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The Diagram of a Thousand Unborn Children

From this:

To this:

Untitled, Derived January 2009, Revised January 2016

The Diagram of a Thousand Unborn Children

Work in Progress At February 2017

In 2009, I managed to derive an animation that brought together my key concerns and how I constantly oscillate between them.  I could give that presentation today and it would still be accurate but the level of detail at which I now understand this has acquired eight more years of making, reading and reflection so the original version has become "correct but wrong".  My efforts to revisit this have resulted in one very high level diagram and a stack of aborted mind maps and scribbles.  Dissatisfied as I am with the result it does to a degree encapsulate where I am now more effectively than before.  I think this is because it feels more centred.

One step backwards and then another and another


The stepping back I speak of is the step back that is taken to see more of the overall picture, take an overview.  Each time I have taken a step forward I have ended up stepping back again.  It is as if each time I step forwards towards a specific investigation I am pulled back again into reflection.  The only things I have managed to do are the ones where the process itself is about reflection rather than something that can be reflected upon post.  So, at the moment, any activity must lend itself to pausing and scribbling or be completed quickly.


I think I am about to step forwards properly but time will tell.  Certainly there are several ideas coming up through the body but none are “shouting loudest”.  It may be that I will need to use my multi-tasking skills, breaking a number of ideas down into chunks that I can circulate between. 


At the moment, everything is a study, a circling around embodiment.  I have progressed through blind/imaginary drawing, a focus on narration, then on to video and the scanner as a means of analysis via a process drawing of the skull.  I am currently obsessed with the hand and the back as an expression of embodiment but at the same time I am wondering where that leaves the voice and the breath.


Although there is a progression through a sequence of different ways of looking, I think of these as one body of work with all studies sitting side by side in determining “what next?”

What happened to the face?


I arrived on the course having studied portraiture for about three years.  I originally started working on portraiture because I am interested in the face as a site of communication.  Portraiture as a practice had though become somewhat unsatisfactory for me. 


So I took my first step back:


  • What is a face?


And then my second step back:


  • What is it to know a face?


Followed by:


  • What is happening when I draw a face?


I had recently been to a talk at the Jerwood Space on 26 September about The Materiality of Drawing.  In my notes are the phrases:


  • Drawings lack of privilege becomes a freedom;

  • Drawing is slowing down compared to modern life.


Not knowing quite where to start I took advantage of this freedom and space to think by picking up paper and pencil and began working with various techniques around blind drawing, blind traced drawing, focussing on looking and touching (knowing by touch) rather than the outcome, all the time focussing on the face and its scaffolding, the skull.


This approach has given me a body of studies that are very much about seeing as a form of knowledge, seeing as a form of touching, a kind of rapport with the object.  Though the latter point may derive from using the skull as the key object I have been drawing (for the Skull drawings see: Sometimes I feel the pencil moving on my skin

Anchor 1

And on to “What is happening?”


I also started to investigate the unconscious dialogue that takes place between my eye, my brain and my hand when I am drawing.  I was seeking to make explicit how I am processing whilst this is taking place.  Speaking my thoughts in words whilst physically drawing proving difficult, I split the process out into stages and started to do imaginary drawings some of which I videoed.  These sound files are narrations, or attempts at narrations, as to what is happening as I draw.  (See To Pay Attention). The video files show how the drawing hand becomes lost in space, attached to the actions of the tracing hand but without the order imposed by an observing mind seeking to control its outcomes. (See Drawing in the Mind).


Along the way I revisited in my mind a workshop where we drew each other while we were talking and created a sequence of exported stills.  Originally I thought I might work with these to produce another set of drawings but as the skull scroll finished I had already moved on again.

Thinking Through Moving Image


I then went to a “Thinking Through Moving Image” workshop organised by academic support.  In the back of my mind I had at some level been making a Still Animation so was curious to look at animation in its own right.  As part of the workshop we looked at and discussed various videos and films.  The ones that stick in my mind are:


  • Bruce Nauman – Walking in an Exaggerated Manner – an oddly engaging video in which he walks round a square in his studio and back again (in an exaggerated manner).  His studio is there in the background which immediately begs questions as to whether he even thought about what was there.  Looking at my own photos in my studio space at home, I think perhaps not.


  • Chris Marker – La Jetee – which uses still images to create a narrative but somehow it starts to feel like a moving image anyway.


The methodology we were taught on the course was a form of animation using photos taken on the Vine App or iMotion.  I was interested in whether this would be a way to perform a similar activity to the skull scroll.  In fact I became more intrigued by what was happening in the background to the public sculptures I was animating.  (See Eye vs Eye)

Anchor 2

The hand and the back but How?


By this point I was starting to talk about breaking visual habits and that my prime concern now lay with embodiment.


Once it was clear to me that I would be working with embodiment the next question was: “how”?  I spent a day playing with photography, attempting to recreate some images of Helen Chadwick’s that had come to mind before concentrating on the parts of me that I do not normally see.  A few years ago I learnt a lot by attempting to paint in the negative (lighter areas are painted dark and vice versa) so reviewed the resulting images by inverting them in Photoshop. 


In revisiting Helen Chadwick’s work I also recalled her use of the photocopier and the photogram so over the next few weeks I carried out a sequence of scans of my face and then my hands, in daylight, in the evening and intentionally lit.  Starting with obvious arrangements and then beginning to work specifically with the scanners absence of any depth of field.


Attempting to manipulate my own hand on a flat bed to create multiple images of the tiny slices that are in focus has drawn my attention to the three dimensionality of the hand in a way that nothing else has done before, including my attempts to paint and draw one.  The hand has no flat surfaces whatsoever and of course I knew that, but at the same time I have not paid this any attention before.  (See Eye vs Eye)


Simultaneously I have continued to consider the parts of the body that I do not normally see.  I have long associated the back with vulnerability particularly since seeing a number of drawings by Juan Munoz at Tate Modern, so am focussing there.  There are mono prints of the back by Maggi Hambling which are also informative.


Where next?

And this brings me back to my statement above that there are several ideas coming up through the body but none are “shouting loudest”.  So, I will need to use my multi-tasking skills, breaking a number of ideas down into chunks that I can circulate between.  With 2 exhibitions coming up, Life in a Shoebox and the Corridor Show, both in week commencing 24 April, Easter will have a useful focus.

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