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Trace: Experimental Drawing
Trace Mission Statement
Situated in a world where we have the capacity to instantly record images of life around us, Trace artists still ponder the relevance of drawing in contemporary contexts.
Trace artists assert that drawing is a trace of human physicality and of human sensibility.
Our inherent mark making capabilities still provide meaning making potential in this Age of Mechanical & Digital Reproduction.
Trace artists make enlivened marks.
Trace artists challenge and provoke the definition of drawing.
Trace artists affirm traditions of drawing.
Trace artists are in a constant state of unfolding and becoming.
Trace artists are aware of being aware.
Trace artists articulate inner directionalities.
Trace artists index the past to articulate the future.
Trace artists get messy.
Trace artists overcome passive viewership and sterilized surfaces. Trace artists play with remnants and residues.
Trace artists immerse themselves in processes of making.
Trace artists surrender themselves to rhythmic agitation.
Trace artists find revolution in intersections and overlaps.
Trace artists break the boundaries of the page.
Trace artists embrace the possibilities of space.
Trace artists embrace the possibilities of time.
Trace artists use drawing to trace the trajectories of life.
Trace Faculty: Danny Peña, Jessica Rogawski, Valerie White
Director: Olivia Gude
Seeing Into Ink'd String
As a way to investigate meaning making through the artistic practices of the Surrealist International, the Trace artists were invited to activate their creative unconscious in engaging with new artistic strategies. The day consisted of several activities employing the use of these strategies in varying contexts to allow the student artists to adapt a new way to make meaning.
As a part of exercising these artistic practices, the Tracers were introduced to the Paranoiac Critical Method, or a new way of seeing into imagery in efforts to illicit content for art-making from otherwise untapped parts of their unconscious mind. Used by many of the artists associated with the Surrealist movement, this method emphasizes the importance of creative play as a way to appease the anxieties often experienced in beginning art. In addition, the Trace artists were shown a collection of Surrealist work by artists such as Roberta Matta, Wilfredo Lam, and André Mason in support of their investigation of these artistic practices with an emphasis on the surreal character.
As a final project of the day, the Trace artists used this seeing into method to “see into” an ink string print. The prints were created by saturating string in black ink to create an ambiguous form on paper. In the process, two prints were produced which created a mirrored image. The Tracers were given charcoal and colored chalk to create their work by using one of the prints. The second print was saved and placed adjacent to the artist’s final work as insight to the appearance of the original print.
“At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.”
Trace artists investigated the relationship between movement and mark making as a method to make meaning. It’s difficult to really understand the work of artists associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement (and mark making artists who preceded and followed them) without directly engaging in the power of making through moving.
To begin, the Trace artists engaged in a series of gestural exercises, experiencing the process of mark making through varying degrees of physical energy, forms, and directionalities. Through these exercises, the Trace artists experienced an “internal compass” that is specific and unique to each individual. The same exercises produce strikingly different results when artists are free to bring inherent bodily rhythms into the process of making. These warm-up exercises also worked to alleviate the anxiety often experienced in approaching abstract mark making. The artist doesn’t need to know what the artist is going to mark; the body knows.
Working with sticks of charcoal, the Trace artists produced energetic marks in response to the beat of a metronome. There is no slacking or lackadaisical mark making when the metronome sets (and speeds up) the pace. Each iteration of marking introduced new variables: duration, beats per minute, mark making tools, one and two-handed drawing. Responding to the challenge of physically keeping up, Trace artists forgot to be self-conscious, becoming conscious only of the relationships of sound, body, and mark.
Tracers then transitioned to the final portion of the project. Each artist chose a black, white or brown paper and the artist’s most comfortable marking tool—charcoal or oil pastel. This time the artists’ bodies directly engaged the paper as the artists positioned their bodies on the paper. The metronome, utilized in the warm up exercises, was replaced with the organic sound of a human heartbeat rising and settling from resting heart to rapid pulse to resting heart rate again. In 12 minutes of intense physicality, without repositioning their bodies, the Trace artists stretched, twisted and contorted as each used both hands to delineate the space around the body.
Scratching My Hair
based on Hair Today, a Contemporary Community Curriculum project
Continuing the exploration of expressive mark making, Trace artists transitioned from large, energetic marks to the smaller, more precise marks often needed in representational drawing. The Trace artists quickly realized that the bodily discipline gained in creating the large repetitive mark making drawings contributed to the ability to make controlled, densely drawn images.
