38 thoughts on “Discussion

    • Good question to get things started Jayne. First thoughts are that writing is about representing language or maybe, rather, a language that can be spoken, with codified marks or symbols, with all the parts of speech so that it can be read. Didn’t Ingold say something about books originally being intended to be a reminder of what was said – a kind of prompt for re-reading/repeating the text by speaking it?
      Is writing writing if the parts are printed though? We say someone has written a book, even if they haven’t hand-written the manuscript but that is probably because we still think of writing as a physical, gestural act.
      Is writing that can’t be read still writing?

      Clare Smith

      Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Clare-Smith-artist/287642764614592

      • In the workshop I ran with a school group last week one of the students said that what they had made in the session was drawing not writing because it couldn’t be read. I guess what he meant by that fits in with your description of writing as representing language. I think that dual association of writing both with symbols of language and physical gesture is really interesting. In my work I’m trying to perform actions of writing but to remove the ‘meaning’. I see it as sitting somewhere between writing and drawing because it connects to the gestures and marks of writing but it cannot be read like writing can. I’m also interested in what else is communicated in handwriting that perhaps isn’t part of language or language as in English or Chinese, for example, but that is about the movement of the body, how we’ve been taught to write – different generations often have different handwriting because of trends in how it was taught in schools – or that is even connected to the mood we are in when writing.

      • Another thing to consider perhaps is when writing becomes so over written that the meaning disappears. Language was the intention but it ends up as layered mark that cannot be deciphered, the more emphatically it is written.
        –so what is it called now -writing, mark, surface?
        I’m thinking of examples – ‘Palimpsest’ by Jordan McKenzie and Zhang Huan’s performance piece ‘Family Tree’ where 3 calligraphers wrote and rewrote on his face. The writing as performance was obviously very evident here. I can see Zhang Huan’s work is also there on Clare’s post below about: “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China
” December 11, 2013–April 6, 2014 which is on at The Met. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/ink-art
        Another Chinese artist whose work looks like language but isn’t, might be Wenda Gu (or is it Gu Wenda?).

      • Sebastian Brixey-Williams and housemate Nick today drew my attention to a poem by Emily Berry called ‘Letter to Husband’, inspired by Emma Hauck’s letters in the Prinzhorn collection -so over-written they become illegible. Referenced in the book “Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis Works From the Prinzhorn Collection”. Have posted some images of the letters:

        Poet speaks of her use of spacing as a form of fragmentation in the poem on this site:

  1. Your question made me think about de Certeau’s ‘Walking in the City’ where he refers to Rilke, who speaks of figures in a space moving as ‘gesture trees’ –transforming the scene but not being fixed in an image. I do feel that gesture as choreography can ‘write’ a space and have often tried to then capture that collection of multiple actualities to create a trace. Also I guess I am alluding to that kind of space writing as having a meaning. Gesture alone can create a meaning in space –whether that is a landscape/environment or an empty piece of paper (we often speak about entering a drawing space) or even writing in the air with a sparkler. So the act of writing has value. Does it matter than it does not continue to exist (or that it never did as a mark…mmm). It would be interesting to do some writing without mark in front of an audience.

    • I was also thinking about Chinese water calligraphy. The water leaves a mark but then it evaporates shortly after, maybe a bit like a sparkler. Have you come across Performance Writing? I’d never heard of it until someone mentioned it at a seminar I was at the other week. Not had much time to look at it properly. This is the Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_Writing that I followed some of the links from.

      • Only time I feel I have created a performed piece of writing was at an Arnolfini workshop about ‘Language and the Body’, when I balanced myself on the crossbar under a v low table to write about how my inner ear issues limit the amount I can move my head -the resulting piece of writing was directly shaped by the space and my limited movements. Is that the sort of thing you might be referring to? The weekend opened my eyes to several different approaches to text that I hadn’t thought of before.

  2. Hi, is memory a mark? So if the mark is not physical as in an ink mark on a surface, is it still a mark? This discussion is making me think too of the differently nuanced meanings of mark and trace.

