Capturing time and motion
A new exhibit at the Glucksman Gallery in Cork asks us to consider the vital connections between drawing and film and also the critical issue of time
IN THE flickering, grainy video, a man is drawing on the back of a boy, as the boy attempts to trace the same lines on a piece of paper in front of him. The man is Dennis Oppenheim, and the boy is his son, Erik. The video, made in 1971, is one of the most famous works of the artist, who died last year. Oppenheim described it as being about father and son looking both forward and back: “I am drawing, therefore, through him . . . Because Erik is my offspring and we share similar biological ingredients [. . .] In a sense I make contact with a past state.”
Two-Stage Transfer Drawing, is, like all genuinely successful art works, about a great deal more than a single idea, and the various meanings of this small-scale video are at the heart of the questions and thoughts that make Motion Capture, at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in Cork such an excellent exhibition. Exploring the connections between drawing and film might seem like the type of intellectual conceit that curators love, and the gallery-going public cheerfully ignore in their quest to see art that actually moves them, but here, curatorial intent and visual satisfaction come together.
Both drawing and film are, after all, about time, and time is a critical issue. The average length of time we spend looking at art is getting shorter. In the 1990s, research shows we gave a painting thirty seconds. Now it’s down to four, with an extra ten seconds added on for looking at the labels, and although averages can be misleading, this shortening time even applies to the most famous paintings in the world: the Mona Lisa gets fifteen seconds of visitor attention in the Louvre.
Drawings and film represent time in different ways: a drawing is the accumulation of gestures, it is the time spent creating it, a period of building up, and, in the case of William Kentridge’s work in Motion Capture, also rubbing back to create the image. Yet drawing seems to represent a single frozen moment, when the image is caught and held forever.
Cleverly chosen to disrupt this notion, Henri Matisse’s drawings Dessins: Themes et Variations, 1943, are like a series of frames in an animation, alive on the pages. Pierre Bismuth’s movie-stills photographs reverse this. Both Sophia Loren and Greta Garbo are caught in all their celluloid beauty, framed in the perfection of stillness, like Snow White in her glass coffin. But the artist has traced the hand movements of each actress, in marker pen over the image. Frozen perfection is an illusion, life happens in the movements, the messy gestures that impart meaning and emotion.