Over 200 sketches were produced in the planning stages of Tullah and Tom: A Drawing Affair. Sketching, in this exposition, has a problematic relationship with rehearsal. Sketches should not be reduced to metaphorical rehearsals for other forms of art (and calcified as preparatory works with singular vectors pointing towards specific outputs). This distinction, however, is complicated by the many qualities and characteristics shared between sketching and rehearsal. Both are clearly conceived of as iterative and speculative practices that precede and often supersede other drawing and performance processes. Both are also framed as informal and intuitive processes. Both sketching and rehearsal are conventionalised as closed forms, available only to the artists and performers (the private sphere of rehearsal and sketching is seductive for the insight it lends to artists’ meaning-formation). So why not just chalk them up as analogous and move on? Perhaps the greatest flaw in the quick and convenient marriage of sketch and rehearsal is the degree to which the comparison embeds misunderstandings of both. A sketch is not a planning document and a rehearsal is not training. The nexus of the analogy fails when each component hinges on a reductive operation.
In 2016, the Drawing Center in New York exhibited Cecily Brown's drawings in Cecily Brown: Rehearsal.1 The exhibition catalogue connects the speculative and iterative practices of sketching and drawing to the etymological root of rehearsal — repetition as a mode of production. The catalogue lets the provocation explicit in the exhibition title dangle. There is no further examination of the application of rehearsal to Brown’s graphic outputs. Perhaps it’s a convenient and elementary analogy: sketching is to painting as rehearsal is to performance. A preparation. Labour, but not work. Practising, but not practice.
Practice-led drawing research and performance research are colliding with increasing frequency. In the past twenty-four months, I have organised two international drawing symposia and guest-edited a journal of drawing research in which fully half of the talks, published papers and exhibitions engaged with live drawing or performance drawing. Although performance artists have been eschewing the performance art label for years, drawing practitioners have seemingly embraced the concept. Its origins are murky, but the artist and researcher Kellie O’Dempsey traces the category of performance drawing through Maryclare Foá to Catherine de Zegher.2 Live drawing is perhaps a better moniker than performance drawing, in that it distinguishes the phenomenon of theatrical drawing events from a basic notion of drawing as performing marks. However, as performance drawing has gained purchase as the preferred label for live drawing events, this exposition will deploy the term in that particular sense.
The catalyst for the research in this exposition is a series of ninety-minute live (performance) drawings that were staged between 2016 and 2017 in a 400-seat theatre in Australia.
A backstage dialogue with M — circus performer and life model — after the first performance of Tullah and Tom (2016-17):
M: We need to acknowledge the audience.
M:They want to be able to recognise the performance.
B: How do you mean?
M: We should do a curtain call and take a proper bow.
B: I don't think so — I mean, it isn't really theatre.
M: It’s not fair to just walk off stage. We should bow…
M: It gives them a chance to express themselves.
B: But — there’s no bowing in performance art...
M: We should bow.
Tullah and Tom: A Drawing Affair is ostensibly about life drawing, liveness, doomed pedagogical models and malfunction in the artist-model exchange. The drawing events consisted of live drawing (on stage and in the audience), live improvised music/sound, scripted readings, posing, dance, song, and video projection. The intention of the work to reveal the studio as a zone of infection and quarantine became ancillary to the work's potential to examine the structures of live performance and drawing. As research, the work revealed meanings unintended and unexamined at the time of its execution. It is that felicitous knowledge which requires rigorous attention.
