An unexpected political tool
Life is a line, thinking is a line, action is a line. Everything is a line.i
Inside the world
Drawing is an artistic practice that is done horizontally to the world by immersion in a visual context, both when it is performed from life, i.e. in the presence of the subject, and in a free, imaginary or design expressive form. On the contrary, painting is usually done vertically and by selection, by isolation or confinement; whereas sculpture (or performance) originates from deambulation, rotation, movement in space. Drawing is stasis instead, it is a silent sum of continuous syntheses made by graphic lines on a surface. In other words, its method is strictly additive, incremental, starting from blank, from vacuum. As Manlio Brusatin wrote, “in the beginning there is a line on the horizon, where before there was almost nothing. And then there are top and bottom, right and left, front and reverse, beginning and end: the encirclement of our own vision.”ii In other words, drawing gradually creates a visual horizon that is added, overlapped and crossed with the one we are immersed in. A visual horizon that can conceptually order, arrange, create a further order, and set up a system of relationships. Therefore, drawing is a practice that extends reality because it actually expands the semantic field of the context, it extends its triggering potential, thanks to its simplification of the background noise, to its very synthesis.
Background and lines
Drawing creates a relationship between the part covered by the stroke and the paper, which must necessarily remain (at least partly) empty. In fact, drawing means not only scraping a surface with an instrument that leaves a trace, but also being aware that the surface shall remain white in many areas. As Walter Benjamin sharply pointed out, “The graphic line marks out the area and so defines it by attaching itself to it as its background. Conversely, the graphic line can exist only against this background […]. The graphic line confers an identity on its background. The identity of the background of a drawing is quite different from that of the white surface on which it is inscribed.”iii Thus, drawing leads to the semantisation of a part of the surface, but its effects extend also to the part not directly affected by the intervention: in this way the background itself bears a meaning, as a counterpart of the graphic line, without actually undergoing any direct action. Drawing is a form of negotiating visual, psychological and expressive relationships between graphic lines and their background. The first character is visible and speaks on stage because it was “written” directly by the author, the second instead is silent, present conceptually but in absentia, because it gives space for the other character’s words to be pronounced and heard.
Reveal and history
Painting is a medium of concealment, as it enables the author to restore previous states of the work, to cancel or hide what is underneath (under a painting often lie unfinished works, as art history shows); conversely, drawing is a practice of revelation and search for the “truth”, since it keeps track of all changes on its surface, of regrets, uncertainties or attempts. It is as if it revealed to the viewer: “Every step I have taken in my life has led me here, now.”iv Drawing is, by its very nature, a revelation, an epiphany of itself, since it shows the history of its identity, its middle phases, its evolution stages, the scars of all the struggles that led to its final state. It is in fact unidirectional in time, and its history is in full view, easily comprehensible.
All this occurs to me, when I look at Teresa Mayr’s work. I think of her being inside the world as her work deals with cities (real and invisible ones) and border areas between intimate and public spaces. I think of unraveling pencil or felt-tip pen lines on the surface, in the silence of the white paper which is gradually inhabited by gray or coloured marks, in a state of extreme rarefaction. I think of her revealing parts of an urban context in a Cartesian form, where everything is comprehensible and each element counts equally, with no hierarchy among the marks on paper.
Then I think of immediacy, of the considerations made on paper by mixing real situations, places that exist or existed, with fragments of imaginary cities. Considerations that change continually and are built upon during the act of drawing, since, as Richard Serra said, “Anything you can project as expressive in terms of drawing – ideas, metaphors, emotions, language structures – results from the act of doing.”vTherefore, in Mayr’s work there is no distance between thinking/imagining and the act of drawing, since the latter originates the former: intellectual reasons and expressive functions are intimately and ontologically contained in the act itself. Drawing is ultimately a practice that includes considerations about itself: it is self-conscious and self-reflective.
But when I look at Mayr’s works, I think of her imaginative and anarchic style, on tiptoe. I think of the combinations of graphic lines that dialogue with each other on paper and ambiguously show themselves, when the light is grazing, or deny themselves, when instead the surface metallically reflects the graphite. Yet it is almost impossible to see the drawing as a whole, for its numerous elements and plentiful details. Despite the synthetic terseness of architectural design, actually details require a careful and always partial observation, since there is no hierarchy in the composition, in the lines or in the chiaroscuro: graphic lines spread on paper by syntactic coordination in a freely paratactic form.
