Development of the concept
The notion of ‘figure’ was first developed in chapters four and five of my doctoral thesis.
There, the notion of ‘figure’ is developed in close relationship with my practice, where blobs or blotches of light are traced and transformed into ‘figures’. As I say, ‘The original shape on the appropriated image is not yet a figure. The shape becomes a figure only through its transformation, making the transformation part of the figure’ (Schwab 2007, 68). The transformation represents the intelligible aspect of a figure.
Paris, an artist’s book, investigates the notion of ‘figure’ in the context of a set of drawings. Here are a few sections in which I refer to the notion of 'figure' in this context:
I have to admit, what I call ‘the figure’ is in fact an ambiguous notion. I presume that originally a ‘figure’ was a shape that was drawn to represent a body. However, the figures that are drawn in this book are not traces of a body, but traces of a construction, which is determined by the layout in which the trees are planted and by the rules according to which the measurements were collected. The drawn figures, thus, represent concrete urban spaces seen under particular conceptual constraints. Their body is, if anything, conceptual in nature. (Schwab 2008, 28–29)
Depending on how I look, I can glide through these spatial reconfigurations prompted by the drawings. I can move from a flat image to a spatial representation and back again, but I can never really hold the drawn figures in any of those as each drawing appears to use different, contradicting dimensionalities. (Schwab 2008, 62)
Due to the shifting complexities there is never a single mode in which the whole of a figure can be seen. It is most exciting when the complexity suddenly becomes too much and we are pushed beyond what we understand. (Schwab 2008, 80)
When the figure is developed in the drawing, and imaginatively brought back to site, it is space that is affected first. (Schwab 2008, 86)
The book contains a short glossary. Here is the entry for ‘figure’:
The drawing proposes a figure that emerges when the site disappears. The site has the potential of becoming a figure through an interrogation by perception, rules and the act of drawing. The figure is able to contain the transformation of a site into a figure; it is the site in transformation. The figure is arrived at by developing a positive expression in the negative space of a site; it is not the negative space taken as positive, not a cast that is taken of the trees. The figure is the realisation of a potential not acknowledged by the site. The drawing is potential to the site, at the same time as the site is potential to the drawing. The figure is the hinge that connects these potentialities. The drawing can only make real the given by giving a figure through which the potential of the given can be imagined. By understanding the figure we can, back on site, start seeing how the site can transform into a being. This is why the drawings look like they have been made under a microscope. (Schwab 2008, 80–81)
‘Figure’ has a relationship to mark making but also to ‘body’. My article ‘Drawing the Trans-body’ situates the notion of ‘figure’ in philosophy and the history of art, as well as relating it to the question of ‘body’.
A body is only the first approximation of a figure. A figure as second-order artefact should be understood as a trans-body: it offsets bodies (and offsets its own becoming body) without itself strictly speaking being a body. The trans-body can be thought of as practice, however, only when understood post-deconstructively beyond identity, subjective experience or objective reality. (Schwab 2014)