Trace artists began the day with a Space Walking activity, based on an exercise designed by La Pocha Nostra, where artists circulated through the Drawing Studio, navigating amongst the easels, tables, stools and other obstacles. As they moved through space, they were directed to speed up or to slow down and to become increasingly aware of details in the space, such as an hithertofore unnoticed air vent, holes in the ceiling, or a bit of dust clinging to a corner. At the conclusion of the activity, the Trace artists each shared one observation about the space. It was fascinating to experience the familiar space as unfamiliar as the detailed unexpected observations accumulated.
Next, the Trace artists turned their attention to creating drawings of their hair. Hair was chosen as a subject matter because often emerging artists find it difficult to create credible hair drawings that don’t become mere scribbles of line, that are faithful to the form and texture of the hair. Trace artists were invited to adopt a new way of looking based on paying close attention to fine details, assessing the ways in which things really appear, and then devising elegant simplifications of complex forms.
The Trace artists also considered the visceral associations of hair in signifying the physicality of a human being, including such contemporary references of hair as a resource for testing for DNA or for drugs. A related image presentation introduced students to artists whose work is based in careful observation and representation, including Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh, Albrecht Durer, Hong Chun Zhang, So Yoon Lym, Winnie Truong and Glenn Brown. Trace also studied works by Adrian Piper, Jeanne Dunning, Ellen Gallagher and Lorna Simpson--artists whose work in various media—drawing, photography, collage and sometimes actual hair!— explores hair as evidence, hair as the source of many complex cultural associations.
Before beginning their hair drawings, the Trace artists engaged in warm up exercises similar to those in the Metronome Mark making project, but on a much smaller scale—reminding them that whether using large paper and charcoal or scratchboard and pens—the artist must maintain balance, focus, freedom, rhythm and control.
Using “back of the head” photographs taken on the first day of class, Trace artists then created unconventional self-portraits on scratchboard. Halfway through studio time, the artists took a step back from their pieces and observed how white marks on a black ground simulate the highlights on hair and then consciously varied the density of marks to depict form as well as texture.
Leave A Trace:
Détourned Paint Swatches
Trace artists were making strategy of détournement, invented by artists of the Situationist International as well as related contemporary methods such as culture jamming. Tracers began to understand détournement as a technique that was developed in order to turn expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself. Work by artists such as Asger Jorn, Michél Duchamp, Ron English, and Banksy generated discussion on artistic practices that question, interrogate, deconstruct, and challenge pre-existing systems of communication and representation.
The Trace artists created an art project that could be (re)inserted into a common commercial/aesthetic transaction—choosing amongst paint swatches in home improvement or hardware stores.
They deliberated the titles on paint swatches given to various colors. Who makes up these names? What is being sold along with color? The paint swatch chart became a site for inquiry and alteration. In contemplating the potential of alternative meanings generated from a color title, the Trace artists participated in Surrealist technique of Automatic Writing, a free association exercise in which one writes continuously without reflection or censoring—allowing personal and shared cultural associations to surface.
Concluding the automatic writing exercise, the artists identified emerging imagery from their free writing and developed an idiosyncratic image to render on the paint swatch (utilizing the scratchboard technique learned in the previous week). The image, transcribed onto the swatch, was created to interrogate, play, challenge, trouble, and/or alter the intended connotations of the color title.
These swatches were altered to then be re-circulated into everyday cultural/economic transactions. They will be reinserted into the racks of hues displayed in several paint departments around Chicago. Placed on the back of the paint swatch was a QR code, or a square barcode, which links to the Trace class website. The website contains an artist statement explaining the intent of the project written to those who discover the work in the hardware store. By leaving a trace of their art in an unexpected place, the Tracers affirm the potential for artists to transform the everyday, to create the possibility for wonder and surprise in unexpected places.
Leave No Trace:
Urban Art Interventions
Trace artists extended the deﬁnition of mark making to include marking urban spaces.
Rather than the expected methods of mark making by urban youth—spray paint, markers, stencils—the Trace artists left behind subtle traces in forgotten spaces that invite others to look more closely at their surroundings.
