Charting frustration

An interview with US artist, Christine Sun Kim.

An artist who channels her anger into pie charts
A series of her large-format charcoal drawings, which explore navigating the hearing world as a deaf person, are now on view at the 79th Whitney Biennial in New York. The six works pair depictions of varying mathematical angles with correlative, rage-inducing encounters that are both broadly applicable — “being given a Braille menu at a restaurant” or “offered a wheelchair at an airport” — and painfully specific to her experience — “curators who think it’s fair to split my fee with interpreters.”

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Channeling her experiences into images of geometric angles, musical notes and meme-like pie charts, Kim playfully combines different sign systems to create what she calls a “common language that all people can connect to.”

Da Vinci, the map maker

We’re familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s sculptural sketches and engineering diagrams, but he was an innovative cartographer too.

How Leonardo da Vinci made a “satellite” map in 1502
It was a feat of technological and symbolic imagination. And it was pretty accurate, too.

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This old map: Da Vinci’s plan of Imola, 1502
A map made by da Vinci would be interesting even if he hadn’t applied his fabled genius to the task. But here, he absolutely did. Besides this being a beautiful map, with its delicate colors and washes, it achieves a technical precision few others did at the time.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Da Vinci centered the plan in a circle with four crossing lines, representing the points on a compass. And he showed the city ichnographically, “as if viewed from an infinite number of viewpoints,” perhaps inspired by his study of avian flight. It is the earliest such map in existence.

Bringing old maps to life

The National Library of Scotland have combined historic, hand-drawn maps with the latest satellite elevation data, allowing you to explore these visualisations of landscapes like never before.

Scotland from above – our 3D map viewer with new vertical exaggeration
The standard practice of depicting relief in the 18th century was with hachures, lines with variable thickness with followed the direction of slope, and by combining the map with elevation data, the shape of the landscape can be seen more clearly. This example below focuses on the mountains of Suilven and Canisp in Assynt, with the Ordnance Survey’s one-inch “hills” edition (1885-1903), with brown hachures:

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The Edinburgh mapmakers, John Bartholomew & Son were famous for their use of layer-colouring, employing a palette of colours from greens closer to sea level to browns and sometimes whites for mountains. This view below looks north-east along Loch Tay, with the dramatic outline of the Ben Lawers ridge to the north:

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(Via Atlas Obscura)

Damien Hirst and Da Vinci in Leeds

Leeds plays host to two artists at completely opposite ends of the art world.

Damien Hirst homecoming announced for Yorkshire sculpture festival
The inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International festival on Wednesday announced plans to display in Leeds and Wakefield provocative works such as The Virgin Mother, a 10-metre high surgically flayed pregnant woman, and Black Sheep with Golden Horns, part of Hirst’s animals in formaldehyde series.

Hirst grew up in Leeds and followed in the giant footsteps of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore by going to Leeds Arts University, then called Jacob Kramer College.

He recalled happy, important visits to Leeds Art Gallery. “I never thought I’d ever be famous or considered important or anything like that, but seeing paintings by people like John Hoyland, Francis Bacon, Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi – alongside the aquarium and natural history stuff in the City Museum – opened my mind to art.”

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Meanwhile, at Leeds Art Gallery currently…

Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing
The Royal Collection holds the finest surviving group of Leonardo’s drawings – more than 550 sheets that have been together since Leonardo’s death, acquired by King Charles II around 1670. As paper is damaged by light, these drawings cannot be on permanent display.

So to mark this anniversary, we are collaborating with 12 museums and galleries to stage simultaneous exhibitions of Leonardo’s drawings across the United Kingdom from 1 February – 6 May.

The exhibition
12 of Leonardo’s sculptural drawings are presented at the home of sculpture at Leeds Art Gallery. Although none of Leonardo’s sculptures themselves survive, the drawings on display provide an unparalleled insight into his investigations and thinking as an artist, and his reach across parallel areas such as anatomy as well as proposed sculptures and his design for the monumental Sforza monument.

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And that story about one of his paintings is still rumbling on.

London’s National Gallery defends inclusion of Salvator Mundi in Leonardo show after criticism in new book
If Lewis is correct, then the consensus was that only part of the painting was by the master, with the remainder presumably done by his assistants. Yet in Syson’s National Gallery catalogue entry, the painting is unequivocally attributed to Leonardo and described as “an autograph work”. Exhibition curators are fully entitled to make their own judgements, but it is surprising that Syson’s entry does not at least allude to the suggestion by other scholars that parts of the picture may have been painted by assistants, even if he went on to dismiss this idea.

