Expansive Traces

Ormston House, Limerick

It starts with a hiss. An image flares onto the wall; two hands lie on a white surface, the right holds a pencil, or maybe graphite, the left rests on the paper. The pencilwielding hand swings into action to describe a circle. The left remains motionless while the repetitive action of the right becomes hypnotic – a smooth mechanical movement of joints, like levers or swingarm bearings. The circle develops mass and density, while the other half of the split-screen projection shows a close-up of the marks made; they have a texture like a hank of coarse hair. The hand (right? left?) takes up a piece of sandpaper and begins to buff at the marks, again in an even, circular motion, the hiss of graphite becoming a rasp of abrasion. The hank of marks blurs and softens, misting at the edges where dust accumulates. The buffing intensifies, becoming a more determined scrubbing until the paper begins to scuff and feather. Derek Fortas’ video Recurrence of Resistance (2014), accompanied compellingly by the soundtrack of draughtsmanship, shows us drawing reduced to labour and the monotonous effort of erasure. The simple, repetitive exercise also recalls Robert Rauschenberg’s anecdote describing the sheer hard work that went into making his Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953).

Expansive Traces, installation shot. Ormston House, Limerick 2014. Featured works by (L-R) Darek Fortas:Still Life II (Piece of Soil) (2013); Emma Roche: There’s Nothing Complicated About a Bed (2013). Photo Eamonn O’Mahony.
Expansive Traces, installation shot. Ormston House, Limerick 2014. Featured works by (L-R) Darek Fortas:Still Life II (Piece of Soil) (2013); Emma Roche: There’s Nothing Complicated About a Bed (2013). Photo Eamonn O’Mahony.

Expanded Traces is a small show but, sensitively curated by Eimear Redmond, it presents a thoughtful and often witty exploration of contemporary approaches to drawing that challenges received ideas about what drawing is or can be, while focusing on approaches that are frequently in dialogue with art historical precedent. Shane Murphy’s site-specific installation, Untitled (2014), rehearses a strategy of extending drawing into three dimensional space, first explored by Marcel Duchamp with his Mile of String in 1942, and furthered by Eva Hesse in the 1960s, and by Gego, Gordon Matta-Clark and Fred Sandback in the 1970s. Murphy’s installation more specifically brings to mind Anthony McCall’s projected beam of light in Line Describing a Cone (1973), albeit updated for the digital age. In a corner of the gallery he constructed a cat’s cradle of taut filaments to make a series of intersecting screens. These were interposed by suspended cubes made in wire, and the whole assemblage was shot through with a projection of spinning linear elements. The work was pixelated, immersive and visually complex, but also beguilingly retro, like stepping into an early computer animation or CAD drawing. More simply, but no less effectively, Emma Roche’s playful tactic in the cryptically titled, There’s Nothing Complicated About a Bed (2013), is to project a tangle of coloured cable from the wall on a wooden cross bar, illuminated by a raking light that flattens the mass to draw its shadow on the wall. Looking closer, the cables turn out to be strands of extruded paint, it’s a clever jumbling of media – paint repurposed as a sculptural medium, but used here to trace an immaterial shadow.

Laura Kelly uses the gallery wall as her drawing support, marking it with a faint blurred track as if made by a bicycle wheel, and interspersing this with vivid orange embroidery hoops that hold softly crimpled newsprint. Disposable Boundaries (2013) seems to zoom in and out of focus, the pale track tracing in the abstract the outline of a jagged summit and the hoops containing minutely detailed drawings of fir trees and rocky peaks. Perhaps obliquely referencing unmarked geographical borders, Kelly’s piece also calls to mind Caspar David Friedrich’s evocation of the romantic sublime through landscape. More prosaically, with A Malin to Mizen Head Approach (2012), Susan Lynch plots her walk between Ireland’s northernmost and southern most points on the gallery wall – cleverly inverting Paul Klee’s quip of drawing entailing ‘taking a line for a walk’. She uses a pleasingly scribbley line about a centimetre thick made with a hard, sharp pencil to transcribe a map of her journey, which is punctuated by text messages received along the way. Her exploration of drawing as a tactic is multi-faceted: it is a map, a record and a timeline, as well a diary that connects threads of conversations.

Many of these pieces rehearse familiar strategies: drawing emancipated from the two dimensional, explored as action, as labor, as a way of marking or recording time, narrative and memory, as a means of documenting journeys both real and imagined. But this is a show shot through with wit and intelligence, where hand, line, trace and gesture are explored and re-imagined. Moreover, Expansive Traces presented the viewer with a resonant, lively and satisfying dialogue with a history of practice.