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Art is a Doing Word

This project is taking place on the lands of the Jagera and Turrbal peoples, I honour the traditional owners of the lands on which I work, as the first peoples and also the first artists, practitioners and storytellers of this country, I pay my respects to them and elders past and present.


Welcome to the first of many upcoming blog posts that will be accompanying my residency project with Studio1 in Meanjin (Brisbane). I am very excited to be heading into a new development of my ongoing project A Body Which Draws Itself. There is some information about the project and previous iterations at the end of this post and more coming further down the line, but I wanted to start with an introduction of the why and how of this work coming to be.

Figure 1. Richard Serra, Verb List, 1967, Pencil on paper, 25.4x26.1cm (each), MoMA, New York.

In 1967 sculptor Richard Serra, after proclaiming that “drawing is a verb”, developed the Verb List as a compilation of “actions to relate to oneself, material, place and process” (Serra, 1967). This list of various verbs was paramount in the development of his practice as he applied instructions such as pull, twist, roll, fold, and a myriad of others, onto various sculpture materials. The results are artworks imbued with a sense of action, movement, intention. Enacting verbs in artmaking is by no means a new idea, but it is definitely a prolific one. Present across forms of theatre, dance, visual arts, and so on, is this concept of embodiment, the idea that an action held and performed through the body can have a transformative effect on a material (or a stage, camera, audience, etc). This mindset of embodiment, when taken a step further, can encompass the very act of artmaking; When you are creating an artwork, when you are altering materials with the intention of transforming them, you are enacting art upon these materials, you are doing art.

Figure 2. Richard Serra, To Lift, 1967, vulcanised rubber, MoMA, New York



Now, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the large, Pollock shaped, Greenburg scented, elephant in the room when discussing verb enactment and dangerous words like “action” in proximity to painting and drawing. This project has already faced some comparisons to action painting (it does not help that Serra’s Verb List was inevitably absorbed into the action painting zeitgeist), however I come back to the word: intention. Serra had a close relationship with a number of dancers and performers, for whom enactment of verbs was already a very common practice. The intention of the Verb List was not to abstract the act of artmaking into some artist genius philosophy of ‘action is inherently art because I did it’, which does backflips to defend its own existence… the intention was to expand his practice of sculpting, to take something perceived as static and imbue it with more than just the sense of action, but an intention of action. So, while it may seem unnecessary to do so, I think it is important to note that my intention with this project is the further expansion of practice. Inviting action and embodiment into the process is, for me, a connective tissue between forms of drawing and dance, sculpture and performance, a magical blurring of boundaries in which I can say “look, behold this static artwork which is indeed a dance! This movement piece that is simultaneously a sculpture! Intention is the mother of all actions! The great verbification of my art is upon you!”, or something to that painfully narcissistic effect.


Foolery aside, I do take seriously the idea of “expanded practice”, which if you don’t know what I mean by that, allow me to break it down for you. “The expanded field” is a term in art which can be described (very simply) as interrogating one artistic discipline through the lens of another. For instance: drawing, by using techniques common in dance, or, sculpture, created as a piece of physical movement. It is the space between separate disciplines. It can be a thing to wrap one’s head around, if you have the time and interest there is plenty of writing out there which will give many more words to this very slimmed down explanation (I was introduced to this idea through Rosalind Krauss’ text Sculpture in the Expanded Field published in 1986, which is a good read and very easy to access online!). What are the basics that this boils down to? The terms that once differentiated art forms have since become malleable, and as a result artists are no longer bound to the mastering of only one, sequestered discipline. The following excerpt from Krauss sums it up well:


"This suspicion of a career that moves continually and erratically beyond the domain of sculpture obviously derives from the modernist demand for the purity and separateness of the various mediums (and thus the necessary specialization of a practitioner within a given medium). But what appears as eclectic from one point of view can be seen as rigorously logical from another. For, within the situation of postmodernism, practice is not defined in relation to a given medium – sculpture - but rather in relation to the logical operations on a set of cultural terms, for which any medium - photography, books, lines on walls, mirrors, or sculpture itself - might be used."


Figure 3. Rosalind Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field, 1986

Basically, an expanded practice is a way of working that is adaptable to investigate concepts and ideas across the boundaries of artistic mediums and disciplines. In this instance, I want to explore applications of the body through the lenses of drawing, dance, circus, sculpture, performance, all in one unified process. An expanded practice allows for this cross-pollination of discipline processes to exist within an artist’s work.


With this crash course on expanded practice in mind, what is this project I am developing? A Body Which Draws Itself is an ongoing interrogation of the relationship between artist, body, and self in the act of artmaking. Through a combination of drawing apparatuses, ritual movement and endurance or resistance-based challenges, I allow the reflexes, movements, and limitations of my body to make marks on canvas and paper surfaces. Through this process I am investigating how knowledge is housed in the body and, furthering this, how the relationship between this embodied knowledge and flow-state can be manipulated to create art.


The catalyst for A Body Which Draws Itself was the provocation to explore art as a verb, taking inspiration from the aforementioned Verb List. From this provocation I took particular interest in Serra’s inciting statement “drawing is a verb”, considering how many verbs and actions there are related to the words “draw” and “drawing” already. I also took to researching the works of artists and performers such as Mathew Barney, Carolee Schneemann, Ben Denham, and Martha Graham, artists who, in some capacity, utilise the functions and limitations of the body as imperative to the process (more on them coming in future updates). This interest in art as an action led to an initial development in which various definitions of “drawing” as a verb inspired the mobility of the body in this artmaking process. The process involves engineering various drawing apparatuses inspired by these “Draw Verbs” that incorporate movement, bondage predicament and/or physical challenges that must be encountered in order for drawing marks to be made. The marks which are made in these states of movement, strain, reflex, and so on, are recorded as a mode of self-portraiture of the body, recording its experiences in these drawing predicament scenarios.



A Body Which Draws Itself 01, 2022. Verb: To Draw To make taut by pulling


A Body Which Draws Itself 02, 2022. Verb: To Draw To cause to go in a certain direction (as by pulling or leading)


For the next iteration, which will be undertaken in residency with Studio1, I will be developing the work to explore more verbs, predicaments, and modes of mark-making. My hope is to further develop a unique movement language and a greater understanding of the project as a contemporary performance work. Particular focus will be placed on movement, ritual, time, and rhythm as I explore the expansion of this practice to incorporate contemporary circus, physical theatre, and experimental dance processes.


If you’re still with me, thank you for indulging my very serious art talk. The thing I am most excited by in this residency is the opportunity to play. To be able to take a project like this off the shelf now that it has space and time to be played with is a great pleasure and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next month at Studio1. Stay tuned for more updates as the development unfolds!


FULL VIDEO: A Body Which Draws Itself 02, 2022 Micah Rustichelli



REFERENCES


Krauss, Rosalind. (1979) 1986. “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” In The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, 277–90. Cambridge, Mass. U.A.: Mit Press.


Serra, Richard. 1967a. To Lift. Vulcanised Rubber. Manhattan, New York. The Museum of Modern Art. https://www.moma.org/audio/playlist/236/3043.


———. 1967b. Verb List. Pencil on Paper. Manhattan, New York. The Museum of Modern Art. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/152793.


———. n.d. Richard Serra. To Lift. 1967 | MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art. Accessed May 8, 2023. https://www.moma.org/audio/playlist/236/3043.


The Museum of Modern Art. 2016. “Verblist.” The Museum of Modern Art. MoMA. 2016. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/152793.


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