Angela Eames/paper 2

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CADE 2002 - Middlesborough University
Date: 2002

Title of Paper: Now for THE FIVE STEP GUIDE..........
Key Words: aim, awareness, duration, superficiality, surprise

Drawing as visual thinking is as critical to the future as it has been in the past. The practically-oriented considerations which follow are summarised as ‘a five step guide or things to watch out for’, not as a dismissive but rather as a serious attempt to raise issues crucial to visual practice, technological development and drawing as the underpinning of visual conjecture.

Step 1: Have something to do. (Aim)

Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves that when an artist embarks on a new piece of work the reasons for doing so are various. Work in the main stems from previous work, often dissatisfaction with a piece, or the idea that it might be done differently. The stimulus for new work might come from other sources; everyday reflections, observations, discussions, even frustration. A lifetime’s work can frequently be seen as a single continuous thread, wherein a specific fascination or line of inquiry is pursued throughout - from the work of Caravaggio through to Duchamp and to now. Although formally over a period of time outcomes may appear visually different, the concerns and interests, which ground them, tend to be consistent. They have something to do. This ‘having something to do’ is accompanied by possible ideas as to ‘how to do it’ and in turn the ‘how to do it’ is governed by a sense of appropriateness which depends on ‘what is being done’. Within this working process chance, accident, strategy, formulation and the inevitable spanner of personal idiosyncrasy sit side by side.

Particular examples of my own work; ‘Opus’, ‘Upstream’, ‘Outside/inside’, ‘Inside/outside’, ‘Three Graces’, and ‘Life-class’, demonstrate how in my case it was the very practice of drawing which designated that I use a computer, although it was several years before I realised that these drawings incorporated manual equivalents of computing transformations; cut and paste, wrapping, scale and stretch. A peculiar empathy with machines engendered by this mode of working, led me to ask myself at the time, whether a computer might be able to extend what I was trying to do. I, as a human computer could go so far, but maybe the genuine article could take my strategies as far as they could go. When I did manage to gain access to an Amiga some two years later, there were no manuals or instruction but I had an aim; to see if the computer could produce layered ellipses.

It could and as a bonus I found that in the breaking down of my mark-making skills, it was a gift. Having entered the technological domain I discovered that just as in the material world, there were programs, which enabled appropriate modes of working, and there were those, which did not. Appropriateness of means and method remained as ever an issue. My own practice is predicated on the fact that new technology can and perhaps should be used to discover that which has not yet been discovered and not purely as a replicative tool. This is confirmed by an acknowledgement and acceptance of the undefinability of drawing. So aim to make the technology work for you.

Step 2: Have a spirit of adventure rather than learn by button-pushing. (Awareness)

What is new work, which is inherently out of sight? How can we recognise that which has not yet been seen? As human beings we assimilate our sensory experiences, we act out a form of simulated existence as part of a complex survival strategy and we intuitively learn how to cope in the world. We deploy eye/hand/foot/brain in response to what I call object-interference (life-forms, buildings, objects, still and moving). Exposure to new and different ways of seeing requires risk-taking.

In conversation with Paul Marks, a second year degree student of Drawing, at Camberwell College of Arts, he used the expression, ‘it’s a different way of viewing’ when showing me recent work carried out on a laptop, in rough and ready notation. He knew what he was talking about. He had been on a drawing day trip to Rolls Royce at Derby and had produced work using a CAD program. Drawing time was limited and his intentions had been to record information; reported speech, architectural data and his own positioning and response to a new and different environment. In a resistance to simply printing out the resultant ‘drawing’ and an interest in a more interactive approach to engage himself and the viewer, he demonstrated an awareness of this different way of viewing. He felt the viewer might be able to enter the drawing. Now there’s a concept!

One might assume Paul to be an experienced user of computing but the opposite is actually the case. His risk-taking suppositions stem from his involvement in the traditions of drawing. His intention to realise his ideas is dependent upon appropriateness of medium and/or method rather than a preconceived knowledge of what buttons to push. As a maker (he runs his own business, making decorative mosaic floors and walls) he had begun to use a CAD programme with this same attitude but he has no knowledge of other 2D or 3D applications, let alone word processing.

Whilst acknowledging that an awareness of the working realm locates and informs one’s visual practice and can aid the initiation of ideas, an approach whereby one is encouraged to learn to use computers by means of ‘button-pushing’ should be discouraged. Use of computing where there is a lack of visual discernment and original thought results in work that the application allows and can be a seductive, easy, but unimaginative route so watch out.

Step 3: Take your time. (Duration)

As the technology train hurtles on unabated, providing ever faster, ever cheaper and ever easier means of solving problems and producing visual imagery, artists and designers face the very real problem of keeping up with it. Does form follow function or form follow program? Do we have ideas that stem from needs or do we see the potential of a piece of equipment and just make something or do something as a response? Visual practitioners do both but perhaps with an emphasis on the former in each case. We seem to be engendering a climate wherein linear progression and the wholesale adoption of gadgetry, propped up by notions of technological improvement provide the only solution to visual problems. A climate of ‘Got yourself a problem, here’s the solution and its fast’.

