PROJECT SPACE / 29 April to 19 May 2011
Six New Zealand-based artists engage with the idea of diagram as a generative tool. Diagramconsiders the diagrammatic as a key modality, not simply for two-dimensional art forms, but also sculpture, video and performance-based practices.
I think of life as a kind of diagram or flow chart that is experienced as a series of events made up of the repetitive and the unexpected. Both these elements—repetition and surprise—can cause change or a reconfiguration of the component parts of what makes up a life. There is a linear aspect to this because that is how time is measured, yet there is a sense that surrounding that are a vast array of possibilities; simultaneities and cross-overs with other situations, information and others' lives in a variety of contexts.
Picture this diagrammatically—with sets and subsets, offshoots and tangents that shift and reconfigure depending on time, place, situation and decisions taken. This kind of diagram is not necessarily something fixed, but rather a mechanism that fixes things for a time, creating or marking a set of relationships. Equally it can stand as an approach to looking and thinking.
Diagrams are not limited to being two-dimensional symbolic representations of information. A diagram may order information but it can also be 'a vehicle for destabilisation and discovery. The word diagram comes from the Greek diagramma—that which is marked out by lines—and yet in his essay Diagrams as Piloting Devices in the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, Kenneth J. Knoespel expands on this meaning by suggesting that
The root verb of diagramma means not simply something which is marked out by lines, a figure, form or plan, but also carries a secondary connotation of marking or crossing out.1
The act of figuring and refiguring creates a genealogy of figures. Knoespel goes on to say: 'From a phenomenological vantage point, the Greek setting of diagram suggests that any figure that is drawn is accompanied by an expectancy that it will be redrawn. [...] Here a diagram may be thought of as a relay. While a diagram may have been used visually to reinforce an idea one moment, the next it may provide a means of seeing something never seen before.'2
In A Thousand Plateaus Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari refer to the diagram as playing a piloting role. Deleuze and Guattari discuss the diagram or the near identical 'abstract machine' as something that deterritorialises causing elements to cross thresholds. 'The diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality.'3 Deleuze and Guattari go on to add that diagrammaticism is not a self-evident undertaking, but that it involves 'creative lines of flight' spinning off into reorder, from which other lines of flight emerge.4
By their very purpose and nature, diagrams are drawn and redrawn. They chart and pilot, bringing about shifts in territories that in turn bring about further shifts making new terrains and relationships.
Maddie Leach's A History of the Precious Metals: from the Earliest Times to the Present and Alchemy, ancient and modern: being a brief account of the alchemistic doctrines, and their relations, to mysticism on the one hand, and to recent discoveries in physical science on the other hand are diagrams made with the mind mapping software XMind. Leach's use of XMind began with her using it as it was intended—a tool for thinking through complex projects. She initially used it to map relationships between disparate pieces of collected information to better understand them and the influences that each component might have on the others. The diagrams created with XMind were not intended to be works in their own right. However, Leach has ended up with another thing entirely; the mechanism itself has become a territory to investigate.
For Diagram Leach presents a set of relationships that are based on her new, and idiosyncratic, interest in gold. The work vaguely charts two narratives—one from Alexander Del Mar's 1880 classic A History of the Precious Metals: from the Earliest Times to the Present, the other H. Stanley Redgrove's Alchemy, ancient and modern: being a brief account of the alchemistic doctrines, and their relations, to mysticism on the one hand, and to recent discoveries in physical science on the other hand. Borrowing their chapter titles, and using images sourced through iStockphoto.com, Leach reinscribes these historical accounts through the ruthlessly simplified form of the XMind diagram. Leach's eccentric schematics may give us the illusion of information presented in a diagrammatic, readable form, but what can the viewer get from them? Are they informative and useful? Or do they simply appear that way because we recognise their form as one that serves to deliver information?
History is the past authored and it is narrated, written and rewritten by participants, onlookers and their descendents. Leach's efforts leave us no better informed and even uncertain about the veracity and fixity of the diagram itself.