A performance is bracketed by two activities — one private, one public — that are too easily dismissed by artists as parasitical. These activities may be essential indicators of the pathologies and capacities of performance drawing. Preceding the performance is rehearsal (the subject of much contemporary scrutiny, as affirmed by Gay McCauley,3 who rightly points out that rehearsal seems to be suffering the same sort of forensic analysis that beset the artist’s studio twenty years ago), and succeeding the performance is the bow, or curtain call. It’s curious to watch performance artists bow — Karen Finley’s elaborate 2004 curtain call (with an encore) at the end of Karen Finley Live, or Laurie Anderson’s quick bow before the spotlight was snuffed out in Home of the Brave. In these cases, the performances were elaborate staged affairs rather than the underground-and-backroom events of the 1970s. It’s more difficult to imagine Vito Acconci emerging at Sonnabend Gallery to take an un-ironic bow; or Carolee Schneemann and Robert Morris coolly answering the curtain call, or VestAndPage puncturing the elegiac moment at the conclusion of one of their works with hands held high together.
1 Claire Gilman, and David Salle, 'Cecily Brown: Rehearsal', ed. by The Drawing Center (New York: The Drawing Center, 2016).
2 Kellie O'Dempsey, 'Performance Drawing: Framing the Elements', Studio Research 4 (2016), 10.
3 Gay McAuley, 'Towards an Ethnography of Rehearsal', New Theatre Quarterly, 14 (2009), 75-85.
This exposition confesses two suspicions and two admissions.
I’m suspicious of bowing in performance art.
I’m suspicious of rehearsing a drawing.
I rehearse and I draw.
And, I consented to take a bow.
The subtle activity of drawing, its verb-quality, seems increasingly insufficient for research and exhibition. Contemporary research extols hybridity, transdisciplinarity, and vigour. Hence, we have performance drawing, a spectacular accretion of artist(s), site, mise-en-scène, actor(s), action, and witness. An unexamined aspect of performance drawing is the preparatory work: the rehearsal. Rehearsal shares a modest index with drawing — iteration, reiteration, recitation, and repetition — and suggests the analogous relationship previously stated. This superficial connection, however, demands a migration from the realm of analogy into a more direct confrontation with the rehearsal as a component of the live drawing process. The metaphors are seductive, but they occlude a forthright examination of performance drawing.
In the publication for Matthew Barney’s ‘Subliming Vessel’ exhibition (Morgan Library & Museum, Bibliotheque Nationale de France), Isabelle Dervaux writes, ‘Barney’s drawings are his solo performance’ and, in the same paragraph, ‘Barney’s drawings fall roughly into two categories: small preparatory sketches, in which he plans his films and performances, and finished drawings’.4 Dervaux cleverly milks the metaphor in one instance and returns to a pragmatic assessment in the next. In her framing, Barney’s drawings are performance and also groundwork for (real) performance. A rehashing of drawing’s myriad claims to the graphic event, phenomenological fundament, performing body, and inscribed action isn’t necessary here. These slippery denotations of drawing have been fully digested in the contemporary sphere. Of concern is the knowledge potential in drawing rehearsal — a staged event that precedes a staged event. When an artist decides that a rehearsal is necessary for a (performance) drawing, the artist engages a process that may be tangentially related to theatre studies, but ultimately exists in the unruly compass of performance art. Further complicating the relationship between rehearsal and drawing is the noun-quality of drawing. Performance drawing produces drawings. The live event yields an outcome that isn’t an artefact or document, but a work of art severed from its mode of production. Indeed, one of the simplest and most formidable critiques of performance drawing is that it is a terrible way to make a (good) drawing.
