Line/Extended: Material doodles and drawing through space

In Line/Extended, artists including Rosana Antolí, Lucy Brown, George Eksts, Jane Grisewood, and Andrea V. Wright explore the potential for the two-dimensional, drawn line to be embodied in three-dimensional space. Drawing, for Lucy Brown, is primarily “a tool to map or plan a space”, and here, that mapping is extended across all three axes, into three-dimensional space. Up and down are extended into forward and backward: lines move across and along, and bridge the spaces in between.

These linear paths take the eye on a series of journeys, some direct and purposeful, as in Andrea V. Wright’s Vertical Ascension, and some meandering and exploratory, as in Rosana Antolí, Chaos Dancing Cosmos. We might divide these three-dimensional lines into two categories: those drawn by Antolí and Grisewoodflourishes that explore space with gesture, or in the words of Paul Klee, that “go for a walk”; and those drawn by Wright and Brown’s, that assertively direct the eye towards destinations or intersections, “more like a series of appointments than a walk” (Ingold 2007, 72-73).

The various installations are perhaps more akin to doodling than drawing. They have the chaos and repetitiveness of a doodle, drawn absent-mindedly or meditatively. Antolí describes drawing as the product of a “direct”, “automatic connection” between her mind and the page, that can take place without the planning or forethought that is needed for the production of a figurative image. For Jane Grisewood in particular, the meditative process of drawing over a large vertical surface, with her eyes closed, is a meditative process that draws her attention inwards for the 2-hour duration of her performance.

Jane Grisewood, Blind Lines, 2019, performance drawing.

The rubber piping of Rosana Antolí’s Chaos Dancing Cosmos loops through the air in the main part of the gallery. It is impossible not to make comparisons to Antony Gormley’s Clearing VII (2009), currently on display at the Royal Academy. Gormley’s work similarly explores drawing in space, with an 8km aluminium line that loops around a gallery space. Where Antolí’s work differs is the lightness and flexibility of her line, and the addition of movement. Three loops, attached to motors, rotate periodically to nudge the line into life. The movement causes the coiled line to become a sleeping entity that occasionally stirs and then drifts back to sleep.

Rosana Antolí, Chaos Dancing Cosmos, 2016-19, Rubber piping and motors

Antolí’s loop appears to have no beginning and no end, no point of origin, and no supporting structure. It hangs in space, suspended as if floating like a scribble in the middle of a blank page. As the light outside the gallery dims, the shadows anchor the rubber piping to the gallery’s surfaces, tracing a path on the wall in a two-dimensional scrawl that this sculpture could have been if confined to a flat page. In contrast to its flat shadow, the sculpture encloses and traps space. It asserts its three-dimensionality and physicality.

Physicality leads to the transformation of visual characteristics into tactile or physical properties. Visual weight is manifested as physical weight: Antolí’s rubber piping floats in mid air, with its lightness allowing its lines to twist and curve in all directions; in Lucy Brown’s Offerings, the weight of the ribbons is visible in their straightness, as gravity has stretched them taught; in George Eksts’s video, Shorthand, lines are so heavy and slippery that their weight causes them to slide downwards, until out of frame, with one end trailing its wormlike tail behind it, until the whole line has slipped out of view.

Andrea V. Wright, Vertical Ascension, 2016-17, Steel, wood, paint, tape, pigment, and rubber.

Andrea V. Wright explicitly explores weight in her installation, Vertical Ascension, an interlocking arrangement of straight lines and sharp apexes in wood and steel. In black tape, Wright has traced the sculpture’s shadows on two adjoining walls, so that the installation overall presents a maximalist configuration of intersecting two- and three-dimensional lines, some affixed to planes, and others projecting into space.

This interplay of 2D and 3D, space and shape, “strength and fragility”, is, for Wright, “a play of opposites”. It is sometimes unclear which parts of this chaotic mix are flat, and which are sculptural. The black tape extends into the air between the two walls, bridging the space between them; white painted sections of the sculpture blend into the white plane of the wall, slicing areas of negative space through the lines of black tape. These optical illusions create uncertainty about the size of the installation, as if the lines might extend beyond the external limits of the space that contains them.

Further unexpected opposites are brought together in Lucy Brown’s “You will miss me when I go” and “Waisted/wasted” (Offerings, 2012-2019). Brown employs soft materials in the creation of rigid, straight lines that connect surface to surface. Grey ribbons converge on samples of woven old, and second-hand materials. Pulled taught, these ribbons appear stiff and even architectural, but as they pass through the woven fabric, they soften, and are allowed to drape. Continuous lines are enabled, with reference to sewing or dressmaking, by pins that bond shorter lengths of ribbon.

Brown’s work references not the drawn line but the sewn or woven line, which is traditionally both planar and three-dimensional, wrapping around objects to adopt the form of a supporting structure. By stretching ribbons across space, and attaching their ends to a solid surface, Brown has given her lines the capacity the hold their own shape, without any dependence on a supporting structure.

Even in three-dimensional space it seems difficult to escape the idea that the purpose of a line is to connect two points. Brown’s work connects wall to floor, and floor to ceiling; in Eksts’s Shorthand, the tail has no choice but to be dragged along behind the head; in Wright’s Vertical Ascension, lines are continuous, but travel through clearly defined points, or corners, along the way. Line/Extended, does, however, make some progress towards realising the potential for three-dimensional space to liberate lines from this condition. Open space, unlike the page, has the potential to extend infinitely, and therefore, a line in space need not be contained like a line on the page. Shadows cast by sculpted lines have the potential to infinitely extend a three-dimensional line across space, a potential that is highlighted in Wright’s Vertical Ascension, where tape bridges the gap between one surface and another. The title of Antolí’s Chaos Dancing Cosmos hints at this potential too, conjuring up images of a line that can dance endlessly through infinite space, casting itself out into the cosmos.

References

Ingold, Tim (2007), Lines: A Brief History, New York: Routledge.


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