The Trace artists were shown a variety of artists whose working artistic practices involve interventions in spaces outside the context of the gallery or museum. Artwork by Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long, Nils Udo, and Robert Smithson generated discussion about site speciﬁcity and ephemerality in art. What does it mean to create a work of art that is non-permanent and that will deteriorate over time? What does it mean to document a work of art that will disappear over in a brief span of time?
The Trace artists partnered up and then left the conﬁnes of the Drawing Studio behind for nearby Harrison Field. Each team was issued a bag of multi-colored leaves and given the instruction, “You have 5 minutes. Make a work of art.” The partners ranged over the, at ﬁrst glance, uniform grass surface and were soon busy making installations. Visiting each others’ installations it was striking how much the artworks varied even though they were made with identical materials.
After this nearby warm up exercise, the Trace artists divided into three groups and wandered further a ﬁeld to a nearby vacant lot, an alley, or an out of the way space on the UIC Campus. These once unnoticed spaces now became places that were rich with possibility as the Trace artists surveyed the spaces with “art eyes.” The Trace artists added nothing to these found spaces. They merely rearranged that which was already found.
The space alterations were made, not by adding anything to the environment, but by rearranging found materials. Ultimately, these works will disappear without a trace, but for now keep your eyes open as you walk nearby. If your eyes are sharp, you may yet see a trace.
Drawing with Traces of Light
Embracing experimental drawing techniques, the Trace artists investigated light as a mark making material. The day began by studying work that utilizes photography as a way to capture action, including work by artists such as Bruce Nauman, Gjorn Mili, and Gary Schneider. Nauman exemplifies this notion in blurring the perimeters of performance work by using photography as means to record an event or happening. Mili and Schneider both “drew” with external light sources, but in very different and contrasting ways. Gjorn Mili’s photographs exist as records of his subjects, including Pablo Picasso, as the subjects drew with light. Schneider, on the other hand, had control of the light source in drawing with light over the surfaces of his subjects as they stood before him.
The Trace faculty facilitated a light drawing demonstration in which photographic terms were defined so that students understood how light is captured in photographic processes by means of aperture (size of opening through which light passes) and length of exposure (length of time light is let through). The students were then able to discuss how the manipulation of ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and exposure time work together in creating an image.
For their own light projects, the Tracers were given three open-ended prompts to use in approaching their light drawings––frame, rhythm, and choice. Each Trace artist made a work in which the artist framed his/her body with light. In another work, the Tracers created a still image of rhythm and movement. In the final, free choice photo, many Tracers recalled the methods of Gary Schneider and posed while directing a fellow artist to draw a portrait with a light moving across the surface of the face.
Trace In Motion-Making GIFs
The Trace artists embraced the tradition of the artist self-portrait in an age in which self-identity is understood to be always in the process of shifting, changing, and evolving. They used the familiar format of the many mini-animations on the Internet—the .GIF, graphic exchange format—
to capture their work.
Along with producing an interesting moving image, the project created the opportunity to examine the drawing process itself—considering transformation, movement and aftermath in the animated drawing.
The animated .GIFs were constructed by photographing a single drawing, making an erasure or change with charcoal, and then photographing the drawing again. This was repeated many times. The Drawing Studio was alive with energy as the Trace artists quickly altered images, carried the drawing to the photo set up and then quickly returned to make more changes and more photographs. The final animations exist as .GIF image files, compilations of all the photographs taken throughout the drawing process composed into a single digital file that is shown in a continuous loop.
The Tracers began the project with a portrait photograph taken on the first day of class. In creating the base, or starting, image for an animated .GIF, each Trace artist used the technique of image transfer to trace a contour self-portrait from the photograph. From this self-portrait tracing, the Tracers were invited to transform their drawings by incorporating various aspects of self, suggesting traces of other people, objects, places or experiences that they carry within themselves. The Trace artists enthusiastically embarked upon deconstructing and constructing a self-image through transformation, hybridity, and morphing as well as by surrendering themselves to the unexpected results of the unfolding process.
The Trace in Motion self-portrait project were created as GIFs using Adobe Photoshop.
On this portfolio the GIFs are represented in Quicktime files because Digication doesn't support GIFs. Doing this project again, I'd probably have the students create their final projects in both GIF and .mov formats so that they could compare uses and advantages of each format. P.S. You can also make GIFs with an app on tablets or phones.