Fade To Grey.
performance & drawing series / 2018 / 5h & 50 x 35cm backyard onlsow drive 133, glasgow
How can a trace of a story become a new one and give back agency to the actual protagonists?
With starting out on investigating the colour grey, I became more and more interested in the process of fading to grey. I started by making a series of abstract drawings in the rain with grey pigment. They showcase what grey can be and what it can stand for. Is it just an in between state of black and white, or does it contain hues of other colours? I felt that this began to turn into a study about the weather and rainfall, I realized this wasn’t the direction I wanted to pursue. The drawings seemed too passive and I was thinking about my main practice in performance with the topic of female labour. So it made sense to develop a project which allowed me to display this topic's history as a future fiction. ‘The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think’ (Woolf 1977: 36). I desired to pursue this notion of darkness.
What are some of the cultural associations of grey? We speak of grey areas in society regarding ethical dilemmas. What are the unknown grey areas in an event such as a fire? The wife of Joseph Albers, Anni, wrote a book on weaving. While doing research for another of my performances, I learnt about the Templeton’s carpet factory fire in 1900. A few years back I made drawings with the burnt wood charcoal from a fire in my town. My goal was to revive the conversation about this event through different hues of charcoal grey. Those drawings were showing the vast area, which got burnt down. My interest in the Templeton fire on the other hand concerns the victims. At the moment the women wanted to leave work to attend a dance, they were caught in this fire, which killed the majority of them. In the archives of the city one can find stories about the businessmen and the history of the factory itself. Yet I was unable to find documents about the personal stories and lives of these 29 women. As a result I decided to make 29 portraits on or rather in to the fabric with charcoal.
Driven to connect the unknown with a brighter shade, I also started to write fictional stories. A trace of something, blurry, still here, but only as distorted memory. The women merely existed as elements of a working force. For them being, metaphorically speaking, brought back to life, removing the layers of dust, scratching the remains through performance, gives them back their agency. The drawings are ‘[...] an insight into what we interpret as the spatial, sensory, and political environment it is cut from. It is able to be this precisely because it is more than the inadequate documentation of an event without a past. [...] As a mental act, [...] but in no way opposed to our sensual, corporeal, fleshy existence’ (Widrich 2014: 59). My act of beating the fabric with charcoal pigment and a carpet striker is a reference to the industry, characterized by physical labour. ‘These suggest that the performative subject is constructed as fragmented rather than unified, decentered rather than centered, virtual as well as actual’ (McKenzie 2001: 18). And taking ‘[…] the spiderweb of her own power that she is weaving in this painting dominated by a sheet that was woven’ (Solnit 2014: 74) as a potential construction of reality we can anticipate stories being told through the material.
It seems that one has to vanish to become again, like the impressionists. ‘Instead of using green paint mixed mechanically from yellow and blue, they applied yellow and blue unmixed in small dots, so that they became mixed only in our perception – as an impression’ (Albers 1963: 33). This leaves an imprint, in this case by a domestic labourous action that speaks more about stories than in the beginning. The act of cleaning, maintaining, caring and beating dust out of a carpet can be a brutal one. ‘Maintenance systems are direct feedback systems with little room for alteration’ (Ukeles: 1969). Or how Ukeles puts it even more fittingly in her manifesto: ‘[...] go to work, this art is dusty [...]’.
The black pigment standing for the ashy remains of the fire is not preserved, but fades to grey, thus referring to something that was originally present, but has now dissipated. Not holding onto the actual history, but performing an archive for these fictive stories and in doing so starting a new conversation. Fiction is becoming reality and manifesting itself into the fabric. The emphasis lies on the remaining stains, the trace element, rather than on the directly contacted area of mark-making. The movement is a manifestation of the force in the ripple of time. Like an after-image of something evident and not only waiting to vanish in its contrast.
Albers, Anni (1965): On Weaving., Princeton University Press.
Albers, Josef (1963): Interaction of Color., Yale University Press.
Borland, Maureen (2006): Shared lives: Alexander Stephen, shipbuilder and James Templeton, carpet
maker., Maureen Borland.
McKenzie, Jon (2001): Perform Or Else., Psychologie Press.
Solnit, Rebecca (2014): Men Explain Things to Me., Dipatch Books.
Templeton, James (1887): Short essays delivered and now dedicated to the workers of James
Templeton & Co's and J & J S Templeton's carpet factories., James Maclehose & Sons.
Ukeles, Mierle Laderman (1969): Manifesto for Maintenance Art., Arnolfini.
Widrich, Mechtild (2014): Performative monuments. The rematerialisation of public art., Manchester
Woolf, Virginia, Anne Olivier Bell (1977): The Diary of Virginia Woolf: 1915-1919., Chatto & Windus.
Young, Fred Henry (1944): A century of carpet making 1839-1939., Collins.