In the same Barney catalogue, Adam Phillips writes, ‘An artist could be like an actor rehearsing for a role that doesn’t yet exist’, and, ‘In these performances that are preparation for an endlessly deferred performance — in which rehearsal itself may be the performance — drawing may be concluded, or completed, but never finished’.5 I use these not simply to illustrate the sticky metaphorical morass of rehearsal, drawing, and performance, but to illuminate the potential for a motivated inquiry into rehearsal as a component of the drawing process. Phillips' use of 'could' embeds the speculation in the actor/theatre scheme and limits the discourse to its metaphorical dimension. Divorcing the rehearsal from acting and deploying it in the drawing process can yield more potent insights. Rehearsing a drawing suggests an activity that is not so much drawing but rather mimics and iterates what will become drawing. This can't be reduced to the simple distinction between sketching and presentation drawings — Deanna Petherbridge's assessment of drawings non-finito and finito.6 Drawing rehearsal implies an activity for which we don't yet have a clear language. Philips concludes his essay indicating the fear contained in Barney’s work that ‘there will be nothing left to disrupt. Nothing to rehearse for.’7 It may be instructive to roast Philips’ prepositions briefly. In the earlier quotation, he chooses ‘rehearsing for a role’ over ‘rehearsing a role’. This subtle difference is vital. ‘For’
implies that the role precedes the rehearsal and that the vector of the rehearsal is fixed upon the performance. Eliminating the preposition implies that the role constitutes itself through the rehearsal process. One conclusion could be that the drawing rehearsal is the event in which the drawing production occurs, leaving the performance drawing as a re-enactment of the rehearsal. In the final statement, Philips deploys the preposition again, ‘Nothing to rehearse for’. That last ‘for’ displaces the nihilism. With ‘for’, the nothing refers to action without consequence. Without 'for', the nothing refers to complete inaction.
To be fair, a discussion of rehearsal assumes the inevitable occurrence of what it is for. If the ‘for’ is erased, the rehearsal loses its ontological moorings. This is a specific refutation of the synonymy of sketching and rehearsal. Sketching is well understood and practised as a knowledge and meaning formation process that is liberated from its preliminary and preparatory mandates. Rehearsal, however, maintains its allegiance to the knowledge and meaning potential of its ensuing performance. Performance drawing complicates this structure through the application of sketching as both a preliminary development tool (as per Dervaux) and as a live performance strategy that can be rehearsed. Rehearsal may yet enact its own liberation at the hands of its practitioners. Victoria Rue, in ‘Rehearsing Justice’, embeds rehearsal within the concept of proleptic actions through the work of Letty Russell.8 The proleptic rehearsal anticipates the action (what the rehearsal is for) but also affirms the circumstance in which the action has already occurred. In Rue’s words, the rehearsal occurs as if. Less preliminary and more prophetic, the proleptic rehearsal augurs the outcomes of the performance. Prolepsis may assist the drawing rehearsal in claiming its productive capacity. The drawing rehearsal constitutes the drawing process and the drawing outcomes — drawing as if the drawing were live performance, which, of course, it is. Performance drawing, then, is a re-enactment of the knowledge and material experience of the proleptic rehearsal.
Tullah and Tom: rehearsal video of drawing process — ink on rice paper, 2.5m x 1.5m.
Ink applied with brush to the reverse side of the paper.
Rehearsal video projected on stage as part of the performance drawing.
4 Isabelle Dervaux, in Matthew Barney, Isabelle Dervaux, Adam Phillips, Klaus Kertess, Céline Chicha, Marie Minssieux-Chamonard, Roni Horn, Pierpont Morgan Library, and Bibliothèque Nationale (France), Subliming Vessel : The Drawings of Matthew Barney (New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli Publications in association with The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013).
5 Adam Phillips, in Matthew Barney, Isabelle Dervaux, Adam Phillips, Klaus Kertess, Céline Chicha, Marie Minssieux-Chamonard, Roni Horn, Pierpont Morgan Library, and Bibliothèque Nationale (France), Subliming Vessel : The Drawings of Matthew Barney (New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli Publications in association with The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013).
6 Deanna Petherbridge, The Primacy of Drawing : Histories and Theories of Practice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).