Sketchy city portraits

I can’t decide if these drawings are portraits of cities, or just portraits of maps. The scale of each drawing, and of the project as a whole, is impressive though.

Large-scale drawings of the United Kingdom’s 69 cities by Carl Lavia
Self-taught artist Carl Lavia, who goes by the nickname “Sketch,” has been drawing intricate cities and architecturally-minded illustrations since he was the age of five. Although his early works were imaginative renderings of fictionalized cities, his practice has grown into immensely detailed depictions of large cities from an aerial point of view. Lavia uses ink and archival paper to produce each drawing, which appear like maps from a distance, but have a loose, almost Impressionist style when viewed up close.

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Perhaps he could convert these sketches into a Google maps layer, letting you take a stroll through his drawings as you walk round the city in real life, comparing one with the other.

Drawing you on

That last article I linked to yesterday about children’s art leads on nicely to this one. Anne Quito from Quartz takes a look at Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice, the new book by design historian D.B. Dowd.

According to Dowd, we’ve been misunderstanding the significance of drawing for too long. It’s not about performance, something left only to the “artists”, but about process, a way of observing and learning.

Drawing is the best way to learn, even if you’re no Leonardo Da Vinci
There’s another fundamental reason for using drawing as a learning tool: It can bring out our better qualities as people. “If practiced in the service of inquiry and understanding, drawing does enforce modesty,” says Dowd. “You quickly discover how little you know.”

The observation that’s necessary for drawing is also enriching. “Drawing makes us slow down, be patient, pay attention,” he says. “Observation itself is respectful, above all else.”

In the closing chapter of Stick Figures, Dowd argues that drawing can even make us better citizens, in the sense that it trains us to wrestle with evidence and challenge assumptions. “It might seem sort of nutty, but I do think that drawing can be a form of citizenship,” he says. “Observation, inquiry, and steady effort are good for us.”

It’s a really interesting viewpoint. Looking back, all my posts about drawing have been more about the finished product than the process. Even the dancing one, the wind one and the one about the inflatable ball — all heavily process-driven — are artist-led, with an end product in mind.

Vibrant butterfly

Another great find from the Futility Closet — an incredible book, hiding within an ordinary one.

Subtext
To create his 1970 novel A Humument, British artist Tom Phillips began with W.H. Mallock’s forgotten 1892 novel A Human Document and drew, painted, and collaged over the pages, leaving a few words showing to tell a new, hitherto unrevealed story. For instance, the title arises from Phillips’ deletion of two central syllables in Mallock’s title, and the protagonist, Bill Toge, can appear only when the word “together” or “altogether” arises in Mallock’s original text.

The article points us to this amazing gallery of pages from the book. All I knew of Tom Phillips before reading this was that he collaborated with Peter Greenaway on A TV Dante, but you can certainly see some of that shared aesthetic here.

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We’re also pointed to this review from the London Review of Books, for a more in-depth look at the ‘author’ and his ‘book’.

Double Act: Adam Smyth reviews ‘A Humument’ by Tom Phillips
He treats each page of Mallock’s novel in this way, effacing most of the text, generally by painting, occasionally by cutting, slicing, or even in one instance burning the page, to leave an alternative narrative. Phillips’s revealed story was in one sense always there in Mallock, just lost amid the torrent of other text. This is authorship as pruning, a process of erasure or cutting away that finds in the buttoned-up A Human Document a teeming world of humour, sex, sadness and art that would have baffled and shocked the conservative Mallock.

[…]

Phillips is a lover of games and chance and rules. With Brian Eno – his pupil at Ipswich Art School in the early 1960s – he invented ‘sound tennis’, striking a ball against five pianos with their workings exposed, and scoring according to the sounds produced. In A Humument, Phillips deploys what he calls ‘invited accident’: in the 1987 edition, coin tosses dictated which words should be struck out on page 99 of Mallock, until there were only two left standing: ‘something already’.