Hewlett Packard recently advertised a home computer as shown in the slides. A far cry from the specifications of an equivalent advertisement of three years ago, let alone the drop in price between February and last week. The development of technology is moving so fast that it has begun to fundamentally affect the working process. A furniture designer, architect, product or interior designer does not want to be faced with expensive and continual upgrading of their equipment. As users will be aware, it is difficult to replace items should something go wrong. Technical consultants continually advise that equipment is seriously out of date if the computer is more than two years old. If a bandsaw blade snaps a maker simply wishes to replace it. To replace hardware and software as we are pressured to do we are often required to readapt procedurally and spend precious time learning new programs. Where does the visual practitioner find the time to do creative or experimental work? Before the program is fully explored and exploited another version is on the shelves, promising improvements and ever more possibilities. For many visual practitioners time is a critical factor, not only as a production deadline, but also as a period of creative contemplation, experimentation and understanding. The ever-increasing ‘specs’ of domestic machines might be desirable but must inevitably contribute to a change in working practice.

The performance artist Stelarc maintains that the human body is profoundly obsolete, that we have outstripped our own bodies and need even to begin to consider redesigning the body. Artists and designers do not want to strap themselves to the front of the technology train. They want to slow down, take their time, and explore those potentials and possibilities, which actually exist. At the very least put yourself in the driving seat.

Step 4: Beware of the ‘Hasselblad Mentality’. (Superficiality)

How many times have you found yourself in conversation with someone eulogising upon the latest model of camera, lens type, recently the advantages of digital cameras, or the brilliant design of a carrying bag but significantly no mention of photograph, image or content? If you teach, have you ever found yourself asking a student if they had thought of changing or adapting the shape of the paper they were using? Paper with its now universal and standardised dimensions - A0, A1, A2, etc. There is a tendency now for the wholesale adoption of these predetermined configurations. I refer to these curious affectations as the ‘Hasselblad Mentality’.

The artist or designer has not to dismiss or deny the wonder of technological developments but to be aware that there is a tendency for the media provision to predicate the work as opposed to the other way round. A Hasselblad camera, at best, might signify difference in visual outcome. So why total acceptance of notions of quality or standardisation. It is not hard to see why, when students work with a computer, that an acknowledgement of human interaction in relation to scale, size, space (material or virtual), is the last consideration. Acknowledgement of the computer simply as a tool exacerbates the situation for artists and designers; encouraging the notion that one makes work facilitated by technique alone. Artists have never had any problems using, inventing sometimes, or adapting to tools. They decry the superficial adoption of technique and promote an attitude to work which centres on the transgression of previous methods, uses of material and reasoning. They can enable a greater understanding of the computing environment wherein the potentiality of the electronic realm can be genuinely explored.

Roger Hilton stated that he was arguing in the last resort, in favour of the sinking of technique to a level of consciousness where it can confront man, for art as revealed truth, not as significant form, and technique as the instrument of its exposition. I am concerned here with visual thought being drawing which might be manifested through reflection, deliberation and speculation in any number of visual outcomes, including electronic. The electronic realm is not the apex of human achievement, simply another rung on the ladder of human curiosity and invention. A rung which might allow us to engage with other aspects of space and time. The computer allows different views of our world and new experiences. It is the continuance of an experiential and experimental approach to work, one which acknowledges risk and failure, and subjugates technique, in an attempt to become conscious of the potential of machines, ourselves and beyond, which is crucial.

Step 5: Transgress, prod and probe. (Surprise)

Nearly ten years ago now, Ron Arad said that technology enables us to do practically everything, there’s an amazing amount of progress in technology and very little progress in design. Bill Moggeridge said that you don’t want to think about the voice going down the dog-bone, what you want to do is think about speaking to your mum. Alberto Alessi said that mass production cannot accept risk. They have to work strictly on a rule system. Good design always likes to break rules. Transgression is important in good design - technical transgression, marketing transgression, or even aesthetic transgression. Three statements which bear testimony to some less regarded aspects of visual practice when considering technology; imagination, probing and confrontation as opposed to entertainment, progression and improvement. But how for example does one transgress within a computing environment? Wherever there is a tendency for visual decisions and evidence to be predicated by the medium itself, there is a need to persist in engagement in terms of purpose rather than style. Technological advance promises that we shall no longer require the interference of the keyboard which may well allow artists and designers to concentrate on the critical issues and to think and move around the computing environment in a more intuitive or less peremptory manner, questioning, probing and initiating responses.

Whether a basic understanding and comprehension of operating systems and the mechanics of the equipment will be required on the part of the user is questionable. Traditionally artists, makers and designers have demonstrated an innate and comprehensive understanding of materials, methods and not least their tools, but what of the future. The realm of visual thought and perhaps more importantly visual play yields up the unexpected and often surprising. In the imagining, making and placing of marks, two and three dimensionally, visual thought has ultimately led us to the electronic realm which continues to discharge responsibility and incite engagement. Drawing as visual thinking, unconstrained by means or method, remains vital in developing human awareness of ‘reality’ in a synthesis of natural and artificial. So keep prodding and probing and you might be in for some surprises.

Figs 1 and 2

Figs 1 and 2, Opus and Upstream
graphite on paper, each 48insx48ins
Copyright © 2004 A Eames

Figs 3 and 4

Figs 3 and 4, Outside/inside, Inside/outside
graphite on paper, each 60insx60ins
Copyright © 2004 A Eames

Figs 5,6,7 and 8

Figs 5,6,7 and 8, Final Fusion
graphite on paper, digital print, on canvas, each 60insx60ins
Copyright © 2004 A Eames

Fig 9

Fig 9, Come on in the water's lovely
each 45insx90ins
Copyright © 2004 A Eames

Figs 10 and 11

Figs 10 and 11, Jumper and Gaudi's
string and sandbag drawing for Guell Colony Church

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