Thursday, August 19, 2021

Drawing, the Body, and the Cognitive Unconscious

(This essay was originally published in Iteralia Magazine, March 2020)

 

 What does the body know that the conscious mind doesn’t? Considering that we are the product of millions of years of evolution, animals descended from other animals born of the earth, the earth itself birthed in some remote cosmic furnace made of particles forged in the very cradle of time, the answer is: probably a lot.

 

Over the last decade, this question has been the generative force behind both my studio work and my writing. In the former, drawing has been my primary mode of exploration, for drawing is essentially a language of the body. A kind of somatic or motoric thinking unmediated by the conscious mind, drawing registers ideas and impulses we cannot know by other means – and ones that often belie the mind’s explicit discursive content. Scientists call this the cognitive unconscious: that 98% percent of our thought we don’t know we are thinking but that nonetheless shapes much of who and what we are. Mining this wealth of knowledge housed deep inside our cells, drawing is thus a means of accessing our deeper intelligence, or what we might call, in contrast to the personal kind, our shared species-knowledge.  

 

My work begins with simple gesture drawings made with graphite. Executed without plan and with as few strokes as possible, the forms that emerge record a confluence of forces. A kind of collaboration between a sensing organism and the dynamics of its environment, each drawing is unique, irreproducible by definition. Mystery is paramount: I can explain or understand the forms no more than anyone else can. I consider a drawing finished only when it achieves a certain rightness, a judgment I make not analytically but viscerally. When finished, the drawings are scanned and either laser-printed on Lucite or printed on fiber with piezography inks. In working with digital media, the question that interests me is whether the presence of the hand so prized in conventional drawing is preserved across the various transformations. Most recently, I have been reversing the progression from analog to digital by meticulously recreating – and thereby further transforming – my digitized gesture drawings in charcoal.

 

The experience of the viewer is central to my work. Just as my drawings are made with the instrument of my body, so too are they to be felt as distinct pulsations in others’. For mimetic creatures that we are, every act of seeing is in some sense a reenactment, our bodies reiterating what is seen in the way of subtle muscular tensions. But although my drawings originate with me, they are emphatically not about me. In the movement of their forms the viewer might intuit the rhythms of nature, since to attune to the body is to attune to matter, and in matter we find our continuity with the natural world. In this rejection of the personal in favor of the transpersonal, my work aligns itself with the posthumanist ethos, an orientation intent on moving beyond the anthropocentrism of the humanist era.

 

In a century in which we’re being called upon to address our disavowal of nature, drawing is emerging as an especially relevant medium.  Indeed, in its affirmation of the body as a valuable organ of our intelligence, it has the potential to serve as an agent of cultural healing, beginning, as it must, with what we’ve disavowed in ourselves.

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