Karin van Roosmalen's work Souvenir of Petra also reinscribes the past, in particular her personal experience of the ancient Jordanian city of Petra. The work contains a series of folds and re-inscriptions. The sculpture, first made and shown in the Engine Room gallery in November 2008 was made after van Roosmalen's trip to Petra during her visit to the Middle East region in May 2008.5 Made six months after van Roosmalen returned, Souvenir of Petra was a stylisation and memorialisation of the place filtered by her return home and her memories of the trip. Now, 22 months after the travel and 15 months after its original exhibition, it has been reconfigured. Van Roosmalen's interest in place and its construction, already inherent in this work in its original exhibition, is layered further through the reconfigured and re-exhibited piece. As van Roosmalen expects to return to the region in mid 2010 her reconfiguration here carries with it the possibility of a re-inscription of her experience at a later date. In fact Souvenir of Petra has become its own genealogy of figures.
Like van Roosmalen, both Simon Morris and Emma Febvre-Richards inscribe and reinscribe. However their activity is more overtly process oriented. Morris's Daily Paintings imply linearity yet they aren't a rigorous not-to-be-missed daily exercise. The Daily Paintings began during a period in 2009 when Morris was developing a body of work for a specific exhibition. For Morris 'the process of making these paintings became important as a way of focusing and preparing for a days work. [...] After completing this process I would move on to other types of paintings, the main part of the project as such.'6
Each stripe represents a period of time spent working—each studio stint Morris paints the entire area to the right of the last stripe, leaving the one from the previous visits but covering the rest of the canvas. Progressing from left to right Morris ends up with a gradation of colour density that manifests in five vertical stripes on a completed canvas.
The Daily Paintings are cumulative activity made visible. Within them they contain a notion of time that creates a space of contemplation and of activity both for the viewer and the artist. Morris says: 'My interest in noting time in this way is that it suggests there is also a passage of time involved in conceiving the work, planning and preparing, then also the time in which the work sits in the memory of the viewer after the viewing experience.'7
Emma Febvre-Richards work Rituals 1 developed from her heavily timetabled life. Unlike Morris, its genesis was not a studio exercise, but it is a way of working that is structured and worked into the demands of daily life. Febvre-Richards has referred to the process as a 'forced spontaneity'. The 21 pieces of Rituals 1 all developed from one spontaneous beginning where Febvre-Richards got an A3 piece of paper put it in a tray, added a paint-covered marble and rolled it around on the paper. Febvre-Richards scanned this template and then methodically set about working on the drawing with Illustrator software going from left to right in hour-long blocks of time, changing all the curved lines to straight ones. Febvre-Richards's imposition of the ordered line onto the spontaneous curve brings about a transformation which has an inherent association of logic and analysis. Once the lines were created digitally, the drawing was then etched laser cut onto a piece of paper. Each hour-long block of time is one piece of paper. The work describes the 21 hours it took Febvre-Richards to digitise and straighten the lines made by the trajectory of paint-covered marble. Like Morris's diagrammatic and temporal accumulation of time on each canvas, the 21 sheets of Rituals 1 accumulate the hours spent on each section—the first sheet contains the marks inscribed in one hour, the last all 21 hours.
The work becomes a diagram of 21 hours of Febvre-Richards' time, and like both Morris's and van Roosmalen's work, contains within it unspecific diaristic inscriptions presented as a relay of figures.
Jenny Gillam's work Frank, The Engine Room, Tracks 1 & 2 offers a similar approach to space and time as she filmed her dog Frank wandering around in the empty Engine Room gallery space. Gillam placed two fixed cameras in the gallery to track Frank as he charted the space. From what we know about dogs Frank's trajectory is one that is influenced by smell. His movements are governed by something that the viewer can not share and so they may seem as random as the rolling marble. Through his movement, Frank is charting the space, forming his own diagram that for us is defined by his movement although the real impetus for it remains unknown. Frank's activity is solitary and contemplative. He wanders through the space, in and out of view, at times leaving us with an empty space. For the exhibition the screens are placed roughly where the lenses were aimed giving the viewer a corresponding physical relationship to the space that is confounded by a sense of temporal dislocation. Recorded and re-presented in the space as it is, the work hints at other experiences of a place and of different trajectories through space.
