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2006 12 20
Angle of Incident #35: Convenience Drawing
By Gary Michael Dault

Toronto-based artist Kristen Peterson works somewhere in the asymptotic spaces—often sheer, refined, ruminative and hypothetical—generated from, as she puts it in her artist statement (below), the intersection of “pictorial space with physical space”, new imaginatively acquired spaces that create what she calls “an experience of space that is both illogical and somatic.”

For the month of October, Peterson was the Lynn Donoghue memorial artist-in-residence at the Spadina Museum. During this residency, she produced a multi-phased installation at the Museum called Portal, which was completed on November 12, and which continues at the Museum (285 Spadina Road) until January 8, 2007. She also showed intervention-installation work last spring at Hart House, in The University of Toronto, and in the Gerald Larking Building, Trinity College, University of Toronto, the latter work having generated a companion exhibition to the Larkin Building Drawing installation which she referred to as “Drawing Analysis” and which consisted of two works, each identified as Drawing Analysis. One is a photographic work called Drawing Analysis: ten windows of the Larkin Building Drawing photographed from the drawing’s ideal viewing position and distorted to the proportions of each window’s visible area from that position resulting in the approximate dimensions and position of each stripe as applied to the windows. The second, as she explains in her CV, “is a printed multiple of texts and diagrams pertaining to the Larkin Building Drawing, available for visitors to take with them to the Larkin Building site”. This Larkin Building Drawing Analysis project became Peterson’s graduate exhibition for her Master of Visual Arts degree in the Visual Arts Department of the University of Toronto, awarded last April.

I came upon her Convenience Drawing (below) rather by accident—by driving past the gallery that was once a convenience store, and is now the Convenience Gallery (or at least its window is), at 58 Lansdowne Avenue (at Seaforth Avenue), one block north of Queen Street (http://www.conveniencegallery.com). Peterson’s window work—which, alas, I didn’t see until yesterday, which was its final day—struck me, even as I first drove by, as clean and smart and…well, efficient—in the sense of efficiency in an engine, where you get a lot of effect out of the thing into which you put only a small amount of energy.

This “small amount of energy” reading would, of course, turn out to be misguided on my part (see the excerpts from Peterson’s research and drawing notes, below). In fact (I suppose it’s an old story), the extreme conceptual and performative clarity of her Convenience Drawing, as it was so aptly titled, had clearly been the product of a great deal of preparatory thought and procedural care. The art is still, to some extent, in concealing the art.

Impressed as I was—am—by the disarming beauty and intelligence of Kristen Peterson’s work (and especially of this Convenience Drawing), I am now going to let her step forward and take over the rest of this column—in the form of a sampling of her thoughts about the work as it came together. She has posted all of her progress through the work (with attendant photographs and drawings) on her project website at http://www.drawingresearch.com, from which the following texts have been culled:

First, her artist statement:
My work is a discussion of space in drawing.

I am engaged in intersecting pictorial space with physical space, creating an experience of space that is both illogical and somatic.

I utilize pictorial techniques (artificial perspective, mirroring, layering, pattern) on three-dimensional surfaces to create an imperfect illusion of depth, one that can be physically perceived but logically falsified. The resulting image is simple and direct (usually stripes). The drawing is not just a demonstration of these techniques and their usage; I apply these techniques in an imperfect way in order to create spaces that are both tangible and impossible.

My goal is to explore the underpinnings of how we both create and perceive space. The spaces in my drawings are often unsettling. Drawings in the corner of rooms appear to be rendered on flat planes that have no corresponding architectural surface.

My material is coloured tape or vinyl applied directly to the drawing surface. I have chosen these materials because of their portability and mutability. They sit on the wall and are easily removed. Since the drawings are created in situ in response to the perception of space, tape and vinyl allow for the many necessary adjustments.

Kristen Peterson, 2006

Then, a couple of examples of Peterson’s delightfully self-conscious ruminations about the developing piece:

Convenience Gallery: Day 3
OK. Now I know what I want to do. Or at least I know the feeling I want the drawing to evoke. I want the space inside the window to feel like it's bending to the right, so extremely that people will want to push through the glass to see something on the right edge of the window. I want people to be pressed up to the glass, so wanting to get into the space behind the glass, that they're uncomfortable. So, I will need to manipulate the interior of the gallery - the space behind the glass - visually so that it bends to the right and forward. It should draw the viewer in and push them off to the right side (infuriatingly). So now I have a few problems: 1) how am I going to draw that feeling two dimensionally, and 2) how am I going to be able to transfer that drawing spatially to the gallery, which right now has no back wall, and is unlikely I will have a back wall. Ugh. I need a break. I'm getting a headache. OK. Back from my break and I'm working on the photograph that I took back in September of the building (I love the colour of the sky and the light). I've added the frosting on the windows and a wall in the main window to the height of the vertical above the doorway, to where the frosting is on the left side. Now this is my backdrop for my drawing. I still don't know how it's going to work, and what surfaces I'm going to use for the drawing. But I know that it will look right to have the wall in the window to the height of the window frosting rather than to the ceiling. That would be best, I think. Why is my work so exact and perfect? Psychoanalysts will hypothesize.

There. Now I've made an image I can work with. The road. It's funny, because at first I did a version that didn't have curves in it, and it looked too sterile, like it was about nothing but lines. This version has a story. It's a road (to where? from where?). Now I've just got to figure out how to make that come true in reality. I don't know yet. I have to talk to Scott to get some ideas from him about surfaces for the back wall. Also, where will the lines be located? On the glass? On the back wall? Both? Will I build a false incline, from the bottom edge of the window to the back top edge of the back wall and put the drawing on the incline (probably not: too literal). All of these questions need to be answered. I will call Scott now.

