What follows is a series of ways to observe and make statements about Tamarin Norwood’s exhibition ‘what the point is: the end of the line’, currently on show at SE8 Gallery, London. The text of this review begins in this way, logically but obscurely, in the spirit of the show. Texts produced by the artist whilst the exhibition was being made and which are reproduced in a blog within the gallery website, describe the act of drawing conducted in blindness. This is both perfectly possible and paradoxical given that it is (supposed to be) a visual medium. Derrida asks, introducing his text on Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘On Touching’, if the privileging of one sense over others ‘risk losing sight of the measure of the work we are claiming to open up?’. The text of this review also begins with such caution. The exhibition comprises a number of works (twelve, plus the addition of another, and a performative tool) that pursue lines, their endings, and tools such as writing implements; tools that point or mark, or do both but not always at the same time. The works take on a role somewhere between experiments, demonstrations, performances, drawings and statements, and are largely affectless.
A series of statements and observations that follow from the works shown:
The pen and the cursor point towards the same point - a horizon-line of authorship.
Words and marks are directions of travel.
Light follows a course, and can be interrupted.
Words are written and spoken one after the other.
What is the point (which one is the point)?
The point is floating.
The notes that produced these wider notes already exceed the desired word count. They run into a series of observations of some of the works themselves:
The exhibition stages a variety of tools for pointing and marking in fragile diorama: a pen hangs from threads in the vicinity of a sheet of paper attached to a further sheet of card, also hanging ‘by a thread’ (double meanings run through the show, and mark the terminology used here to describe them – inverted commas could also have been placed around ‘point towards’ in the first paragraph of this review and ‘losing sight’ in the Derrida quote). This work, ‘Eye (i)’, is installed next to ‘Eye (ii), like a ship in the night)’, which is formed of a glass tube, also hanging, with a kind of cone attached to one end. The light from a video projector shines into one end, as if funnelled and is allowed to occasionally project a small point from the other end. This occasional projection occurs because both of these works are ‘activated’ or ‘operated’ by a domestic fan placed on the floor next to them. The hanging parts therefore sway, swinging the projection-tube, and swinging the pen, sometimes, on to the paper. The marks it makes are mostly near-horizontal lines.
The works resemble a private set of actions conducted in a studio, or a laboratory version of a studio, or an exhibited workshop for the ‘basic’ phenomena of visual and verbal practice (the medium of writing is deeply implicated or rather shown to be the form of drawing it is). Those works that show mark-making do so in forms that resemble notches. The notch is also a mark that might represent years of imprisonment or count romantic conquests. The works, however, do not anthropomorphise the mark-making, even to the extent of suggesting that they are directly, let alone expressively, the work of an artist. They are of an automatic but not very mechanical nature.
Along one wall of the space there is a kind of browsing-shelf that might display magazines but which is used to display a set of drawings, ‘Untitled (drawings with Sellotape)’. The shelf is mounted low to the ground, giving it the deliberate formality of curatorial placement (despite its informal nature – the drawings are not fixed or mounted, but held by a string). Each drawing is of (or comprised of) a line, over which a length of Sellotape has seemingly been laid, partly removed, and then re-laid, veering off into another direction on the paper. They slightly resemble the paintings on glass by Florian Pumhösl, ‘Fliegende Händler (Travelling Hawkers)’, that were shown in his two person show with Matthias Poledna at Raven Row. Their form is less definite, though, and prompts questions: Which is the line? The tape or the pencil? Or the string that holds the sheets of unframed paper to the shelf? Are they depictions of broken panes of glass? Are they representational at all? My computer wishes to change the brand-name ‘Sellotape’ to the word ‘tesselate’; the images do not. Or do they?
Above this work there is a small box mounted to the wall, missing its front-facing side. This contains one small part of an automatic pencil and a 3.5mm earphone jack; the work is titled ‘Beaks (ear, mouth)’. The automatic pencil is a strange hybrid object already, part pen and part pencil, and is also an ‘unexpressive’ pencil, used more for ‘technical drawing’ than ‘drawing’. ‘Technical drawing’ as a discipline is perhaps less existent than it was in pre-computer design, a kind of ‘lost art’. Extrusions and isometric views have been made virtual and mobile, and are no longer seen by designers and architects in quite the same way, growing into life line by line (although virtual representations of technical plans offer a fully-flighted birds eye view). The word ‘jack’ has too many possible double meanings to have room to discuss here.