8 Victoria Rue, 'Rehearsing Justice: Theatre, Sexuality and the Sacred', Feminist Theology, 25 (2017), 170-81.
Rehearsal: Tullah and Tom
Perhaps I believe in rehearsal. Our little troupe — a provocateur named Tullah, a slowly decomposing pedagogue named Tom, a cast of five artist’s models, a violist, and a technical producer — is meeting in a venue familiar to anyone with the most fundamentally clichéd vocabulary of the performing arts. We are in a large studio loft in an old inner-city building with brick walls and a scarred wooden floor, massive windows running along one side, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the other. Our goal is to re-enact the private sphere of the life drawing studio in the theatre, initiating the participants/audience into the studio’s rumpled environs and even more rumpled bodies. In this private sphere of rehearsal, we prepare to expose the private sphere of the studio without any self-reflection on the inherent absurdity of our program — a private scheming to make public a private encounter. We’ve taped out the dimensions of the stage on the floor and are walking about, pantomiming our anticipated actions — I am imagining the large hanging sheets of sewn rice paper I will lay into with ink and brush and making elaborate sweeping gestures in the air. The models are arranging their bodies and the violist is checking his cues and timings. We lecture, tease, and cajole an imaginary audience before instructing them to take up paper and grease pencil, and then we wait (checking our timing) for the absent audience to finish its drawings. Any artist or educator would quickly attend to the easiest assessment — the rehearsal sounds more interesting than the performance. The layers of simulation, pantomime, enactment, and prolepsis are more evident in the loft than in the theatre. One of my suspicions of performance drawing is that it doesn’t produce drawings. It mimes activities of drawing and produces documents of its own production, but no drawings. It is a re-enactment masquerading as production. Drawing rehearsal may rectify the creeping redundancy of performance drawing.
'There is a performance art joke that asks "Why did the performance artist cross the road?" The answer is "I don't know. I left before it ended."'
—Frazer Ward, No Innocent Bystanders, 2012
Curtain Call, Take a Bow
At the moment I declared to a fellow performer, ‘There’s no bowing in performance art’, I was both completely confident in the truth of the statement and deeply unnerved by how true I believed it to be. Taking a bow implies finality and separation. The performance has concluded, it’s time to go. You are out there and we will retreat in here. Both of these propositions were anathema to 1970s performance artists. The politics of performance art dictate a mobile and fugitive site, the body of the artist, constituting a space and experience with other bodies co-present for the encounter. To utilise the language of the theatre, to even imply a fourth wall — much less walls one, two, or three — is to be hopelessly naïve about the entire programme. Live art (to use the Tate’s 2004 re-reckoning of the category)9 isn’t directed out to an audience, but ever further inwards — self-exposure through self-absorption. This ideal has been upset by the spread of popular theatre’s production values into live art and performance drawing, and the suspicion that artists may be (poor) actors. Of this anxiety, Guillermo Gómez-Peña writes, ‘I dreamt I was a good actor — not a performance artist but an actor, a good one [...] When I finally woke up, I was the same old confused performance artist, and I was thankful for not knowing how to act.’10 The assertion of the theatrical, in spite of the denial of the actor, has reinvigorated the role of the autonomous audience, even in circumstances in which the audience is ignored or abandoned by the artist. Vito Acconci summarises this dependence/repudiation in his description of a performance piece:
Right before their eyes, then, we've made our exit. The physical movements of the plot are only blandishments to the audience; we have our own (mental) plot (we have our conspiracy): ideally, we've started a relationship—or confirmed a relationship, or reversed a relationship—that by this time is taking place elsewhere. So, by now, we're out of “art”: the audience is left with nothing, the audience is left with only an empty stage.11
Ending a work of performance art or performance drawing is a fraught topic. The curtain call provides a nexus for examining these endings. The curtain call must come at the conclusion of the work. If the work doesn’t really conclude (as art doesn’t), then there is no opportunity to recognise its finale. Does, then, a curtain call or any other acknowledgement of the audience disqualify the performance as art or drawing? Acconci asserts that the work continues ‘elsewhere’ while also maintaining and confessing that the audience may only perceive abandonment — in other words, an ending.
