Untitled (working title: Do I draw with my back to the world?)

Tina Jonsbu, Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Department of Art and Craft

The object of this research fellowship project is to study, understand and develop my artistic practice at a personal level, but also  as an attitude in the society of which I am a part.

I work mainly with drawing and embroidery, and execute my works according to a system and a set of rules that I determine in advance. They involve simple, repetitive actions within a time interval or a physical demarcation such as a sheet of paper or a wall. I like the fact that the work is slow.

One system is to mark out random points on a sheet, as in the drawing 2A0, arbit­rary points. I had to draw until the sheet was evenly covered with points. The pen was a Sakura Pigma Micron 01 (archival ink, colour: rose) and the sheet has the format 2A0, which corresponds to 118.9 ´ 168.2 cm. It took four months to finish it; I used a total of 41 pens, and the result was not as expected – I did not manage to make an evenly distributed drawing. The points and the density varied as a result of the wear on the pen and the force with which the points were made.

A second system is to draw arbitrary points on graph paper without looking, as in Untitled (37.5 t). I drew for an hour on each of the 37 sheets, half an hour on the last sheet, and the intention was to spread the points evenly over the sheet. I used a 3.5 mm refillable felt marker with acrylic paint (colour: 100% cyan) and the format of the graph paper sheets was A2, corresponding to 42 ´ 59.4 cm. The ‘squares’ were 3 x 3 mm and the lines were light blue. The result was never an even distribution. The radius of movement for my arm made corresponding fields of points on each sheet – with a centring in the middle and more scattered outward towards the edges. The individual points varied greatly with the pressure and how much paint came out of the marker.

The various systems and techniques permit an almost mechanical action. I just do, and what I do becomes immediately visible. Changes in the drawing or the embroi­dery are a result of action, not of material or technical processes. The focus can therefore be on the action there and then. The driving force is curiosity about what arises from the small errors and inaccuracies caused by the hand.

My practice has references to principles from Sol LeWitt and his conceptual art. I am particularly interested in his early wall drawings (1960s-70s), where he used pencil and pen directly on the wall. Repeated lines in exact systems, executed according to instructions and diagrams written down by LeWitt. There is a slight variation in the lines which points to the hand and the human presence in the draw­ing process. A pencil line is a familiar entity, and I become conscious of slowness and time in the process that precedes the result. Sometimes LeWitt drew by himself, sometimes he drew together with others, sometimes others did the drawing. I think there is a poetic side to these works that is all about process and material within a conceptual framework.

I select materials that I can use without preparation or post-treatment: pens, pencils, felt markers, thread, paper and embroidery cloth. These are low-key, ordinary materials. I find them in shops for office supplies, sewing and embroidery products and among art supplies. There are also old, found materials. I collect and use the materials as a point of departure for an idea, or find what I need to implement an idea.

John Cage used chance operations when he composed music, so that his evaluations and personal taste would not determine the result. He saw all sounds as valuable in their own right and was preoccupied with the idea that the music he composed should open up an awareness of and pleasure in the beautiful and simple, the complex and unpredictable in the sounds around us. I am interested in the way Cage challenged both performers and audience and explored art as a possibility of changing modes of thinking and attitudes to what we have around us in everyday life. He thought that personal awareness was important to the deve­lop­ment of a more humane society.

When I draw or embroider I experience a sense of presence. My gaze is focused on the hand and the action, but my thoughts are more volatile than usual. I also listen a lot to the radio, podcasts and audio books when I am making my works, but some­times a long time can pass without me hearing what is being said. A long time ago I thought I could sit talking to others while I was drawing, but it only works with the telephone.

The working title of my project is a reformulation of Agnes Martin’s words: “I paint with my back to the world”. Martin painted alone and is said not to have read a newspaper for the last 50 years of her life. She tried to empty her head and her paint­ings of thoughts and ideas in a search for beauty.

Each brush stroke and each line is a trace of her hand, and although the formal idiom was minimalistic, she described herself as an abstract expressionist. She did not use a ruler. That is inter­esting because her inward-looking attitude and her conscious isolation from society have still produced works that are powerfully present in the public sphere and com­mu­ni­cate both openness and presence.

I am uncertain whether the presence in my process can be viewed as open and attentive to the surroundings, or whether it is introverted and exclusive. Perhaps it varies throughout the working process. Perhaps absence from something is a pre­con­dition of presence in something else.

I am also uncertain about whether time goes fast or slow or whether it stops. But I know that the thought of it disappears.

I see my works as a visualization or documentation of the process of making them. During the fellowship period I want to map out what the different parts of this pro­cess are; both through a specific description of procedures and action and through a mapping of how my thoughts and consciousness move and are while I work.

With this as background, my goal is to create artistic work that investigates and eluci­dates the process and how it can be communicated and presented as a con­sistent and meaningful attitude.