Learning the lines

Vlatka Horvat and I take seats on opposite sides of a table in a gallery at Aichi Arts Centre in Nagoya, Japan, for part of our Over the Table project. Trapped between our hands is a pen, tracing lines on the paper we’ve placed on the table, marking the restless skids and scratches of our ungainly Ouija-board-meets-broken-seismograph collaboration. Disengagement would cause the pen to fall immediately, but for the next hour its motion – fluid, clumsy, jerky, strained or otherwise – will be produced by our playful but silent negotiation. Looking down on the paper when the performance is over it’s all marks and trails, dots and lines – at once a drawing and a record of the choreography our hands have made, depicting their journey over the white expanse of the page.

There’s a strange fascination to this process and it led me to consider the link between performance and drawing. Bobby Baker’s Drawing on a Mother’s Experience comes to mind – a performance that revisited Jackson Pollock’s action painting from a feminist perspective, switching his dripping and splattering of paint on canvas for the act of throwing domestic materials including flour, jam and even Guinness onto a white double bedsheet. The resulting picture is beautiful, messy. It’s also a theatrical mnemonic for the stories Baker has told in the performance: to look at it is to remember.

After Vlatka and I have finished our drawing performance we visit the upstairs gallery where Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang has a huge work on canvas depicting a sketchy underwater landscape and figures, stretched around the walls. A video in the gallery makes clear how the work was created, starting with a woman swimming underwater in a clear-wall pool while the artist draws lines around her silhouette, a fleeting trace of her movement drawn on a paper draped around the pool. This process makes an amazing performance, even if not explicitly staged. The final part of the video shows Cai and numerous assistants making elaborate preparations on the surface of the drawing as it lies on the floor of a large sports hall.