The Information Lab project
The Single Art Work (SAW) project

" An experiment in Synaesthesia"
SOT: Sources of Time: Zeitquellen
p0es1s. Digitale Poesie
More or less how I draw
Sight in Action von Dorothée Brill
Drawing..... von Friedrich W. Block

The Information Lab project   ( top )

The Arts Laboratory, Drury Lane , London , May to October 1968. The "Info Lab" was a bi-weekly series of one-hour events. For each event, one person was invited to explain his or her work, and the story of how they had come to be doing it. Persons were included from diverse pursuits, such as computer science, film, poetry, politics, and "revolutionary" activism. The audience was instructed to interrupt with skeptical questions and brief comments at any time, creating a situation in which a person was putting themselves together, while they were being taken apart.

The Single Art Work (SAW) project     ( top )
Realized at various locations, 1986 to the present.

In a Single Art Work (SAW) exhibition, a small group of people spends three or four hours with a single, uniquely embodied artwork, for example, a painting. The event's basic duration and behavioral expectations are given by the conventions of a dinner party, a familiar situation, not attracting unnecessary attention to itself. My interventions in the situation are guided by the analogy between how persons know one another and how they might get to know a painting. I remain alert to possible coincidences and combinations between the two kinds of encounter. I understand the viewing of a painting in this situation as an accumulation of glances and longer looks, and of moments it is touched on in conversation, directly, indirectly. The conversation, full of unconscious mirroring of what is seen, and of indirect reference, beside the direct commentaries, becomes itself a means of relation to the artwork, both in sight and interpretation. The artist of each exhibited work participates in the event. At a later date, all participants meet again with the project's initiator, together or individually, to describe and discuss the experience of the painting in the project situation.

SAW events have been held in Amsterdam , Breda , Rotterdam , Basel , Mettmann, and Kassel.

Exhibiting artists to date include: Marlene Dumas, Jan Dibbets, Marien Schouten, Jurgen Parthenheimer, Markus Raetz, Elsa Stansfield and Madelon Hooykaas, Helmut Dirnaichner, Morgan O'Hara, Jan Beutener, Hans Aarsman, Anselm Stalder, Marianne Eigenheer, Dagmar Baumann, Marian Breedveld, Franz Immoos, J.C.J. Vanderheyden, Nan Hoover, Henk Visch, Philip Akkerman, Daan van Golden, Thomas Huber, Sam Da Baek, and Raimer Jochims.  

It had been my experience that in conventional exhibitions paintings did not come fully alive. Visitors were left with at a suspicion of what was possible, and accepted having the suspicion as being the equivalent of having seen a painting. In comparison, someone who had read the first few pages of a novel would not say they had read the novel. Painting was, in my experience, an art form that could, in its best use, continue to develop in complexity of meaning and depth of presence over years of daily viewing.
In the normal museum or gallery situation, only unusually disciplined viewers could give more than a few seconds of attention to individual painting, and even such a viewer rarely reached the exhibition exit without seeing many dozens of other artworks, with memory overlaying memory. Of course, some painting-like art forms had been evolving to occupy these short attention spans. As well, art forms seemed to be increasingly dissolved into a universal category of "artwork", understood as idea or image or situation detachable from specific media. In other words, "an artwork" was becoming defined as a bodiless cause of experience, for which concrete specifics of material, object, discipline and place were the incidental and disposable means. My interest went to those artworks that barely start to exist in a brief look, and require a continuing relation, in a real time and place and embodiment, between a viewer and a medium. Such a requirement that was at once the means of the artwork, and inseparable from that artwork. It seemed to me that my paintings were of such a kind, and that their mode of existence was in analogy to a human person's own embodied life. That analogy became the seed to my imagination of an exhibition situation natural to that particular kind of artwork. The situation should be conducive to persons getting to know a painting as if getting to know a person in the flesh, I believed. Many persons, I also found, assume that artwork, including the artwork that is a painting, exists solely in their experience of it, which can easily be re-lived via memory and/or a documentary reconstitution aided by photographic reproduction and text. In art critical or theoretical work concerning painting, as well as in public custom, reproductions seemed to have become widely accepted as the practical equivalent of their originals. A conceptual, snapshot-based theory of art seemed indifferent to this phenomenon. Retirement of attention from the unique amplifies the influence of a general flux of impressions. A museum is visited for a general museum experience, a restorative Sunday morning atmospheric tonic. A later leafing through the catalogue carried home completes the art experience. For the museum director whose idea of direction is to create Gesamtkunst, the phenomena are welcome. An individual painting, which demands serious attention, becomes a disadvantage, an obstacle to the flow. The SAW project is a practical and philosophic exploration of that disadvantage, of the limitations that create the possibility for individual human life and individually reflective artw ork.