[…]

The reeling comic voice that Phillips finds buried inside Mallock – ‘on the philosophy mattress to-night My sister is going to attempt to join the morning after and Aristotle’s Ethics’ – frequently recalls other masters of strange, urgent sentences: Monty Python; Samuel Beckett; Chris Morris in Blue Jam; and perhaps most vividly of all, Vivian Stanshall in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. In fact, A Humument is a novel of quotation: not only in the sense that all of its words were written first by Mallock (although not, as Eric Morecambe said of the notes in his piano playing, necessarily in the right order); but also because Phillips pieces together Mallock’s words to produce other writers’ lines. So there is Donne and Shakespeare, but also lines from books that in 1892 had not yet been written. Versions of E.M. Forster’s ‘only connect’ (Howards End, 1910) pop up throughout: ‘merely connect’; ‘closely connect’; ‘oddly connect’; ‘My little muse was connect connect.’ Molly Bloom’s closing words in Ulysses (1922) fill A Humument’s penultimate page (‘And I said yes – yes, I will yes’); and Ezra Pound’s Make It New (1935) is in there too. Beckett is a constant near presence, including a version of the most famous lines from Worstward Ho (1983): ‘as years went on, you began to fail better.’ The temporality of the quotation is complex: Mallock (1892) is being made to quote Beckett (1983) by Phillips (in a 2012 edition of a book he began in 1966).

OK I’m getting dizzy now.

Can we call what Phillips is doing ‘writing’, or would some other term be better? What version of authorship or creativity is at work here? A Humument is a reminder that books are inevitably intertextual – they grow out of older texts – and that all writing involves selecting words from a finite pool: what appears to be a constraint, having to work within the walls of an existing novel, in fact dramatises a condition of literature.

Drawing on the walls

From Colossal, two different approaches to getting rid of those boring, blank walls.

Scribit: the programmable robot that draws on walls (on purpose)
Invented by MIT Professor Carlo Ratti, the Scribit is a new robot drawing machine that creates text and images using erasable inks. The project’s creators bill it as a useful tool in work environments as well as an easy and interchangeable way to decorate one’s home.

Reminds me of that turtle from years ago. But perhaps you want something with a little more artistic pretentiousness?

A gigantic helium-filled and charcoal-studded sphere covers rooms with unpredictable designs
The artist describes ADA in a statement: “The globe put in action fabricates a composition of lines and points, which remain incalculable in their intensity, expression, and form however hard the visitor tries to control ADA, to drive her, to domesticate her. Whatever he tries out, he would notice very soon, that ADA is an independent performer, studding the originally white walls with drawings and signs.”

ADA at Muffathalle

Dancing with charcoal

Emptied Gestures: physical movement translated into symmetrical charcoal drawings by Heather Hansen
“Splayed across a giant paper canvas with pieces of charcoal firmly grasped in each hand, Heather Hansen begins a grueling physical routine atop a sizeable paper canvas. Her body contorts into carefully choreographed gestures as her writing implements grate across the floor, the long trails resulting in a permanent recording of her physical movements.”

Heather Hansen // Emptied Gestures

This looked very familiar then I realised that there’s some student artwork on the wall in the next building that must have been inspired by this.

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Wind drawings

Winds.Process.2005.01
Inspiration for these drawings came from a leaf. While cross-country skiing, I came across an oak leaf with its stem stuck in the snow. As the wind blew, the leaf spun and its edges made marks in the snow. Back home, I cut some plastic bottles into different shapes and tied each one to a stick in the snow. Left all day to blow in the wind, the plastic cut into the snow making a record of the day’s wind conditions. Wanting a more permanent record, I constructed an apparatus to suspend a pen outfitted with sails over paper. Each drawing here is a record of one day’s wind conditions.

Meetings, sketchbooks, stress

The experience must be finished to enjoy the fruits of the effort
Disorganized meetings with no well defined goals inhibit positive communication and lead the participants to wonder if the organizers of the meeting really know what they are doing.

Pretty obvious really, but useful prompts nonetheless.

David Cameron has banned the use of mobiles and Blackberries in his meetings. The BBC asks what would happen if our workplace did the same.

Certainly, fiddling with your phone in a meeting doesn’t look good, but perhaps what people are doing on them is only what other people are doing on their laptops. They get to look all keen as mustard and productive and whatnot, typing away notes (or looking like they are), so why are we mobile phone users not equally given the benefit of the doubt and assumed to be working appropriately too? (I think in my case it would be fair to assume I’m tweeting and not working, but THAT’S NOT THE POINT.)

Some photos of Irina Vinnik’s wonderful sketchbook. This is how you’re supposed to fill a moleskine.

I’m very jealous. The doodles I make in meetings never come out as good as this. I need to go to longer, more dull meetings, I guess? I’m compelled to dig out my old moleskines and bring them to work next week.

Stressed staff can’t get no satisfaction
People working in higher education are “dissatisfied with their jobs and careers” and are “stressed at work”, according to new research. … Staff were asked questions about job satisfaction, well-being, work-life balance, stress at work, control at work and working conditions using a Work-related Quality of Life (WrQoL) scale devised by Darren Van Laar, a Portsmouth psychologist.