Time as sculpture
An ongoing series of ink drawings where time is symbolised by a clock face, either without hands or with a minimal suggestion of hands, divided into minutes and hours and based on a 12 or 24 hour clock.
Time is seen as an elastic substance that bulges, balloons, replicates, reproduces, expands or shrinks. It is imagined as subject to gravity or some internal pressure, able to flow like water or disperse like smoke: half way to becoming sculpture.
Drawings in charcoal and pencil that analyse and record the movement of an Asparagus Fern through successive stages of growth. There is a fuller account of the process at the bottom of the page. The drawings are about 125 x 100 cms.
Once upon a time, my mother, a heavy smoker, kept in her living room an asparagus fern. The plant did not thrive and was a poor stunted thing. It badly needed a new life and a place where it could flourish. And so the story begins.
Wikipedia states that Asparagus setaceus, commonly known as Common Asparagus Fern, is a vine plant in the genus Asparagus. Despite its common name, the plant is not a true fern, but has leaves that resemble one. It is native to South Africa, and is grown elsewhere as an ornamental plant. It has become an invasive species in several locations in Australia, where it has been introduced and is considered a noxious weed.
It is described as a scrambling perennial herb with tough green stems, which may reach several metres in length. The leaves are actually leaf-like cladodes up to 7 mm long by 0.1 mm in diameter, which arise in clumps of up to 15 from the stem, making a fine, soft green fern-like foliage. It is very hardy and adapts readily to cultivation.
Ironic, then, that a noxious weed was being poisoned by another noxious weed. Transferred to a smoke-free room the Asparagus Fern recovered and over a number of years grew larger and larger, gradually taking over a corner of our living room.
Eventually the fern grew too big and had to be destroyed but during its life I was able to make several drawings that recorded its peculiar annual growth spurts and what I can only describe as a kind of choreography or ‘dance-writing’.
Each year, for a short period, the plant would throw out a number of new stems that grew rapidly and reached out into the surrounding space. The growth spurts were almost visible to the human eye - but the movement of the stems was certainly visible, and was like the slow, tentative dance of a Calder mobile.
To explain the methods I used to make the drawings:
I constructed a string cage around the plant so that from a fixed viewing point I was able to make reference to where the growing stem was at a particular moment in time. I devised a code for each drawing of a stem so that I could record and follow its changing shape and position.
For instance: 2N202016 means that the stem was mapped on 2nd November at 20.20 and was drawing number 16.
The drawings were made on small sheets of paper and, as I couldn’t anticipate where the plant would go next, I had to keep adding more paper, taping the sheets together as I went along. So the drawing was growing in parallel with the plant, a pleasing similarity.
The result of this patient mapping was a series of surprising and unpredictable images that were more than just a simple record of a plant growing. I suppose, in a sense, the drawings could be seen as laborious hand-crafted versions of time-lapse photography - but I began to think of the process as a quasi-scientific method, a bit like a computer programme, that was determining when and where the lines were positioned.
Another way of thinking about the process is to say that the plant was making the drawing, that it was me who was being directed and controlled by the plant. Allowing this to happen is often a good way of working; it breaks those habits of making marks and shapes that have become too familiar and too easy.
This first stage of drawing, where the plant ‘controlled’ me, was followed by a second stage where I regained control by transferring the initial scrappy records onto larger sheets of paper. Here the drawing was more closely related to the scale of the plant, the string cage was edited out, and the lines were redrawn with charcoal.
In these ‘presentation drawings’ the lines have more coherence and take on a life of their own; they begin to resemble maps, flows of water or photographic negatives recording the movement of car lights. Viewed up close the lines become complex overlapping pathways that offer alternative routes and possible journeys. The drawings were surprisingly spacious, given that each line is drawn flat without suggesting depth or atmosphere.
The codes at the end of each stem, and the column of times and dates on each drawing, allow the viewer to disentangle the lines and retrace the growth and movement through all the stages from the first to the last. It would be interesting to separate each line and reconstruct an entire sequence as an animated film but that’s another project.