Juliet MacDonald

United Kingdom (residence) °1930
affiliation: York St John University

[Profile photograph by MEANTIME.]

Juliet MacDonald is an artist and researcher based in the UK whose practice is centred on drawing. She investigates multiple ways in which drawing functions: as a graphic manifestation of bodily movement; as a bearing toward others; and as a register of difference. Recent research is concerned with the question of how drawing practices either reinforce or disrupt distinctions between human and animal. One artistic project, Alpha #4: Scheme for a Drawing Experiment, was a residency at MEANTIME project space in Cheltenham, UK, in September 2012. This formed the basis for an article in JAR5, in 2014. In 2016, Juliet was awarded a small research grant from the British Society for the History of Science to visit archives at the University of Florida where drawings by the chimpanzee named Alpha are stored. Digital reproductions of some of Alpha's drawings were shown in the exhibition Seeing with Animals: Co-existence, Eastern Kentucky University, March 22-25, 2017. 


research expositions

  • open exposition comments (2)


Exposition: The taste of tree? (01/01/2012) by Deborah Harty
Juliet MacDonald 05/11/2012 at 16:13

The taste of tree? addresses connections between senses, and the manifestation of sensory experience in drawing. This topic has relevance to current academic debates of drawing as a means of phenomenological enquiry. Taking as their instigation a quotation from Merleau-Ponty, the authors, ‘the hums’, adopt a collaborative approach to drawing that includes discussion, text, charcoal drawing, moving image, audio and the layering of all these elements. An expanded definition of drawing is in operation here.

The way in which drawing addresses more than purely visual experience is a topic of interest both artistically and academically. The authors approach the topic from the various angles, creatively and vividly describing their experiences of trees, through drawing. The choice of trees is particularly interesting as the materials traditionally used for drawing (paper and charcoal) are derived from trees, although the authors do not stress this material connection. Choosing to focus their enquiry on the taste of ‘tree’ (here ‘tree’ becomes singular and generic) might seem strange as the authors do not, in the course of this research attempt to lick the bark, chew the roots or ingest in any other way the trees they encounter. However, a consideration of taste opens the possibility that experience may be transferred between senses (as in synaesthesia). Merleau-Ponty reports Cezanne as saying ‘you should be able to paint the smell of trees’ and the authors very reasonably set out to test this bold claim and its implication that any sense (even those not immediately evident when encountering a tree) may become operational in the recall of such experience.

The taste of tree turns out to be rather elusive but the hums’ collaborative ‘first person’ investigation finds that smells and sounds of trees were made evident through ‘equivalent marks’ in their drawings. The authors do not speculate on whether other artists, for example synaesthetes, might have a gustatory experience of trees just by looking at them, instead they limit their discussion to their own experience.

The value of the submission lies in its caution regarding blanket assertions of the multi-sensory nature of the experience made apparent in drawing, and its intriguing endeavour to test which senses are actually engaged. A further appeal of this submission is that rather than producing a theoretical discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s text, the authors enact their own sensory exploration which is made evident in the images, texts and moving image that accompany the submission.

The research shows up the open-ended nature of artistic research. The ‘phenomenological data’ produced by their activities is not limited to the five sensory modalities that the authors set out to investigate; the recollections that emerge during their discussions, for example childhood memories of games of hide and seek, involve players and encounters other than the tree. However, the staging of their drawing activities as research is consistently followed through in the authors’ description of their methods and in their frank (if rather disappointing) finding that ‘the sense of taste did not directly appear in any of the drawings.’