I assumed a definition of painting derived from experience of both sides of painting, from a painting being made and being used. This definition became the paradigm of selection of artworks for exhibition. Taking as guiding analogy that of an art form to a life form, it was a question of arranging an environment suitable to the life form, like understanding that to see a hare being a hare, it needs to be put in a field. The definition of a painting was that of an artwork needing a generous duration of attention in a real presence, a presence formed by nexus of dimensions, from semiotics to physicality and metaphysics. What seemed to hold them all together was a sense of location in place and time, or time as substantial form. The definition became a prediction of what a painting could do with its viewers, for example, as being simultaneously object of sight, medium of conversation, and adding to the present the past of its being painted.

I decided to exhibit a single artwork, to clarify the viewer's focus, and to ask for a longer duration of the viewer's presence to allow for a buildup and interaction of perceptions and affective responses, and a development thought in relation to the artwork, before it had become a memory or reproduction. A small group of persons was to be invited, to broaden the range of interaction and add sources of perception and knowledge. The resulting conversation could and usually did manifest in microcosm the artwork's contemporary cultural context. But it also served as a medium for glimpses from multiple points of view, increasing the paths of exchange between viewer and artwork. The social protocol I chose to organize the passage of time in the exhibition situation was that of an intimate dinner party.

The degree of difference, from the paradigm of painting, among the exhibited artworks, has contributed in my understanding to a secondary aim of the project, a reassessment of differences among art forms.

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" An experiment in Synaesthesia"     ( top )

A project carried out as part of and during " The International Workshop for Artists and Human Science" held at the University for Humanistic Studies, Utrecht , April 20 to 23, 1994 .

All participants in this aspect of the workshop kept chronologically coordinated, non-representational pictorial journals during all the programmed activities of the Workshop. Each participant received a notebook, a box of colored pencils, and basic instructions as to technique of notation and kinds of semiotics. The journals were kept constantly at hand and updated constantly. At the close of the three day long workshop, the notebook pages were taken out and exhibited in stacked parallel lines around the walls of a large room. Variations and similarities in relation between event and subject of discussion and individual pictorial notations were observed and discussed.

SOT: Sources of Time: Zeitquellen     ( top )
Kunsttempel, Kassel , May 15 to June 21, 2002 .
"KasselKultur 2002, Stadtprogramm im documenta-Jahr"

An exhibition of my watercolor landscape drawings was placed in the context of a project exploring the role of bodily presence, time, and reflective conversation in a developing relation between artwork and viewers. The day before the opening, A SAW exhibition was held with one drawing, artifacts of which, including recorded ambient sound and the cluttered dinner table, remained to form an installation as part of the five week long exhibition. Each of the exhibited drawings was presented standing on a table of its own, representing an island of time, an island that would grow as a relation developed. The exhibition was closed by an informal forum, or "brainstorm", conducted by an invited core group of philosophers, art critics, concrete poets, curators, and artists all focusing on the significance of embodiment and personal identity, or the absence of it, in art work.

Participants included, besides the artist: Friedrich Block, literary theorist, concrete poet, curator, Kassel ; Marianne Eigenheer, artist, professor, Stuttgart/Basel ; Paul Groot, art critic, curator, artist , Amsterdam; Christine Koenigs, artist , Amsterdam ; Henk Oosterling, philosopher , professor, Rotterdam; Herman Gabling, artist, docent, curator, Amsterdam ; Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer, literature and art historian, art critic, curator , Berlin; Wolfram DER Spyra, musician, digital composer, performance artist , Kassel; and Stefan Strauss, artist, Amsterdam, among others .

