The SCRAWL exhibition in the Spring of 2011 was the brainchild of Martha Lewis, an artist, and curator at Artspace in New Haven, CT, who had the idea to turn over 5000 square feet of gallery space to forty-eight artists for a massive game of "exquisite corpse." Each artist was assigned a curtained-off area and given seven weeks to create a drawing whose borders overlapped with neighboring artwork. Participants were discouraged from "peeking" at other artists in-progress work and restricted to working in black and white for the sake of visual unity.
Since 2009, I had been playing around with a drawing robot that was developed by Shawn Wallace at AS220 in Providence, RI. The mechanism was a simple system of two wall-mounted servos that allowed a pen-holding harness to draw in a Cartesian manner on a vertical surface. The drawbot, produced in a limited quantity and sold through AS220, came with an algorithm pre-installed that generated a random series of small targets in a larger formation of concentric rings; circles within circles in circles. Instead of changing the drawing algorithm I had been playing around with disrupting the mechanical components of the system. I altered the relationship of the servos, the weight of the harness, and the material qualities of the marker and the substrate. I would leave the machine running overnight after making one of these mechanical interventions. The mechanism would slowly inscribe a random design over the course of 8-12 hours. The result was a kind of grotesque mandala about a meter in diameter. Designs grew more complex as successive daylong drawing sessions overlapped.
The SCRAWL exhibition gave me the opportunity to expand upon these machine drawing ideas on a large scale. Artists were asked to begin working on their pieces at the opening so that visitors could witness the generation of the work. I set up the drawbot in the gallery to run during the opening night of the exhibition, initiating the drawing algorithm in the center of the 9x12' section of assigned wall space. I hadn't worked in public since I was in art school and wanted to avoid trying to focus on the genesis of the largest drawing I had ever attempted with a crowd of curious on-lookers at my back. The drawing machine allowed me to step back into the crowd and be a Lewitt-like spectator of my work. While the machine filled the space with a dumb random pattern, I could discuss the strategy of the evolving work with gallery goers.
The slow rhythm of the servos pulling the black Sharpie marker over the rough-textured white wall was hypnotic during the opening. The drawing that it produced, looking like a meter-wide gray navel orange, can be seen in the center of the final piece. The machine drawing generated a visual catalyst that I developed through numerous studio studies in the following weeks. I worked with printed photographs of the space to develop maquettes that included the floor and one of the buildings columns in the final composition.
To create the maquette I constructed a 3D model of the space. I mapped a texture of lines to the surface of the model to provide a ground for the composition. I arrived at the image by generating random cloud data in Photoshop and then alternately blurring and sharpening the information until hard edge shapes formed. I extracted the edge data and printed the result as a random line drawing onto transparent film. By superimposing about a dozen of the resulting line drawings, a dense pattern of pseudo-random curvilinear lines was formed. This pattern, along with the umbilicus from the drawbot, were the foundation of my SCRAWL image. In the studies, I transformed the random skein of lines by exposing Venn-like subsets of shapes within the pattern that became discreet figural groups. I applied translucent washes of ground tone in non-figurative areas to isolate the groupings further, creating a shallow space where the shapes floated together in amoebic clusters.
To develop these studies on the wall and floor of the gallery I needed to find a way to translate the design to the installation space. It was interesting to note the various ways that other artists in the show undertook this stage of the process. Some chose to project their designs onto the wall and trace the projected image onto the surface. Some opted to use a systematic grid-like approach while other artists worked out their designs in situ. I couldn't project the design onto the wall because of a column that was located a few feet in front of my assigned area. Lens and light based distortions, inherent in projected designs, are unappealing to me in any case. I considered pouncing the lines into large format prints of the design, but the complexity and size of the work were daunting. I decided instead to use a direct method derived from silkscreen printing. I printed the 160 square foot drawing onto three 3'x18' sheets of translucent gauze. I applied the printed sheets of fabric to the wall with a thinned acrylic medium. I used refillable graffiti markers to trace the final design through the printed gauze onto the wall. The ink drawing screened onto the wall through the open weave of the fabric. After a free copying of the pattern, the veil-like print was removed, and the underdrawing was complete.
I spent the remaining weeks of the installation period working out the drawing on the wall, floor and column in the gallery in a thin, white latex paint and thick black and gray graffiti markers. I created a field of activity that mediated between the mechanical gestures at the center of my drawing and the hand-drawn approaches of the artists on either side of my workspace. The origin of the exquisite corpse project, in Dadaistic practice, is intended to disrupt reason, to pervert our natural inclination to make sense out of the visual experience and in so doing create a new "sense' born from that fractured chaos." The tension that this practice created at the border of each artist's practice was evident in the SCRAWL show. The transitions from work to work were sometimes barely noticeable, flowing elegantly in a stylistic pas de deux while other works butted against each other like a banana and a brick wall.
I am grateful to Martha Lewis and Artspace for giving me the opportunity to participate in the exhibition. I was able to work on a collaborative project in a public space that included painting, drawing, printmaking and machine-aided design on a large scale. The methods I used in the production of my final drawing spawned new creative approaches for me. I would love to see the model that Ms. Lewis developed for the SCRAWL exhibition repeated as an annual platform for collaborative drawing performance.
Participating artists included: Cat Balco • Anna Broell Bresnick • Alexis Brown • Francis Cooke • The Futurists: Karen Dow with a team of 12 students from Educational Center for the Arts • Laura Gardner • Zachary Keeting • Ken Lovell • Andres Madariaga • Melissa Marks • Maegen McElderry • Tim Nikiforuk • Kerry O'Grady • The Sausage Crew: Larissa Hall, Mike Pitassi, & Michael Riley (AKA Queen Larita, MC Sausage, & Dr. BOX) • Daniel Rios Rodriguez • James Rose • Jean Scott • Rashmi Talpade • Team Tele: Maria Lara-Whelpley, Sylvia Hierro, Laura Case, Eleanor Tamsky, and Susan Ferri • Traffic Lights & Warning Stripes: Vito Bonnano and Justin Crosby • Laura Watt
My contribution to the exhibition, as well as many of the studies I produced during the show, can be seen in the DRAWINGS gallery.