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Entries in drawings (4)

Wednesday
Jul292015

David Birchall: Sound Drawings, 2012-2013

David Birchall. Bird Song Drawing for Psychic Dancehall Magazine 5. Drawn in Leicester August 2010

Drawing to birds as the sound track.  David Birchall's Bird Song Book uses pencil marks on paper to write the sound of birds.  There is text, in english, a running commentary of being out where birds are, and then it all becomes clusters of small noises.  

Another series, Sound Drawings (white ink, black paper) also uses the small scratch mark written language of birds combined with english language notations of place and mind; bird song and bird presence punctuate Birchall's thoughts, which in turn intervene in the continuity of bird life.  

These drawings inform Tacita Dean's inscribed cloud drawings — phrases from books, from everyday speech interrupt the process of drawing – they interrupt the perception of the drawn image as representation, returning the chalk marks to just that: marks, like letters that we ascribe value to.  Birchall's drawings are of sound, not the things that produce sound, so in looking at them, the degree of representation is not visual but audial.  

I'm no longer sure whether we are a logocentric people, where language and parole, text and textuality, register all the layers of meaning and interaction we need to know about.  Although both Dean and Birchall are film-makers, not writers in the traditional sense, both are drawing a language, one in english, the other in bird.  

David Birchall. b11, Sound Drawings (Leicester, Skipton, Edale) 2012-2013 (white ink, black paper) Made between August 2012 and October 2013 all the drawings record passing of time and sounds as heard from single spots in the midlands and north of England.

Thursday
Mar262015

cloudscape: Richard Serra

Richard Serra. Corner Prop No.8 (Orozco and Siqueiros) 1983 Cor ten steel (2 plates) Upper plate: 182 x 191 x 6.3 cm 71¾ x 75¼ x 2½" Lower plate: 145 x 150 x 6.3 cm 57 x 59 x 2½"

I suppose it dates me, as does so much in this journal, to like Richard Serra's work.  This piece was in an exhibition in the 1980s of Serra and Keifer at the Saatchi Gallery – can't think of two more powerful artists at the time – it was overwhelming.  

This particular set of works was all about balancing extremely heavy sheets of steel in configurations that leant against the gallery walls, or against each other.  It was dangerous, fragile, deceptively still.  A heavy lead pipe sagged quietly in a corner.  The gallery rooms were small, silent, all that metal lying not quite inert. 

This drawing, however, from 1972, being just oil stick on paper, races off the page.

Richard Serra, Untitled, 1972-1973, Paintstick on paper, 37-13/16 x 50", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase with funds from Susan Morse Hilles, 74.10, © Richard Serra, Photo: Sheldan C. Collins.Have always seen Serra's work as a series of registrations: of land, of physical forces, of structural properties – that intersection of a natural world of weather, people and, usually, civilised urban spaces and Serra's great slabs that in interrupting the natural order we never think about, actually point it out, heighten it, makes us think about the drones in the gallery system installing these dangerous works, or the office workers whose ant-like paths across the plaza are diverted, annoyed, or the allegedly neutral walls, floors and spaces of the gallery or museum which are forced into strenuous support of a temporary installation. The work is so structurally and formally engaged that it forces us to engage with it.

Monday
Jan122015

more cavalry

Mounted warriors pursue enemies. Illustration of Rashid-ad-Din's Gami' at-tawarih. Tabriz, first quarter of the fourteenth century. Water colours on paper. Original size: 17.5 cm x 25.8 cm. Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Orientabteilung, Diez A fol. 70, p. 59.

And we return to a depiction not unlike the ledger drawings.  Although the previous post's image from the 1371 Manual of Horsemanship and Military Practice shows the mounts bouncing towards each other like something from Thelwell, these horses are intent, flying flat out, gory scenes of death and dismemberment along the way.

My goodness, here is a forum all about historical martial arts – horses, armour, speed, distance and the length of your stirrups. This should explain it all, she said hopefully.

There is great interest in historic warfare and accurate re-enactments, and much debate about, among other countless details, such things as whether Parthian horses stirred up such clouds of dust that the Romans couldn't actually see where they were. Maybe.  'Chiron' (Lieutenant) says some would be making dust while others waited for their riders to restock their arrow quivers.  This level of logistical detail seems to go on for pages as discussion shifts from the gait used to get to the battle to whether all the horses arrived together or not; this is for an army that existed from 247 BC to 224 AD, in what is now Iran.  The Parthian empire covered pretty much all the middle east countries racked by war today, from Afghanistan to Georgia, Iraq to Turkey.  

The Art of War, from Sun Tzu, is a treatise on tactics and strategies that have changed little in the fifteen centuries since it was written.  Reading this and Clausewitz's early nineteenth century On War, one realises that war is a texture, layered but ultimately predictable as certain strategies reoccur throughout the centuries and appear, depressingly, in contemporary campaigns.  Politics change, as do the issues that prompt warfare, but the actual fighting is always aiming and killing, at various scales and speeds.

Thursday
Jan082015

Cavalry

Winslow Homer. The War for the Union - Cavalry Charge, printed in Harper's Weekly 5 July 1862

There is that relationship between battle and horses that held up until the second world war, cavalry units converting to tank units after the first world war.  There are dreadful stories of horses requisitioned from all over Britain, family horses to milk float dobbins to percheron teams, for the Front, poor things.  Cavalry horses were supposedly a special kind, mythologised in War Horse, but were often just whatever horse was available that hadn't been killed in the previous battle.  One suspects PTSD for animals is not much considered, most of the references to PTSD are about the role of horses in rehabilitating PTSD veterans.  The BBC did a program on horses in WWI. It is tragic, their bravery.

Drawings and paintings of cavalry charges such as this one, just 6 years before the battle of Little Bighorn, differ greatly from the ledger drawings of the previous post.  Here it is all heroics and glory and a large number of blades swinging about in the air.  This wood etching by Winslow Homer for Harper's Weekly was the equivalent of the war photograph of today.  Of course being a drawing licence can be taken.  No blood gushes, it can only be imagined – all those sabres are landing somewhere.  Being a civil war, it was brother against brother; the 'enemy' was like you just wearing a different coloured jacket.  Does it have to happen?  

Some essential reading: James Meek reviews four books on the British Army in Afghanistan (London Review of Books, Vol. 36 No. 24 · 18 December 2014) – many things we did not hear: Basra was an underfunded defeat, the subsequent transfer to Afghanistan was both face-saving and under the aegis of the Americans, Helmand province where they were based had 150-year old active memories of the last British debacle on the Northwest Frontier, British performance was mostly defensive under near-constant fire from local groups.  This isn't quite how it was told sold to us.  I'm waiting for the equivalent analyses of the Canadian record in Khandahar. We didn't have the oppressive prestige of the British Army that had maintained the Empire and all that now-superseded stuff, but the situation in Khandahar province was most likely just as manipulated, just as treacherous.