The conceptual deconstruction and polymorphic recombination of art forms, facilitated by digitalization, has steadily moved to include the life form of the artist and viewer, transmitting contemporary uncertainties about the cohesiveness of individual personality, and the nature of its embodiment. The project became a search for processes generating identity under the surface of form, and for the significance of the persistence of form within human awareness. The embodied self and its analogies in art forms were the initial focus of interest in this project. Drawing and painting in relation to landscape were the home context for the thought and planning in the project. However, any development in questions of art praxis and theory proved inseparable from the question: "In what way can a woman or man be said to exist, in relation to their world, their bodies, and other persons, much less in the roles of artist or viewer in relation to artwork?" Can any answer seriously include a personal name and a specific place or time? Is a painting a useful means for exploring the possibility of being a particular person, or does our reality consist strictly of after-images of what seemed once to be the case, of which this moment is already another example? This evolution of questions imported from SAW emerged in the Sources of Time project and became explicit in the closing "Summer Solstice Brainstorm" on the 21 st of June.

p0es1s. Digitale Poesie     ( top )
Kulturforum , Berlin , February 13 to April 4, 2004

My formal part was participation in the colloquium among the exhibiting artists held at the beginning of the exhibition. By returning for a week as a visitor to the exhibition, I carried out a personal project of exploration.

More or less how I draw     ( top )

Until I feel caught and held in a particular place, I continue walking through a landscape. Some places seem to give out a signal, as if from a voice in a crowd calls your name, but response is easily interrupted by the sight of a population of red ants, or a weird shadow, or a space without the structural clues I need. A place where a drawing is possible is always a concrete perception, still, the decision to sit down and start to draw is difficult, even if just that the momentum of walking continues and tends to pull the body away. All connections to other places, for example the thought of a cup of coffee at the station on the way home, distract me where I sit. Resistance to restlessness brings on claustrophobia, and only when that is over won does the drawing begin.

Once I am well on my way in a drawing, the next difficulty is metaphysical vertigo. It is necessary to adjust the focus of awareness against an urge for limitless depth and completeness, a desire to stretch the mind out to touch every detail and follow every line into the future of the things I see. The ground underfoot seems to fall away, as if the bench or the fisherman’s stool that I am sitting on becomes the crumbling edge of a precipice, and I lurch out into free-fall. Every point my pencil touches and every spot my eye rests on, bursts into possibilities, and every turn of a line seems arbitrary. There is nothing to do but persist, until the free fall becomes a cooperative action, and the ground becomes firm under foot again. It is as if the existence of the landscape and myself come in balance, and the things that I see give themselves in a form can use. They simplify themselves in response to my capacity.

Such an experience is for me an integral part of the act of drawing, and the memory of it extends into later working out of the drawing at home in my studio, and that is a central reason for my never using a photograph as a model, or as a source of information from which to invent an image. It seems that it would be like a flight simulator, using nearly the same set of technical skills but without danger, and taking me nowhere, or to a very different kind of art work. It is the possibilities of drawing as part of an act of direct perception, without filters, pre-digestion, or safety nets that interest me. In an actual place in a landscape, my senses are filled with aspects of things that scientific explanations censor out entirely, even aspects of the billions of deaths that create the life filling a landscape, the factuality our culture uses against itself. Art has to catch and tease meanings out of the mass of otherwise discarded perceptions.

To draw well, I have to let my mind think through my eyes and let consciousness touch the things that I see. Every glint of light in the grass and whiff of decay from the swamp behind the trees, every intrusion of memory effects the lines of the drawing, is part of a conversation, an exchange across the borders of my self, of a biological and a spiritual metabolism. What begins as a grasp of the subject towards object, reaches another primordial subject.

I bring the drawing home, and erase nothing and add no lines, but work further into faint traces with a more vigour, bring in another charge of energy from home and reflection. Sometimes colour comes in with brush and water, bringing something of the body of a painting. The drawing keeps a ‘picture plane’ as flat as any a Greenberg could wish for, at the same time opening in a viewer’s mind the space of the world that is factually lived in. At least, that is what I work for.

Jonathan Bragdon