Similarly David Cross's Pump diagrams relationships between bodies and space. In this case the physical, mental and emotional experience of sharing a contrived space with another person. Cross presents video documentation of the performance in Croatia in June 2009. Placed in front of the video is the yellow inflatable object that creates the performance.
Cross's interest in the psychology of space and proximity to others challenges assumptions and personal boundaries that until approached may not be conscious. The shared activity of the two people with their heads inside of the object is one that operates with a simultaneous intimacy and distance. The experience of having one's head inside the confines of the object cuts you off from the space your body is occupying. It places the participants in close proximity but with a partial and frustrated view of only one eye of the other person;, verbal communication is not possible. The body of each person remains external to this space, making it vulnerable even, as participants cannot see what is happening outside of the inflatable. The body exists outside of the object, and while the head is physically enclosed, the experience is governed by the psychology of the intimate yet isolated connection with the other participant. The experience brings about a re-inscription of the connection or relationship between body and mind in the individual which is then complicated further by the relationship to the other participant.
Equally as temporal and experiential, Eugene Hansen's City Tours - Remix rearranges noise into a one off soundscape. Hansen's audio performance contains the diagrammatic as a piloting device that enables rearticulation or reinscribing of things that came before—in short the remix. City Tours - Remix is derived from earlier source material of Hansen's that can be understood as sonic mapping of routes through Wellington City developed for a collaborative project with Kaleb Bennett in 2009. For City Tours - Remix the sounds and the routes they correspond to are chopped and remixed for one location, the Engine Room. Hansen's mechanism for delivering this remixed mapped sound also contains the reinscribed within its construction. Some of the audio circuits used are custom made by Hansen from circuit diagrams downloaded from the Internet and modified for his use.
Hansen's interest in the use of remixing to reformat and redistribute hinges on an interventionist aspect that allows these practices and processes to recreate or redraw existing narrative structures. Remixing and customisation are classic deterritorialising devices with which Hansen sets in motion a series of lines of flight.
For all the readings of the works made under the countenance of Diagram, the exhibition itself is of course diagrammatic. To return to Knoespel, concepts can work as 'extensions of diagrams and begin to work within imagined mental landscapes.'8 We construct narratives, sets, subsets and tangents from what we are given. Our cognitive activity suggests connections and relationships, inscribing and reinscribing meaning. It is precisely the openness of the diagrammatic that allows influence from outside itself that makes it a useful approach. It provides notional order but remains open to infinite possibilities of connection.
This essay accompanied the 2010 Diagram exhibition at The Engine Room at Massey University, New Zealand. It was abridged for the 2010 Project Space exhibition.
1 Kenneth J. Knospel, 'Diagrams as Piloting Devices in the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze,' in Theorie - Litterature - Enseignement: Deleuze-Chantier, Centre de Recherces sur la Litterature et la Cognition, Presses Universitaires de Vicennes, Saint-Denis, 2001, pp.146-147. See also Online Etymology Dictionary http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=diagram accessed 5 March 2010.
2 Ibid Knoespel p.148
3 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Continuum, London, 2004 edition (first published in French in 1980) p.157
4 Ibid p.158
5 Van Roosmalen visited Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt; Amman, Petra, Madaba and Jerash in Jordan; Damascus and Palmyra in Syria and Beirut and Zahle in Lebanon, both to meet with family and to connect with the region.
6 Simon Morris from email correspondence 4 March 2010.
7 Simon Morris in Dr. Martin Patrick Folding Water http://tworooms. co.nz/exhibitions/simon-morris09/ accessed 28 February 2010.
8 Ibid Knoespel p.149