    • Puts me in mind of a workshop/course I attended recently in Bristol run by Cara Davies “Performing the Archive: Body-Memory-Site-Encounter”. There was a real emphasis on the performed gesture as a way of archiving the experience of the space, as well as collections/drawings/actual physical traces. Goes back to my first post about writing space, I guess. A repeated gesture leaves a trace too, such as on old stone staircases where the step has been worn away, the swing of a gate on the ground, the swing of a bunch of keys upon a door –these all ‘write’ their action on the environment and trace time. But is this language? As there has been no intention for this mark to convey meaning –yet it does mean something.

      With the memory/archive idea, resonance also comes into it. Difficult to know when to stop with this as so intangible(!) but the role of the imagination to connect with resonance /experience of a place/time is very strong. I have always loved Michelangelo’s tiny wax maquette in the V&A museum (http://www.pinterest.com/bodpod43/w0budong-texts-without-meaning/)
      because it gives me the shivers knowing he held it in his hand and that it probably has his sweat/palm-grease in it. Oliver Sachs says that the human brain slips between the imagination and memory, I think.

      • I love that idea of the hand-held sculpture bearing the sweat of Michelangelo’s hands.

        It is so hard to find the right words – because obviously the traces you talk about are as physical as ink traces/marks but perhaps there is still a difference between trace and mark. Ingold says “a trace is any enduring mark left in or on a solid surface by a continuous movement” – continuous maybe being the key.

        And as for meaning, well yes, very slippery. Is there meaning if the feeling or resonance is not articulated in language and does it matter if there was no intention to convey meaning if the viewer of the trace/mark perceives meaning? Sorry to answer with yet another question!

  3. I think we have nearly come full circle. From Jayne’s original: ‘What is writing and does it need to leave a mark?’ to ‘What is mark and when is it writing?’ More unpicking to do..

  4. I think there’s some really interesting questions raised about how far what writing is can be stretched, how intangible it can become and how far from what is obviously or easily recognisable as writing it can be taken before it is no longer writing. Likewise with the mark and more generally with the development of artwork. I often question how far I can take things in my practice before any reading or meaning is lost to anyone without my in depth knowledge of the process I have gone through in the studio.

    I wonder if some of the structures and rules or conventions of writing could be important to it being recognisable as such. The line is often referred to by Ingold in relation to writing and is also what I think he uses to link it to other practices including walking and drawing. In his book on line he discusses Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/long-a-line-made-by-walking-p07149. Long’s mark in this work feels very much like writing to me but I’m struggling to understand exactly why.

  5. I guess in its barest form writing declares an intention to communicate thought -intended to ‘mean’ something as a concept. It acts as part of a codified system which does not depend on whether or not the person looking at it can interpret it or not – for instance a foreign language, or even more basically bad handwriting – or something like the text stitched on a jacket known as Agnes Jacket, made by a mentally ill seamstress in the Prinzhorn collection, where the stitches cannot be easily deciphered, but which are believed to be autobiographical. On http://helenmccarthy.wordpr

    However I like the idea that as a viewer I may slip into gaps of things I don’t readily understand. Just as some advocate that children who listen to the musicality of Shakespeare can gain some understanding and enjoyment of it, I might read something into marks/gestures/hieroglyphs that add up to mean something to me personally. Maybe this is why as artists we are so interested in the marks/writing debate? I for one always hope there is some gap slippage in my work.

  6. I was thinking about Fiona Banner’s scaled up punctuation earlier. That punctuation is the part of language that signifies a pause and perhaps is also silent. The punctuation sculptures are things in the world that occupy space away from the page. On a large scale there’s movement as we walk around them yet the sculptures, particular those installed on the Southbank, I think do still create a pause or a slowing down, just in a crowd rather than a text. The gesture and process involved in making the piece is very different to that of writing so is it just the shape or form or perhaps also how it functions, a kind or pause, that connects it to written language. I was also thinking that punctuation is interesting because it translates across languages.