The video work ‘Beckon (i, there there)’ shows an eye, and a beckoning finger touching the eye and its lashes. The video almost shows the eyelashes lashing and whipping. The gesture of beckoning is usually addressed to another, with the hand and fingers out in space. Here it happens to and by the beckoner. The spoken element of the title, ‘There there’, is an idiomatic way of comforting another but here it is also another means of pointing: there; there.
A series of observations on the works as installed together:
The alliteration that runs through the titles (beak, beacon, beckon, beaker etc, and ‘beam’ which is not actually among them but might be considering the pieces that use light) remind the viewer of the names of ‘Bic’ and ‘Biro’, the inventors of some of the kinds of the writing implements present here. Both names were adapted by slight removal of their elements for commercial purposes; the ‘h’ from ‘Bich’ and the Hungarian accents from László József Bíró‘s name. Taken as a list or integral text of its own, the list of works in the exhibition is a similar set of slight removals, shifts and substitutions in language. In terms of double meanings, losing a letter is a break in a series of correspondence and losing one or more accents is a break in expressive potential.
Norwood was previously a student of the Goldsmiths ‘Art Writing’ MFA course, and indeed has a concurrent writing and research practice (which is reflected in the archival materials collected in one of the gallery’s display cabinets as well as the website texts). But the works in this exhibition also propose a more seamless and much less rigidly marked link between the visual and the verbal, in that they suggest the affectless and expressionless nature of much ‘uncreative writing’ (might Kenneth Goldsmith’s term be adapted to ‘uncreative drawing’?); ‘words writing’ rather than a ‘writer writing’. The absence of a writer is staged in the video work ‘Beacon (I)’, which shows a blinking cursor (the capital ‘I’ in the title turns from numerical ‘figure’ to being a depiction of the cursor itself). Cursive handwriting is joined up; words written via a cursor are not. The term derives from currere, to run; to deliver the message. But the blinking cursor stutters and does not write. The medium of ‘art writing’ is already loosely defined in literary terms and declares its intentions even less in these visual equivalents. The titles and the actions of the works exist in reference and adjustment more to themselves than to expressed meanings.
Shifted terms and meanings form the title(s) of the 7” record that accompanies the show, ‘Drawing Round Things’. The two sides of the record (which is a pair of recordings of the sound of lines being marked) are called ‘Drawing Round (Things)’ and ‘Drawing (Round Things)’. This piece was introduced during an event after the opening of the show, which also featured a spoken performance of a text by the artist. The record is a record of the drawing around of things, and the drawing of round things. A record is round, although its grooves are a scratchy spiral.
The installed works exist on a published gallery map, showing their locations, but this map has already been exceeded. A tall stepladder, used when replacing the water in ‘Beakers (mouth, mouth)’ now remains as a latent and occasionally used tool. Water is poured into one plastic beaker, high above the ground, which drips through a hole into another beaker on the floor. Another work, ‘Beakers (ear, mouth)’, uses similar plastic beakers but which are connected by string, a simple communication device (and another line) along which sound-waves travel. The record player (whose stylus resembles a nib, of course), amplifier and speakers used to play the 7” record during its launch event also now remain.
These additions fit within the restless scheme of the show, which is not exactly a display of stable, finished works, nor is it a simulated workshop of studio activity. The works are more like ongoing, present-tense events, made using materials and media more often used in making records for posterity – this is especially true of those tools that draw lines.
The more ‘sculptural’ works are in fact large-scale metaphorical blowups of what make pens pens and pencils pencils – both ‘Beacon (ii)’ and ‘Eye (ii, like ship in the night)’ are devices that make the passage of light into ‘things that draw lines’. Almost all the objects make a neutral resistance to being spoken of, however, in terms of mark-making in the haptic or manual sense. They are neatly bodiless, even those that directly refer to or feature the body, which many of the works do in their titles at least.
The point has been to reach the end of this line.