Drawing : Sculpture
The Drawing Room
14 February - 6 April 2013
Review by Ariane Belisle
Inciting viewers to revisit their preconceived definitions of both drawing and sculpture, the Drawing : Sculpture exhibition at the Drawing Room brings together twenty-one works by seven international contemporary artists who explore interconnections between the media. Vacillating between linearity and three-dimensionality, the pieces investigate whether the languages of drawing and sculpture are now intertwined or simply exist in parallel.
Since its initial theorisation, drawing has delicately woven its way through the history of sculpture. Throughout the Renaissance, sculptors adopted drawing as a preparatory or auxiliary practice. Centuries later, Julio González, Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder released sculpture from its erstwhile monumentality by ‘drawing in space’. In the early 1960s, this transmedial union rode the tide of purity and autonomy thrown at it by Minimalism, and perhaps only stood aside when confronted with Post-minimalism’s deconstruction of sculptural form in the late 1960s. While media hybridity has intermittently punctured the history of art, there has been a notable resurgence of interest in drawing and sculpture’s boundlessness in the twenty-first century. Contemporary artists are now shrewdly working across various disciplines, as medium specificity has been rendered anachronistic.
Far from restrictive, Drawing : Sculpture includes sculptural works that extend beyond drawing’s familiar realm of linearity, exploring four alternative parallels between the two practices - namely, structure, scale, surface and slightness. The first room exhibits works by Sara Barker, Knut Henrik Henriksen, Alice Channer and Bojan ‘arcevic. Barker’s skeletal structures investigate imaginary, mnemonic and literary spaces, whilst Henriksen and Channer’s oeuvres are anchored in their physicality, as they interrogate structural and architectural notions of scale. ‘arcevic’s fragile arrangements of wooden sticks and human hair appropriate drawing’s persistent slightness through the inclusion of prosaic materials. The second room displays two works by Aleana Egan and another piece by ‘arcevic. Akin to Barker, Egan borrows drawing’s linearity to articulate linguistic and visual structures; the lines are neither figurative nor non-referential but rather hint at spaces and emotions without representing them. The third and final room showcases Anna Barriball and Dan Shaw-Town’s employment of graphite mark-making and the consequential transformation of the surface of paper. Their vociferous focus on method and process is offset by the inclusion of rectilinear shapes, serialisation and the Minimalist grid; paper becomes a supple and malleable entity that transcends its role as a vessel for pictorial impetus and morphs into a tangible experience. Through the use of humble materials, such as wood, paper, charcoal, graphite, aluminium, steel, watercolour, tape, felt, fabric, brass, thread and rubber, the facture process is immediately apparent in all the works. Vacillating between formalism and conceptualism, a unique dynamism between the art’s material surface and its linearity is established.
Unified under an expansive overarching theme, the exhibited artworks converse in harmony from an aesthetic perspective, creating a visual ribbon of dialogue that runs through the gallery. The various undercurrents of Drawing : Sculpture are perhaps more difficult to discern. With the exception of the final room which clearly provides visitors with a cohesive argument as Barriball and Shaw-Town both lend a pictorial quality to the surface of their works, the first two rooms are left to explore the many other facets of this transmedial union. Hence, the initial spatial division seems haphazard and the display of works, random. The exhibition’s fragmented structure is magnified through the absence of supporting information in the gallery, as few tools are provided to help visitors successfully navigate the space. This lack of focus spurs viewers to address their own subjectivity, but can ultimately trigger a sense of confusion. While Drawing : Sculpture gestures towards meaning, sub-thematic disparities dominate the space. As a result, the premise does not resound throughout the exhibition but rather whispers and hints at a greater rationale.
This apparent lack of thematic linearity is perhaps exacerbated by the deracination of the exhibition from its historical framework. Initially shown at the Leeds Art Gallery, Drawing : Sculpture was presented alongside twentieth-century works by Martin Boyce, Alexander Calder, Lynn Chadwick, Barry Flanagan, Martin Naylor, Eva Rothschild and Alison Wilding. This successful juxtaposition reiterated the historical relationship between the practices of drawing and sculpture, and provided a frame through which the contemporary works could be viewed. Stripped of this historical context, the Drawing Room exhibition confronts visitors with its marked removal from the history in which the show’s premise is so deeply entrenched.
As one walks around Barker’s transmuting structures, the various components of their delicate frames simultaneously coalesce and disappear while permeating the space with evanescent shadows. In many ways, Drawing : Sculpture does just this, as the show’s premise sways in and out of view, imbuing the rooms with transient meaning. While the curatorial context may not be successfully communicated to visitors, sensory experience is privileged as the artworks take centre stage.