The autopsy of performance art written fifteen years ago by Josette Feral and Carol Tennessen identifies three varieties of (post-heyday) contemporary performance artist: the video artist who performs for the lens, the transdisciplinary artist without a better rubric, and the theatrical performer whose methods align with 1970s precedents even if the politics do not.12 Feral and Tennessen also reiterate conventional wisdom about the generic performance artist’s idealistic and implicit refusal to rehearse (or record) a performance out of deference for real presence. (I once shared a conversation with Australian performance artist Jill Orr in which she advocated for confiscating mobile phones pre-performance to eliminate unsolicited recordings). Feral and Tennessen don’t mention taking a bow, but it is fair to assume that such a gesture would be verboten in any case. Baz Kershaw has done extensive work on the theatre audience’s roles, functions and behaviours, and has argued that applause and the curtain call are an antidote to meaningful immersion, participation and politics, reducing the power of the theatrical exchange to rote activity and affirmation.13 In performance drawing, I have witnessed very few occasions of artists taking a bow, but many occasions
of applause at the apparent conclusion of the work. Rue's prolepsis is countered by Kershaw's antisepsis — the audience's favour scrubs the work of its radical ambiguity and fixes it as a thing that began and ended well.
Taking a bow when the curtain closed on Tullah and Tom, and my ambivalence therein, has suggested an alternative possibility for the curtain call in performance drawing — one in which the assembled bodies achieve some measure of strangeness and distance from the drawings that have been produced. The function of the curtain call is its cleaving of bodies and drawing. The performers and artists are assembled there but no longer take part in the drawing. Taking a bow is the moment when the performance is closed but the drawings persist. If the process of producing drawings is to assert itself as an important dimension of performance drawing, and if performance drawing purports to produce drawings worthy of consideration, the moment of separation between live performance and drawing is paramount. Tullah and Tom is about bodies at work. Artists, models, circus performers, actors, and musicians collide on a stage and among the audience, surrounded by drawing and drawings. It isn’t a bohemian revelry or a staid studio class, but a carefully contrived and choreographed performance about shifting the boundaries and transactions of the life drawing studio through the manipulation of bodies in space.
Returning to the concept of rehearsal, Laura Ginters distils the heart of rehearsal down to ‘bodies together doing things […] And let us not forget that it is what live actors do with their live bodies that can, in rare circumstances, literally change our, the live audience’s, bodies’.14 Performance drawing doesn't rely on the ‘suspension of disbelief’ in order to engage the audience, and, thus, the curtain call is not a necessary rupture of that suspension and return to the real. Bodies in performance drawing, however, do rely on the suspension of partition — the notion that the drawing and the performing bodies are an immutable confection. The curtain call and/or the applause sever that performance and allow the drawings to drift freely from their somatic berth, and from their bonds with re-enactment.
Rehearsal and the curtain call aren't preconditions for live art. Performance artists and performance drawings will continue to specifically abjure rehearsal for its palliative effects on the immediacy, potency, and spontaneity of the live encounter. Artists will also continue to look askance at applause and bowing. Perhaps this is an issue of scale. The solitary artist-body performing drawing can adapt and improvise having delineated the site and organised a basic mise-en-scène. Tullah and Tom, with its cast and crew of a dozen, had no less than ten rehearsals including two full walk-throughs prior to engaging the audience. An extreme example, perhaps, but what was accomplished through all that rehearsal? Can a drawing be rehearsed? The audience certainly applauded, and we took a bow.
Curtain Call: Tullah and Tom
On Saturday, May 25, 1895, the Australian newspaper The Argus published a column headed ‘Art Notes’ with the title ‘At a “Life Class”’. Life class is enclosed in quotation marks. The author has adopted the pseudonym Crayon. It is one of many old articles I've collected on the topics of art modelling and life drawing, but this one stands out for its lack of titillation and its melancholic tone. In the final paragraph, the author describes reluctantly leaving the ‘motionless atmosphere of the old mythology’. ‘Let us [...] leave the artists by themselves,’ Crayon writes. ‘They are better off in there than we are out here’. The author is deeply sceptical of exposing drawing's private sphere to a public audience. This is a familiar scepticism, but more provocative is the notion that the private (atemporal) studio is incompatible with the public-present. Or, perhaps, it should be.