Essentiality, intimacy, border
Mayr exclusively use drawing, which is minimal also in the tools she employs. Pencils, colours, markers, plain paper: there really is no need for anything else, because the unnecessary is totally superfluous. Such discipline enables the artist to concentrate on creation, on thinking, which occurs and reveals in the act of drawing, that in this way records the primary visual elements, the essence on the surface. This process has a double level of intimacy: one due to the technique of execution, since the drawing results from an extension of the arm close to the artist’s body; and another referring to the subject, to the artist’s interpretation of urban phenomena through a continuous visual investigation into streets, sidewalks, parks, gardens, shops. These are the border areas between the personal sphere and the public one, between what is personally shaped by the individual and what is instead managed by the city, its authorities, the market, nature or even chance. Mayr’s work analyses the different functions ascribed to places, the emotional ties that define their familiarity or strangeness, i.e. respect, indifference or neglect. Her drawings mark the evolution of urban spaces, the traces of their evolution as well as the changes and micro-changes that affect places where the functions of individuals and citizens overlap and intersect. The city, the urban dynamics and the socio-economic situation are not mere backgrounds or contexts in which something happens, they are rather actual subjects.
For her works Mayr uses real samples of the urban area, that she makes either in person walking downtown or looking for images on the internet, social networks or Google Street View (which offers often obsolete views, despite the increasingly dense mapping and the tighter control exercised). These sources are compared and then recombined by the artist, who is in search for the probable middle states of stages or is figuring their potential evolution. Real images are mixed to their probable memory or their potential future: realistic fiction and reality interpenetrate and merge, so that “many lines grow and become an orderly wall of stones, a living or dead city.”vi Hence, drawing gathers the effects of all anthropological, psychological and socio-political variables, but at the same time records the expectations or the will for a possible change, and becomes an unexpectedly political, critical, proposal or “conflict management”vii tool.
iM. Brusatin, Storia delle linee, Torino: Einaudi, 1993, p. 22.
iiM. Brusatin, Op. Cit., p. 10.
iiiW. Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume I, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1996, p. 83.
ivHere I borrowed the title of one of Alberto Garutti’s most important works, which actually has no direct relationship with the act of drawing. Tutti i passi che ho fatto nella mia vita mi hanno portato qui/Every step I have taken in my life has led me here, now is a writing on stone embedded in the pavement so that all passers-by can read it. This work, with a vague existentialist flavour, has been installed by the artist in different urban contexts in Europe since 2004 and is a metaphor for the complexity and stratification of our lives.
vR. Serra, About drawing (in conversation with Lizzie Borden); conversation published in Richard Serra. Writings, Interviews, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994, p. 53.
viM. Brusatin, Op. cit., p. 13.
viiThese are the words Paweł Althamer uttered in our conversation when he was working at his installation Draftsmen’s Congress, at the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012.
Young European Artist Award
Trieste Contemporanea 2019
I don`t want to be an onager
curated by Daniele Capra
opening exclusively online
on Trieste Contemporanea website
or at Facebook page
Saturday 23 May 2020, 6.30 pm
25 May – 31 July 2020
Studio Tommaseo, Trieste (I)
Studio Tommaseo is pleased to announce the opening of I don`t want to be an onager, a solo-show by German artist Teresa Mayr winner of the Young European Artist Award Trieste Contemporanea 2019. The exhibition, organised by Trieste Contemporanea, curator Daniele Capra, collects a dozen Mayr’s recent works on paper which investigate urban spaces’ development and their memory traces, as well as modifications and micro-changes that occur in areas where the public sphere and the intimate one overlap and intersect.
The opening of the exhibition will take place on Saturday 23 May 2020, at 6.30 pm, exclusively online, and will consist of a live streaming conversation between the artist and the curator: join us on Trieste Contemporanea’s website or at our Facebook page. From next week the exhibition will be regularly open to the public.
A catalogue, including images of displayed works, will be available for the finissage.
Teresa Mayr’s artistic practice is characterized by the use of drawings on paper. In particular, she uses to draw minimal and dry lines with pencil or coloured pen, and to limit chiaroscuro. This way Mayr focuses on primary visual details, on the different functions assigned to depicted places, on emotional ties that determine feelings of intimacy, alienation, respect, indifference or carelessness. She operates taking a stroll around town or using photos both found in social networks and via Google Street View (which are often obsolete). These sources are compared and then recombined, and presumable transitional states or possible development are traced in view of understanding how psychological, anthropological and socio-political variables act in the context. So, images and memories of reality, fiction and expectation of change coalesce. The title of the exhibition I don`t want to be an onager is taken from a recent series of works that will be on display and are inspired by a surreal fifteen years ago conversation between the artist and her sister at a zoo.
Teresa Mayr (Friedberg, D, 1992) studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle (Saale), at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and graduated from the University of Berlin in 2019. She lives and works in Berlin.
The Young European Artist Award Trieste Contemporanea is assigned every two years to an artist aged under 30 from a Central Eastern European country. The award gives to the winner the opportunity to conceive a new exhibition project and document it with a publication.