The most immediate sign of life is movement.
The night before I leave for Washington DC, where I just spent four days, I attend a workshop at the Drawing Centre which is just a block and a bit away from the studio in Greene Street. The workshop is free and is called Scribble: an unself-conscious return to drawing. It is run by Morgan O’Hara, who has an international reputation for creating what she calls live transmission drawings, which record, live, the movements of living beings. She draws with both hands simultaneously and records all kinds of human and natural activity, ranging from the movements of a noodle factory worker or a concert pianist, to those of flowing water or butterflies mating. The drawings are like delicate maps, like tracings of different types of energy.
There are about twelve of us in the workshop and I make two new friends while we are waiting for everyone to arrive – Alara from Turkey who has just completed her third year of an architecture degree, and Mara Stepe, a local artist who also happens to be Latvian. Alara tells me that she loves libraries and that she had to design a library for her final year project. I’m very impressed because, of course, I am here in New York to experience some of the best and most beautiful libraries in the world. Alara then asks me where I come from and I tell her I’m from Australia but that my parents are Latvian. Mara hears this from the other end of the room and calls out rather excitedly, ‘Did you say you are Latvian?” and we have a lively conversation in our mother tongue across the length of the room. It’s a wonderful little moment of shared cultural heritage.
The workshop is nothing like what I expected – but then I didn’t really know what to expect anyway. It is based on Rhoda Kellogg’s 1969 publication about the art movements of children and takes us through a series of exercises that follow all the stages of drawing a child goes through from the time it first begins to make marks, either in the sand or dirt, or with a pencil or crayon. We move into a larger space where tables and pencils are laid out on tables, and then we get straight to it, Morgan leading us through about 20 different exercises. We stand up the whole time and only have a couple of breaks where we do some stretching exercises – otherwise we just plough on. Morgan instructs us to draw with our entire body – to draw with our hips, not with our hands. I should mention, very significantly, that all the exercises are completed using both hands simultaneously. The aim is to equalise the dominance of one side of the brain over the other. Most of us are left brain dominant because most of us are right handed. These exercises apparently help to unlock the more creative right brain. We do dots first. Then vertical lines, then single horizontal and diagonal lines, single curved lines, multiple horizontals, circles, loops, zig-zags and so on. It is quite exhausting work and when we finally stop, it is a relief to sit down in another area of the workshop space. But we don’t just sit and chatter, Morgan guides us through a type of meditation with our hands, where we feel the energy between both palms and retain it for as long as possible.
After this, we go back into the first room, where the tables have been pushed aside, and Morgan takes us through an even more intensely physical set of drawing movements where we literally draw with our bodies. She demonstrates, standing side on to the wall, graphite in hand, starting to swing her arm, which is straight like a pendulum, back and forth. All of a sudden, she starts to move her arm all the way round, drawing a perfect circle on the wall. She keeps going, turning her arm around and around, repeating perfect circles on the wall. Then it is our turn. We go two by two, standing at the wall, warming into the movement, and then letting go and drawing big beautiful circles all over the wall. We do two more similar exercises, one using both arms, which is a bit harder than the single circle, the other standing directly in front of the wall with both arms locked in at the hips but moving slowly sideways. This creates jagged horizontal lines across the circles. It is very satisfying work to do.
The workshop ends. We are all given a list of the exercises so we can practice at home. The next day I head for Washington DC and while I am on the bus, I do some writing on my laptop about the project I’m working on in the studio. The ideas behind my project have been a little fuzzy in my head, and I am now amazed at the level of clarity I suddenly seem to have about what I am doing and why. I am able to make sound connections between the various ideas I am trying to bring together in the work I am making. I wonder if this is a coincidence, or whether it is actually the result of scribbling with both hands.