefore become “prior”?
WIGLEY: Let me jump in on that note. I think it’s a really fascinating question. I wrote down three expressions you used in your presentation, and the first one is “plays dead and refuses to die” and the second one was “drawing reaches out to areas it does not belong to,” or something like this. And the last one you said was “as if drawing thought, ‘Now that I am nothing, I can do anything:” And I think all of those imply that drawing comes after, in terms of your own question, right? And for me, I would want to join that team, because for me, that would be the ghost, and the ghost is always after. And I think it’s also true of the media question; I think “new media” is a contradiction in terms. It’s one of the subtexts of this argument that experimental artists get a hold of the technology only after first the military and then the big corporations do. And I don’t mean this to sound like a conspiracy. They hand over the technology when it’s not of so much value to them. And always there is a delay. For example, there was an architect in that first secret project: Buckminster Fuller. He was making the spaces in which those radars were picking up those signals. And Fuller was present at the first broadcast of television in New York. And there were architects who were there at the beginning, like Fuller, but they never get acknowledged in architectural discourse. And I think that’s always the case. Likewise, the big corporations that were first using the stuff, we like to think of them as boring and institutional, but in fact they were radical in the way they transformed their work. By the time the artists got it, it was, let’s say, less interesting. So I think “new media” always implies, in fact, the repackaging of old media. And this would make drawing impossible to kill, because it would always be able to-it has, let’s say, the resources to take everything. And the pretension of the white background is its capacity to receive anything. It’s nonsense, of course: The white background only receives certain things under certain conditions, in certain ways, and it can’t even be said to fully receive them. It’s every time produced; every time, you have to push the work forward. But that’s the pretension and that answer would say that drawing is always last. And late. And that is its role. It is not the beginning of new ideas or new art movements or the beginning of any single artwork.
WINTERS: Well, I beg to differ. The white sheet may receive information, but it’s the process and action of drawing that creates new autonomous entities that did not pre-exist the drawing. And it’s out of these drawn investigations that new work gets produced. I think it’s interesting what you were saying about how new technologies get thrown over to artists. Again, looking back to Rauschenberg, he used simple and primitive silkscreen techniques to create multi-screen pictures-paintings which felt like or were informed by film and television.
WIGLEY: Well, I suppose, yeah, the Russians would be a good example of a group of artists who thought of themselves as being at the beginning, who insisted that their drawings had a whole new world in them. And so I would have to argue against myself.
WINTERS: Well, except that the Russians were so bound up with the idea of creating a transcendental world. I think that the issue is, how do you make another possible world out of this very world, an isomorphic world. The point is that it’s the process of drawing and the pragmatics of working that produce new images. You have to make it-there’s no substitute for being on the job.
WIGLEY: But, even if I were to agree with you, and to confess that, when I write, I must draw, and I’m trained to draw, and I can only draw, I can only write after making little structural drawings of how the argument will be and so on-I think that we still don’t know. I think that that’s recording, it’s still recording a trace of an organization as distinct from generating it. It’s a kind of documentation, for me a kind of memory device. And we could consider art movements as being at the same level. But they are recorders and seismographs, they don’t produce earthquakes. Right?
WINTERS: Well, they might produce something that is comparable to an earthquake. I mean, where does an earthquake come from? It just comes from different intensities that are changing the course of the geologic structure.