Jane Grisewood, Mourning Lines, The Tetley Leeds, 2014, 30-minute drawing performance, charcoal on paper, 500 x 75 cm.
Traction talks art and science with artist Jane Grisewood.
Much of your practice focuses on the relationship between art and science in the contemporary sphere. How do you negotiate the movement between abstract conception and aesthetic realization?
Movement is the key word and as an artist, I’m preoccupied with process and the fluid and ambiguous relationship between making and meaning. Living in the southern hemisphere and then in the northern, with subsequent shifting back and forth, has had a considerable impact on my practice in relation to how I view time and space, periphery and distance.
The art-science relationship has been of interest for a while, but the catalyst behind recent work has been my conceptual explorations into the temporal dimension and liminality of space, focusing on shifts between scale, visibility, order and chaos, dark and light. As I became more involved with the science, the invisible dimensions, time, energy, entropy, gravity and sound became more intriguing. This seems a little crazy for a visual artist but it makes the aesthetic realisation an exciting challenge.
The process of making work, whether through performance or print, always begins with my notebooks and journals, crammed with writings, drawings and photographs, which I refer to every day whether in the studio or not. I spend a lot of time considering the vast amount of research that I’ve recorded, selecting concepts that can be taken forward. And I’m often at my computer sifting through the hundreds of photographs I’ve taken to find those that become sources for my work or as works in their own right. I often adopt a loose scientific methodology that operates between structure and unpredictability. Sometimes too much thought is given to an idea which prevents it from being realised, other times, particularly with performance drawing, the work can form itself. But whatever extreme, it is key for me that the move from conception to realisation is reflective and reactive, evolving from the ‘doing’ … idea ‘becoming’ artwork.
Jane Grisewood, Spectrum, Kitt Peak Observatory, Tucson 2012, oil stick on paper, 80 x 60 cm.
You recently completed residencies in Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in La Serena, Chile and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Kitt Peak, Tucson, USA. How did these experiences specifically fuel areas of your practice?
Night after night, observing the vast clear skies through the powerful telescopes in the observatories was like being in a time machine seeing into the past. It was incredible to witness the first images coming from the world’s most powerful digital camera located in the Chilean Andes, which is undertaking the largest survey of the southern skies to record information from millions of galaxies, billions of light-years from earth, in the hunt for dark energy. As it was also incredible to see the Leonid meteors split the sky with dramatic lines of light, or to view the path of a solar eclipse from the massive solar telescope in Arizona.
These experiences couldn’t help but impact on my practice, prompting thoughts to move beyond an earth-bound temporality to the enormity of the cosmos, as well as providing a wealth of research material for new work. This was intensified further by ‘observing the observers’ in the control rooms through the night. I was briefed on wavelengths and spectrographs, absorption lines and emission lines, which resonated with a consistent theme in my work, the line. I recorded the various manifestations of spectra from distant stars that appeared on the monitors, puzzling over how to render them in a way that would convey the significance of their minimal black and white lines – like DNA – where the invisible could be made visible. Further ideas for artworks ran riot when I was shown an intense black material developed to absorb optimum light, which was the ‘blackest black’ I’d ever seen. The night environment became ideal for my ongoing research into darkness; defined by its absence of light, black paradoxically enables us to see light. I was increasingly conscious of the significance and implications of ‘seeing’ in the dark, and it became an apt metaphor for my experiences, inspiring works in a variety of media that might reflect this dark/light, visible/invisible continually shifting universe.
Jane Grisewood and Carali McCall, Line Dialogue V (detail), Again and Again and Again exhibition, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2012, two-hour performance, charcoal and graphite on wall, 1200 x 200 cm.
Drawing as a medium has evolved relatively recently from one that is oft-ignored to one that is extremely prominent in contemporary art. Why is drawing so relevant to your own practice?
Yes, it has been fairly recently that drawing has become the zeitgeist again. When I started my practice-based PhD at Central Saint Martins ten years ago, it was rare to be focusing on drawing. But by the time I completed in 2010, there were dozens of PhDs in drawing underway, so it’s exciting for it to be on the radar again. I was always drawing as a child, with pencil and paper close to hand, and haven’t really stopped. Even during my years in publishing, I was sketching concepts for new projects. In that sense, drawing has always been relevant to me as a way of thinking, ‘seeing’ and communicating, and it’s key now, underpinning my practice whether it be performance or photography.
What I love about drawing is the directness, the tactile qualities, the spontaneity, fluidity, and portability, to name but a few reasons. But more specifically in my practice, it is drawing as a process, a verb, operating through the line or mark that is important. And not so much what the line or mark is, but what it can do or be. Much of my drawing is performative and involves my body as a tool to mark temporal presence, where the line is a dynamic middle recording movement in time and space. Operating between two and three dimensions, the lines can be visible – as the large-scale Line Dialogue drawing performances with artist Carali McCall, ongoing repetitive Marking Time drawings on paper, or solitary ash walks and charcoal re-enactments in Mourning Lines, to invisible – simply marking the surface with my feet or the sounds of my breath as I move through a place. In recent work, I’ve been exploring themes of dark and light, particularly blackness, through a series of drawings using paint sticks where surface has consumed line. But whatever methods or materials are involved, drawing represents a performative, open-ended process – a moving between.
Jane Grisewood, Black Light, Eagle Gallery London 2013, photographic sequence/artist book 15 x 10 cm.
You have produced several artist books. How does this format lend itself to your research?
I’m passionate about books and I’ve been making them one way or another for as long as I can remember, including during my years as a publisher. It has always been about the book format as ‘container’, an object in time that can be touched, opened and closed, where thoughts can be communicated in a portable and accessible way. Making books is an integral part of my work, where my ideas can inform my wider practice. The format echoes my research interests in the line, repetition, seriality and time, which infiltrate my work in different media. It also provides a perfect platform for experimenting with previous work (as the graphite drawings in Line Journeys) or with original photographic projects that are planned as both books and prints (as Separations and Black Light). The artist book has enabled a wider audience for my work in private and public collections including the Tate and V&A in London and MoMA in New York.
What is coming up next for you?
What lies ahead is always in flux…but alongside developing new work from the residencies in the USA and Chile, is a discourse with the astrophysics department at UCL, and an opportunity to research at the observatories in Hawaii later in the year.
I’m also working on an exciting new performance drawing light/dark installation with artist Carali McCall and the performance photographer from ]Performance Space[.
The teaching aspects of my practice extend to drawing in other disciplines, which I hope to develop further and exhibit the drawings from scientists made while responding to my questions on subjects from symbiotic stars to dark energy and black holes.
For more information on Jane Grisewood’s practice, visit www.janegrisewood.com.