9 Adrian Heathfield, Live: Art and Performance (London: Tate Publishing, 2004).
10 Guillermo Gómez-Peña, 'In Defense of Performance Art', in Live: Art and Performance, ed. by Adrian Heathfield, (London: Tate Publishing, 2004), pp. 78-85.
11 Vito Acconci. 'Steps into Performance (And Out),' in Performance By Artists, ed. by A A Bronson and Peggy Gale, (Toronto: Toronto Art Metropole, 1979), pp. 28-40.
12 Josette Feral, and Carol Tennessen, 'What Is Left of Performance Art? Autopsy of a Function, Birth of a Genre', Discourse, 14 (1992), 142-62.
13 Baz Kershaw, 'Oh for Unruly Audiences! Or, Patterns of Participation in Twentieth-Century Theatre', Modern Drama, 44 (2001), 133-54.
14 Laura Ginters, '"And There We May Rehearse Most Obscenely and Courageously": Pushing Limits in Rehearsal.', About Performance, 6 (2006), 55-73.
Vito Acconci, ‘Steps into Performance (And Out)’, in Performance By Artists, ed. by A. A. Bronson and Peggy Gale (Toronto Art Metropole, 1979), pp. 28-40.
Isabelle Dervaux, in Matthew Barney, Isabelle Dervaux, Adam Phillips, Klaus Kertess, Céline Chicha, Marie Minssieux-Chamonard, Roni Horn, Pierpont Morgan Library, and Bibliothèque Nationale (France), Subliming Vessel: The Drawings of Matthew Barney (New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli Publications in association with The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013).
Josette Feral and Carol Tennessen, ‘What Is Left of Performance Art? Autopsy of a Function, Birth of a Genre’, Discourse, 14 (1992), 142-62.
Claire Gilman and David Salle, ‘Cecily Brown: Rehearsal’, ed. by The Drawing Center (New York: The Drawing Center, 2016).
Laura Ginters, ‘”And There We May Rehearse Most Obscenely and Courageously”: Pushing Limits in Rehearsal’, About Performance, 6 (2006), 55-73.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña, ‘In Defense of Performance Art’, in Live: Art and Performance, ed. by Adrian Heathfield (London: Tate Publishing, 2004), pp. 78-85.
Adrian Heathfield, Live: Art and Performance (London: Tate Publishing, 2004).
Baz Kershaw, ‘Oh for Unruly Audiences! Or, Patterns of Participation in Twentieth-Century Theatre’, Modern Drama, 44 (2001), 133-54.
Gay McAuley, ‘Towards an Ethnography of Rehearsal’, New Theatre Quarterly, 14 (2009), 75-85.
Kellie O'Dempsey, ‘Performance Drawing: Framing the Elements’, Studio Research 4 (2016).
Deanna Petherbridge, The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).
Adam Phillips, in Matthew Barney, Isabelle Dervaux, Adam Phillips, Klaus Kertess, Céline Chicha, Marie Minssieux-Chamonard, Roni Horn, Pierpont Morgan Library, and Bibliothèque Nationale (France), Subliming Vessel: The Drawings of Matthew Barney (New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli Publications in association with The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013).
Victoria Rue, ‘Rehearsing Justice: Theatre, Sexuality and the Sacred’, Feminist Theology, 25 (2017), 170-81.
Frazer Ward, No Innocent Bystanders (Lebanon, US: Dartmouth College Press, 2012).
Tullah and Tom: A Drawing Affair
A Work by William Platz
Richard Grantham . The Viola Cloning Project
Xanthe Jones (original song by Xanthe Jones)
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