Convenience Gallery: Day 5
I have a few minutes to write my description and title of the work to send to Scott for the announcement going out online next week. The title: Convenience Drawing: One plane of horizontal stripes drawn in perspective and arced to the right (or, where does it lead?), 2006. I love long titles. They confound typesetters and publication designers. Ha ha. OK. Now, for the text about the work. Let's see if I can be eloquent (ahem):

"Convenience Drawing: One plane of horizontal stripes drawn in perspective and arced to the right (or, where does it lead?) continues Peterson's drawing research, her investigation into how we create and perceive space. For this site, Peterson writes: "I want the space inside the window to feel like it's bending to the right, so extremely that people will want to push through the glass to see something on the right edge of the window. That will have people pressed up to the glass, so wanting to get into the space behind the glass, that it's uncomfortable." Peterson traces the complete development of Convenience Drawing, from nothing to something, on a companion website, http://www.drawingresearch.com, including diagrams, texts and photo-concepts of the finished work. Peterson is also this year's Lynn Donoghue Memorial Artist-in-Residence at Spadina Museum, and her installation, Portal, is on display at the museum until January."

That works. Now I've got to work out the dimensions for the strips so I can go buy the vinyl I need. I've made a diagram (of course) with the measurements for ease of use. It seems like so much vinyl, 33.75 feet, but then again, the window is quite large. I'm in for a treat. Thankfully I'll be putting the vinyl on the inside of the window rather than the outside. I hate vinyl installation in the cold.

Convenience Gallery: Day 13
I took these photographs the other night when Leslie and I visited the gallery. I was so astonished at how great the piece looks at night. I want to take photos of the work throughout the day in all different kinds of lighting conditions - kind of like Bernd and Hilla Becher and their collections. I will be collecting light instead of buildings. So I guess it would be more like Monet (not very avant garde at all). And, now that I think of it, I remember seeing a very generic poster in a restaurant of lots of doors, a collection of doors, arranged side-by-side, up and down, all pretty and colourful, like the doors of a seaside town in Spain or Mexico. Pretty, beautiful doors. Sheesh, if I were to cancel any idea I have based on if it's been done before, I don't think I'd ever get around to doing anything at all.

I'm also present to a new problem: how do I complete an installation? Ordinarily, I just wait until it's time to take it down, hope that enough people see it, and take pictures while it's up. That's such a sad process, kind of like seeing a vase full of flowers slowly die. Eventually, they just have to be thrown out. How can I complete the process of the installation, so that there is nothing left to be said? I have made a promise on this very website, to track the development of the artwork from conception to completion. Well, when is completion? I never thought of that.

What do I do with Convenience Drawing? I'm heartbroken to see it go. Soon, another work will take its place, and this one will only be a memory. I am sad so sad. So really, what remains? Does it make sense to retain the material? Then it's sculpture. Does it work to peel off the vinyl oh so carefully, saving it for another site? Even Santa's elves would have difficulty with that kind of craftsmanship; It would drive me bonkers. So, what to do? Think about the next work. Still, I'm just wondering, how cold and cruel is that? Disregarding this work like a bundle of garbage? For that is what the remains of my installations become, balls of used tape and vinyl, ripped and torn, thrown out with yesterday's news. They join all of the scraps and remnants from the installation process, all of the bits of material that were cut away to reveal the final work. I pick and choose what to notice, what is included in the artwork and what isn't. What I want to leave people with is this: when they walk past this site in the future, those who saw Convenience Drawing will be able to remember what was there, remember the space created with the lines, and recollect an experience that is no more. Gone. Vanished. Poof. It's not like wall painting, which is covered up with another layer of paint, and the work is forever sandwiched between microns. Super thin painting. Mine is truly gone. Zipped off and thrown away.

I asked myself on Day 13: When is the work complete? What is completion for an installation? When it's removed? I have given life to a work before it is installed by documenting its development. Will documenting the denouement of the piece provide a sense of completion, of nothing left to be said, rather than the abrupt finality of removal? I'm not sure. Once a piece goes up, I'm on to the next site, thinking about what to do next. Sometimes, obsessing over a work that is installed is like crying over spilled milk. It's done, out there for all the world to see, completely exposed. There's no going back.

Perhaps I can donate the material to the gallery. They can do what they would like with it. That, however, seems like passing the potato. Or TNT. "Here, I don't want this. You have it." I guess the question to be answered is, where is the work? What part of the work is the work? What would it be like if for the de-installation I removed the building and the vinyl stayed intact? It's like going back to the days of my drawing research with the Light Drawing Installation, seeing those lines floating in mid air. A pile of rubble and the lines hovering, attached to the air molecules. That would be really cool.

Now I'm sitting here waiting for the sun to set. I've been waiting for this opportunity for the whole installation period, a perfect, winter sunset, and the sky turning to that shade of blue that makes my heart melt. I one day scurried down here thinking I would make it for the right time and colour, but by the time I got here it was too late. Sun set and sky dark. Another day, I was in Brampton, and on a few other days I was just lazy and didn't want to drive all the way down here to stand in the cold and wait for the sky to change. Like Monet. He was committed. But today is perfect, just like I asked for, and the sky is blue with fluffy clouds, and it's not too cold outside. I have my camera ready on my tripod, and so I just wait for the sky to change.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 12/20 at 01:18 PM

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