Whilst collaboration across visual arts subjects is more commonplace today, most visual arts disciplines, including drawing itself, are solitary activities, where a vision is thrashed out by various means, media and techniques; perhaps a little unlike music, which on the other hand, is most naturally engaged by the sociable act of playing together.
“The etymology of the word collaboration may be scientifically worthless, but it yields a suggestive poetic fact. The Latin word labor bears two opposite senses. It can mean to move smoothly, to run, flow, pass; to slip or slink (to meet); to fall down or collapse (from loss of support or rigidity); to fall down from exhaustion, to give way, to fail; and so on. Or it can mean the opposite: to work, labour, toil; to struggle with difficulty; to suffer from strain. It may be that these different definitions reflect the fact that two similarly sounding but semantically distinct words have been confused. Alternatively, an explanation may be found in the Greek verb lambanein, from which labor seems to be derived, for the Greek verb has both a passive and an active sense. Passively, it means to receive; actively, it means to grasp, to posses. The double meaning is reproduced in the English verb to take, meaning both to receive and to grasp. That is, the place of the collaborative process is one of give and take”.
Carter P. Material Thinking. 2004
Therefore collaboration usually sits neatly with communication, because inevitably it requires a co-ordinated dialogue, from which the cycle of listening as well as making can emanate. John Berger, in his book entitled ‘Berger on Drawing’, engages us with an anecdote where drawing was a means to cut across a language divide, initially at a dinner party in sketch exchange form and later via visual postal exchanges. What is clear is that the medium offers by way of communication, something separate from the verbal that allows scope for complete strangers to enjoy interaction. Although we are not all experts, we all have drawn at times in our life, so drawing is a very accessible medium and a genuine means to open up either with strangers or with which to further develop a dimension to an existing relationship. The paper becomes an arena for mutual reflection for a journey into the unknown, but at the same time, one where the tools and the conversational framework are familiar enough to make it both genuine and viable. Let’s be clear, drawing is not a serious alternative to a verbal language, but it can offer incites other than verbal ones, even if it is a much under used form of communicative exchange.
Rogers (2008) supports Kester’s argument that ‘the poststructuralist tradition has displayed a singular inability to confront the actuality of human social exchange’ (Kester 2003). She does this by exploring the dialogic potential of drawing and proposing the Drawing Encounter (an encounter using drawing rather than speech) as a new method (3). Her inquiry is situated in the relatively new field of drawing research where the term dialogic drawing appears not to have been conceptualised. There are instances, which include collaborative drawing between colleagues (Renwick 2003) or between students (McNorton 2003), but collaborative drawing is rarely the focus of research.
As a method actively pursued by practitioners there are various practitioners for whom dialogic drawing provides assistance or is used as a dynamic force to make visual ‘solutions’. In an article in ‘International Sculpture Center’, Rosa Lowinger interviews Los Carpinteros, who are a group of three artists who draw and make sculpture together. In trying to define their relation between drawing and sculpture, they outline that drawing is a form of correspondence: A drawing can be the origin of a fabulous conversation; and that conversation can result in a different work, and from that a third work can come out which has nothing to do with either the original drawing or the conversation. Dagoberto Rodriquez
Exchange + Draw are a drawing team that explore drawing conversation. They have begun to explore differing impetus for drawing conversation. As in an ordinary conversation – each collision of imagery is held to ransom by the nature and tone of the conversational process – that is its on-going-ness – its un-finalis-ability – which naturally accepts that material can both enter and exit the drawing frame at anytime. It is here that improvisation and a regeneration of material takes place. This can lead to a deeper journey into the centre of the imagery or to deflections and adaptations beyond, to some adjacent terrain. It can see a combination of ideas that are enhanced as if a it was some form of single vision, or responses sitting side by side, that together create resonance or provoke further gesture. Most often, the only thing that is sacred about a drawing conversation is the process of drawing itself and the knowledge that there is no need to reach something ‘finished’ – although opportunity suggests that there are moments where there is scope to reach appropriate points to conclude a conversation or to take stock. John Berger says “ we can only use the word ’finished’ to say that we have arrived as close as possible to the drawing’s own identity”.
Drawing exchange clearly yields many possibilities. In particular, a first event or turn is a likely stage for the element of surprise. One can of course postulate as to whether a creative drawing partner is any more likely to surprise if they are unknown to you or not. A second or third turn might see a shared terrain formalised, but it too can see deviations, shifts in attitude or approach that makes collaborative exploration a creatively open method, a container, that allows one to entertain ideas beyond ones own limitations and share an engagement that can leave viewers filling in the blanks, working between the gaps of a vision and imagining how they might themselves add to that vision.
Berger, J. (2005). Berger on Drawing. Occasional Press, Cork Ireland, P.134 &
Carter, P. (2004). Material Thinking. Melbourne University Press, Australia, P.14
Kester G. (2003). Position Paper - Pittsburgh, Monongahela Conference on Post Industrial Community Development, Art, Ecology and planning with people: Influencing Public places we care about. Available: http://moncon.greenmuseum.org/papers/kester1.html. Last accessed 24th July 2015.
Lowinger, R. (1999). The Object as Protagonist: an interview with Los Carpinteros. Available: http://www.sculpture.org/documents/scmag99/dec99/carp/carp.shtml. Last accessed 24th July 2015.
McNorton, J. (2003). Choreography of Drawing: The consciousness of the body in the space of drawing. Ph.D Thesis, Royal College of Art.
Renwick, G. (2003) Spatial Determinism in the Canadian North: A theoretical overview and practice-based critique. Ph.D thesis, Duncan Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Rogers, A. (2008) Drawing Encounters: A practice-led investigation into collaborative drawing asa means of revealing tacit elements of one-to one social encounter. Ph.D Thesis, UAL