    • It’s funny you should bring that up now, as I was just having a conversation with my son about the definition of a ‘tittle’ (a dot such as on an ‘i’ or small mark of punctuation). Yes, I agree, punctuation does translate v well into the spatial or sculptural discussion because it creates structure. I guess dance notations such as Benesh or Labanotation work in a kind of similar way, except, of course, they also have direction over time. In 2001, I made an artist’s book ‘locationotation’ where 52 dancers all over the UK performed one pirouette at exactly the same moment in time, using graphite powder on paper – thus marking time, movement and location. They came out as a wonderful variety of marks –not just the ‘dots’ I was expecting. See a few on http://www.pinterest.com/bodpod43/w0budong-texts-without-meaning/
      Fiona Banner’s pieces (which I admit I don’t know well) appear v sculptural -they almost look like they are made of cast iron – and they retain a perfect edge. If you have ever scaled up a photocopied letter or piece of punctuation the edge starts to look quite ragged and you start to see it as a different kind of mark. Becomes an image of itself.

  7. Just found a quote to throw into the mix from Barthes – made about Cy Twombly’s work:
    “It is in the smear that we find the truth of redness; it is in the wobbly line that we find the truth of a pencil”.
    What does it mean to have truth in a mark or gesture? Is it again about intention? The way in which it is executed? The interpretation that the viewer imposes on it – that somehow it speaks to them?

  8. That quote by Cy Twombly is incisive.

    Truth in a mark or gesture might be found when a truth is discovered through the mark-making. It may be in the ‘wobbles’ of mistakes in which we find what is true for ourselves, what is superficial and what is vital.

    • Advocating mistakes/wobbles can create illumination/vital truth seems to come from the opposite of the Chinese ideal for a energetic line in space. An indecisive line (a wobble) is the opposite of a line full of vitality (vital as = animated/full of life). Is it after we re-examine the line that truths are revealed? I’m interested in this.

  9. In this grimy weather I’ve got rather obsessed looking at finger marks along the doorframe, on the backs of white vans. Rather like the grey/white subtlety. I don’t consider it as writing/language but certainly trace of performed action over time. Will photo and add to Pinterest:

    • The stones I am using are a red/grey clay, the joining of the two leaving a gesture in the stone. The stone was formed when the ancient Welsh desert flash flooded and I believe the layers where made from the deposit of silt (over a very time frame). Often traces and marks are just waiting to be found.

  10. I really like them. They’re certainly gestural and a trace of the body that was once present. In many ways it’s the trace of an action or of the body in handwriting that I’m interested in rather than the language/meaning.

  11. Another thing that came to mind today, was Lucio Berio’s voice piece Labyrinthus 2. It sounds like language but is unintelligible (well to me anyway!). Have you heard it? Obviously a step away from the trace/mark/writing but the sound acts like a gesture in space and as the manuscript has to be notated in order for it to be sung that’s perhaps a reason for mentioning it?

    • Yes and such a sad story. I must take a look sometime at the Haywood catalogue: Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis Works From the Prinzhorn Collection. I stupidly managed to miss that show. Always miss the subsequently important ones!

  12. What if there were no actual marks at all but merely creases creating light and shade on the paper/surface? These could still be made by intention or gesture -and certainly by action -just think of an unmade bed. Also incised marks/folds like ice skates make on the ice (been watching Winter Olympics!) Sol le Witt folded paper and called it drawing and I’m sure I’ve seen another artist’s creased drawing -anyone know any?

  13. A couple of people remarked during the Private View on the seemingly ‘crucifix shape’ of my larger work (further accentuated I think, by the dribbles -oh so lovely to find – already existing on the wall). A comment on this. I was not aiming particularly for any religious connotation but I was deliberately using the idea of how a crucified body (in this case, the body of work -language/calligraphy) might be tired (perhaps a bit vulnerable?), weighty and suspended from the two fixed points at the ends in order to create a feeling of slump and inactivity.
    The other fabric sculpture created for the space felt much more like my gestural dance across the space, where the fabric and chains created a drawing up and across the wall and floor. I was particularly pleased that the frayed edges were able to catch the roughness of the breeze blocks to create shapes without any external fixings, as I only ever wanted rigid fixings on the brass chains, which I interpret as the structural element that the calligraphy falls away from. I loved being able to play with the elements of the piece so freely; something I’ve been trying to do more of recently. Thanks Jayne for the opportunity.

    • Really interesting Julie; I love the way you relate the body and the body of work.

      I was really pleased too with the way the different pieces started to relate to each other: the thread, the frayed edges, the movement and the potential for performance – speaking of which Jayne’s performance was beautiful.

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