Voluminous, plump bodily surfaces coagulate to a precise edge of lean darkness, exasperated by the bright area of light beside it. The line, that puts an arm in front of a belly, that tells the calf from the thigh, horizon-like—an ending that isn’t there, but which the eyes project. The receding measure of desire, but also the faint grid line that guides a sense of scale, adjusts things to proportion, to be reckoned with. I wonder if drawing isn’t just this—procedural, filling a page with distances, groundless, all that projects you towards someone other.
‘Yes, a quality of longing is articulated here: longing, lack, mourning, absence, loss.’
Some lines scratch surfaces, create depths. Some others, or the same ones from a different angle—stack material, layers. In The Mourning Lines, artist and researcher Tamarin Norwood scratches the perimeter of her house with a pencil—a scratch a graffio γράφειν, a line made by writing. As it moves along the skirting, the tip of the pencil loses its edge—you can imagine the line growing thicker and discontinuous as the blunt pencil gathers dirt, dust. The spidery line hangs suspended in the white sky, an anatomical drawing of blood vessels, or muscles and bones, or the lymphatic, the nervous systems, or the woven net of the epidermis, sectioned and separated from the drawing of the body on the glossy surface. Prefigured as a meaningful, poignant gesture, drawing the house’s perimeter is instead tiring, painful, disappointing. However much you may study and imagine the system of lines that make up your blood vessels, you will only know them as what leaks from a scratch on your hand.
Norwood asks what drawing is, and how it can be understood intimately, perceptively, as a movement ‘slow, gradual, responsive to the surface it moves against.’ Drawing as movement means remembering the moments that make it up—a series of phantom touches between marker and paper, eyes and hand, the two bodies. Not simply recording, this kind of drawing is instead ‘generative, either revealing the surface it moves against or creating it: burrowing, pathbreaking, seeking a form that is yet to come, forging knowledge by moving along.’ Partaking of this kinetic quality, Norwood’s writing comes after a few drawings that couldn’t be ‘put to rest’. The drawings are open to medium and material—pencil on paper, pen on cotton, voice on air—yet at the same time beyond form and beyond matter. What they have in common is their mystery, the heart of mourning at their core for a moment of lost touch, all that space left unknown. Norwood reveals what drawing as a verb, a practice, a gesture, can do—how it acts and reacts against bodies and surfaces. How it sometimes stays restless, seeking attention with the same greed of a moment you haven’t made peace with, the last words you spoke to a loved one, the last time you walked through your birth town, without knowing they would be the last.
Ghostly lines haunt both writing and drawing. The collection of short texts opens with a life-drawing class, where Norwood experiments with abandoning the systems of phantom grids and templates that underlie good drawing, and submerges herself instead in a kind of drawing where the distance between the page and the model is filled by touch, rather than sight. Unlearning to discern the figure in front of her as an addition of abstracted squares, she lets her hand be her eyes and doesn’t look at the page. Except, eventually, her hand comes to do what her eyes have been trained to do, and she places markers on the page—drawing pins and blue tack—and weaves thread through them, eventually drawing a scaffolding that her hand uses to move around the page and know its bearings. But the result, once again, is a loss of touch.
I go to a life-drawing class to feel closer to the book. Less rigorous than Norwood, I look loosely at the paper, can’t fixate on the model, and my gaze seems to mostly sway in the softness in between. I wonder if that’s what my body might look like when it ages. Once you’ve lifted your hand from the paper, the finished drawing retains nothing of the moment of drawing – the cluster of precarious back and forths, the model’s presence on the page, their surfaces and textures transposed by your hand. The movement stopped, the moment closes itself off. Does every drawing stem from that mourning, for a moment—a closeness—that didn’t stay? When I look at it again, the sketch seems new, extraneous. What came from an I now belongs to a you. Yet, ‘I must have meant something by it.’
Coming after the drawings, trying to make sense of them by transposing them in a different medium, Norwood reveals how writing moves in a similar way, as an attempt at tracing, demarcating, pinning down, and is similarly memorial. Writing, she keeps the line running beyond the edge of the page onto the bedsheet, along the bed, across her husband’s asleep face by her side. Tenderly, the writing line tries to keep alive, fix in time, pen not pencil. But the ink washes off from the sheets, the skin, and it is revealed for what it is: a proxy, an inscription with all the clumsiness of a monument, a plaque, a tombstone.
Drawing out speech, words are strung in a faint trail in the dark. Listening back to a series of voice recordings, made on the way home from the studio, or alongside the drawing desk, Norwood reckons with their lost meaning, the significance they held as they were being made now gone. The moment of proximity, with herself as she navigates the unfamiliar surroundings of the place she walks through and her own thoughts, doesn’t stay in the memento that’s left, the playback line rushing to its stop mark.
A line can scratch, indent, hold together, trace apart, but also overturn, unearth what was below, make space for future growth, the furrow of a plough.
Advancing a taxonomy of the life of the line, Tim Ingold maintains that life itself, as defined by its creative and generative capacity, moves along ‘pathways or trajectories’ as ‘lines along which things continually come into being.’1 Norwood posits that it is because they can be understood as materials that writing and drawing not only move, but create along the way, ‘being received (closely, narrowly) into something’ which changes it. For ‘if a material is liquid’, as Eva Hesse advanced, ‘I can control it, but I don’t really want to change it.’2 The work itself will lift a corner on a way out.
Enxhi Mandija is a writer and artist. She has recently completed an MLitt in Art Writing at the Glasgow School of Art, and she holds an MA from the University of Aberdeen in English-History of Art. Her writing has appeared on SPAM Zine, The Yellow Paper, The List, and The Elphinstone Review amongst others.
Tamarin Norwood’s The Mourning Lines is published by MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE.
1 Tim Ingold, ‘Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials,’ NCRM Working Paper. Realities / Morgan Centre, University of Manchester, 2010.
2 Eva Hesse interviewed by Cindy Nauser, 1970. Accessed via https://www.hauserwirth.com/news/14479-interview-eva-hesse/.