Measure Without Measure

Matthias and the Meteorite - 2007

On the 7th of September, in time for my birthday, my meteorite landed in London: this was not by chance, but rather by design, as I had requested this present from Matthias.(1) 

At his home in Bavaria I had admired Matthias’s meteorites, displayed among his other works of art. Most striking, at first, was the way their carved, grid-like structures related to their surroundings.

But it was their conditions of origin – the fact that they were formed under conditions of near-zero gravity, over time – that mattered most. And so I asked for one, thinking that by placing such a structure beside my prints and drawings at the Redfern, something really useful might be shown.

The visual connections could be seen at a glance: all these carved, grid-like surfaces were so similar.

What I hoped, though, was that the viewer might grab hold of their shared quality of weightlessness: for just as the meteorite had acquired its structure under conditions of near-zero gravity, over time, so my work aspires to these conditions.

(1) Matthias Bärmann, writer, curator, friend, collector of meteorites. At his home in Bavaria, I admired his ‘garden of meteorites,’ displayed among his other works of art (including three of my drawings). See his essay ‘Drawing, the embodiment of action’ in McCully, Measure Without Measure, and his essay in the catalogue to the exhibition, ‘August Form 2002’ at Galerie Werner Klein, Cologne, 2003.

Summer 2007 - In the wake of Copenhagen

(1)These drawings followed in the wake of Copenhagen. Making prints there, between 21-28 June, required endurance and concentration, in the extreme.

This I transported to Connecticut. In my summer studio, positioned upon a square rubber mat (an idea also ‘lifted’ from Copenhagen), I picked up where I had left of. And I kept in mind, too, the way I had integrated into my work on the copperplate exactly what I’d observed in the proofing: on paper, I continued to square up my body, and my sheet on the table; to keep consistent pressure on my graphite; and to roll through my sheet as smoothly as possible.(2) 

So smooth had I become that the excellent alignment of these newest forms surprised me. Comparing them to my earlier ‘figures’ on view at the Tang Museum, (3) so charming with their exaggerated lean, I wondered at this difference of stance.

I soon recognised it to be – quite directly – a marking out of my change of stance: in Autumn 2005, in order to take my longer lines more gracefully through my sheet, I had opened up my posture at the table.(4) Since then, I stand with my right leg striding forward, and the left leg poised behind. Always upright and alert, I move more freely through the sheet, while drawing out these ever-straighter forms.

NOTE: There will, however, always be a lean to my figures. Guided only by natural forces, they cannot but follow “the path taken by the soul of [this] dancer.”(5)

(1) Between 21 and 28 June, 2007, I made 32 new dry-points in Copenhagen with Niels Borck-Jenser. The title of the suite is SLOW LEARNER and it is published by Jean-Yves Noblet Contemporary Prints, New York.

(2) See SLOW LEARNER, my text on this project.

(3) From 18 May to 12 August, my work featured in ‘Alumni Invitational 2’, Tang Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY. This selection of drawings included work made between 1993 and 2005.

(4) See studio jotting, ‘The New York Tour, Autumn 2005’.

(5) Heinrich von Kleist, ‘On the Marionette Theatre’ (1810), translated by Idris Parry, in Essays on Dolls (London: Syrens, 1994). Also see Linda Karshan and Marilyn McCully in McCully, Measure Without Measure, pp. 55–59

Two Clear Days - Summer 2006

On the 17th and 18th of August, complexity re-entered the work: more movement of my body, remembered there, elaborated itself on the sheet.

But these forms were somehow heightened – even punctuated – as these complex marks-and-moves had learned a lot! Tracking out these smarter moves felt precarious, in the extreme: it was as if nothing was by chance, and yet everything was by chance. (2) I was breathless to get it right down on the page. It helped, though, that these clearer days were also rather cool: with my fan turned of I could better hear, and listen, to the sound of my work. “Listen. Just Listen”.(3) And in that way the rhythm took hold. And it kept me “in that state of perhaps real trance, in which the mind liberated from the pressure of the will is unfolded in symbols”.(4)

1. On a Clear Day, 1973. The title of a suite of prints by Agnes Martin. Matthias Bärmann referred to it in the context of my work, saying, “On a clear day. That’s Linda Karshan weather” (Galerie Biedermann, April 2006).

2. I said this in my artist’s statement, ‘The Assigned Figure, or “existence is a curve”’ in McCully, Measure Without Measure.

3. Studio jottings, ‘Flashing Conviction, Summer 2004’ (6/08/04).

4. Yeats, ‘On the Symbolism of Poetry’. First quoted by me in a footnote in ‘The Greek Thing,’ and thereafer in my jottings