10 September - 8 October 2011
Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris
Some Drawings: A World According to Mir
This is Aleksandra Mir's first show of drawings in France, and it is an event. While she is better known for her large-scale sculpture and action works, her drawings are the primary and most developed expression of a formulated praxis of space. Since 2001, Mir has propagated networks of black lines on vast sheets of paper - a practice that cannot be considered either preparatory or secondary, but is an art form unto itself. This corpus currently contains twenty-six different series. Mir chose her line early on, the definite black mark of a felt-tip pen, with which she delineates the world: maps, tabloid headlines, hands, plants, doilies, mandalas.
The drawings shown here were created in 2010. They evocatively depict LP records, and in Mir's oeuvre are the organic descendants of her mandalas of 2007, whose form and proportions they repeat. The LP theme is not innocuous - their obsolescence bestows upon these objects a second life whenever they serve for musical sampling. Here they play only silence. Having become images of yesterday's sound, their mutism is deafening in the space that Mir attributes to them, amplified by the tension created between their change in scale, (the drawings are almost 2 meters in diameter) and loss of resolution. Mir includes three foreign “discs” from 2007 - call them heterodox mandalas (Bad Op, Brick, Porcelain).
All of Mir's drawings display the same rather trivial handcraft, cheerfully advocating their status as pen marks through the slight overlap of hatching used as color fill. The drawing is done with a Sharpie1, a widely-sold permanent marker popular in the United States. It delimits contours and adapts easily to make fill for black backgrounds and different shades of gray. As the pens degenerate, they are classified according to the precise stage of wear, then reserved for making half tones, as for instance the pale gray of Demo, or the gradation of the reflections in Billboard. The general outline established by Mir is a score which organizes the participants of her collective work assignments akin to jam sessions: you can dance.
The black line is effective-it dematerializes the variously treated subjects all while giving them some consistency and equivalent value. Hence, the only scale that counts is precisely the scale of the line, which itself constitutes the figures and links them to one another. Least common denominator, the line is the vector of meaning evoked from motifs or patterns that produce associations. These are images of our human capacity to thread together disparate aspects of existence, a kind of mental petit point-embroidery of thought. In fact, Mir's drawings map two distinct aspects of the body's movement. First, every drawing from the model does connect the hand and eye, just what Paul Valery qualified in Degas, danse, dessin as "voluntary vision"2 in reference to dance as an "art of voluntary human movements"3. Indeed, guided by the hand, the artist's gaze acquires the agency to escape memory's despotism and the imposed imperatives of the medium from which her observations arise. Second, the marks made on the surface point to the action of the body-in the manual trace of the hatchings on the occupied surface, the drawings indicate the gestural disposition of fabrication.
Mir enjoys turning drawing into a collective action she can "choreograph" specifically for the group assisting her. The word is not lightly chosen. Mir's engagement with art begins with dance, a practice she encountered thanks to the TV series Fame and the movie Flashdance that were huge influences on her in her teenage years. Clearly, dance floor exercises are the model at start point of this enterprise. The floor is of course a training ground where muscle and gravity fight it out, where the opposition between high and low are pragmatically expressed; but it is also a training ground in the sense that the spectator is expected to be entrained by the pleasure being communicated. For Aleksandra Mir, art is physical and must deal with both the ground and the common space. It subjects a material constraint-piece of paper, screen, geographic location-not to affirm power, but to find a way to come into contact with the world. But is this the world of terra firma?
Aleksandra Mir's name predestined her to be a space woman. If she was the First Woman on the Moon in 1999, she earned the title entirely through her own will-unlike Gargarine or Armstrong who were carried into space by nationalism and technology. On the way, she passed through several phases: a rocket made from a pile of obsolete machinery in Gravity (2006), a deflatable aircraft Plane Landing (2009), and Welcome Back to Earth (2003) or Declaration for Space (2008) which brings together space technology and spirituality. Last June The Seduction of Galileo Galilei, a project which required her to study the shadows of the scientist's private life, gave birth to an erection, temporary, of a tower of rubber tires. This rehash of Copernican theories (the detritus of modernity in an Endless Column experimenting anew with air resistance) once again proving that the universe does not revolve around man and that Mir isn't full of hot air. Like the drawings in this show, most of Mir's projects are "giant", humorously confirming the outrageous reaches of her ambition. One might think that an art that changes the world has progress in mind. But for Mir giganticism is not to be taken at its word. It only works to keep the elements in question afloat. It amplifies the relativity of their proportions, adjusts the scale and hierarchy that are necessary for all measure of progress, alters the order of scale. With Plane Landing, which depicts the rise and fall of a balloon figuring an actual sized commercial airplane in the Tuileries Gardens of Paris, Mir literally blows up the vocabulary of monumental sculpture: in the meantime, the airplane has taken some embarrassing positions. The Big Umbrella (2003) or The Big Scale (2010) take on the terms of the body. The former shelters them under an itinerant and disproportionate tool, the second offers a kind of amplified pedestal for the human sculptures we are incited to become, and weighs collective life. Positive and negative pass through a form of weightlessness and somehow their gravity is distorted.
As for the vinyls, those striated planes which turn as does the world while revealing the presence of invisible yet overwhelming sound, they have until now enacted different roles in the visual arts-from Moholy Nagy to Jack Goldstein from Michael Morley to Christian Marclay, they are for the most part recycled material, sometimes represented. As interfaces, they are the materials of a link between yesterday and today, they install correspondences between the visual and the auditory, between space and surface. One is reminded of the 33cm side drawing by the German artist, K.P. Brehmer, Komposition fuer Tim Wilson (1986)4, depicting the traces of sound tracks form the grooves of a 33 rpm, a homage to the young prodigy who visually deciphered the sound of the disks presented to him. In the case of Mir's drawings, all we can decipher are the Italian sounding titles (dance compilations) and popular evocations (top of the charts of classical and rock) from the 1960's. Aside from a few record jackets-where the R of Ravel is repeated as the motifs of Bolero, or like a broken record, or where Lou Reed serves as the motif for a variation-the circles we face evoke immeasurably dilated pupils. They fix us definitely in their gaze, their density allowing them to float elsewhere, satellites of an open system through which they spread without hierarchy that of the world of Mir.
1 It gave its name to The Church of Sharpie in 2005, a drawing marathon in which the artist orchestrated the work of 16 assistants to create 20 giant maps of the U.S.A.
2 Paul Valery,"Degas, danse, dessin", in Oeuvres II, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, Gallimard, 1960, p.1188.
3 Idem, p.1170.
4 Tim Wilson had the capacity to identify unlabelled records by apparently "reading" the grooves. See "Tones from out of Nowhere, Rudolf Pfenninger and the Archaeology of Synthetic Sound", Thomas Y. Levin in New Media Old Media, A history and Theory Reader, edited by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun & Thomas Keenan, Routledge, New York London, 2006.