Tuesday 7 December 2010

Working Drawings

If you've seen What I Heard About The World, you'll have seen me, or Jorge and me (depending on which version you saw) draw a picture of a donkey, and then turn it into a zebra.

I/we do this live each night. We know we have to modify the drawing of the donkey to become a zebra, because that's what they do at Gaza Zoo, so we draw the donkey from scratch as well. Other drawings in the show are redrawn afresh in advance of each performance (the paper plane) or are reused each night (a lifesize flat daddy and a set of haircuts). But it feels right to draw the donkey live.

This connects to the Story Map performance that is part of the whole What I Heard About The World project, in which we draw icons for all of the stories we gather throughout the piece. Drawing the donkey is much easier of course, as I know what I'm going to draw, and I've now had a lot of practice.

During the run in Sheffield we were invited to contribute some work to the exhibition Working Drawings, which has just opened at the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery.  Pam Bowman, the curator, was interested in us representing how we use drawing in the work, but also as part of the process for projects that don't necessarily feature drawing by the time they meet an audience.

In the end we're showing a selection of finished work and documentation. We were asked, naturally, to provide an artist's statement about the work. I asked how long it should be. Pam said, "As long as it needs to be - you know, there's more context needed for your work. I mean, why do you draw live in front of an audience?"

This is something that has come up in discussion with a few audience members, so I've been thinking about it this last week or so.  I'm not sure our artist's statement fully answers that question, but it certainly explores our use of drawing. Here it is.
Third Angel
Drawing Projects

Third Angel is an internationally-touring theatre company based in Sheffield. We make work that connects the territories of theatre, live art, film & video, photography, installation and digital media.

The work is devised by the artists working on each project, led by Artistic Directors Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton. The devising process is one of discovering and developing the form and content of the work, and drawing is one of the tools we naturally use.

Drawing is, unsurprisingly, used to develop early ideas, work things out, and to share thoughts: how the space might work, what a performer relationship might look like, how something might be constructed. But it is also used as part of the aesthetic and action of some projects. We’d rather use a hand drawn straight line than a ruled one. We would (usually) rather use a traced map or diagram than a photocopied one. We would (usually) rather use handwriting than projected type. If an image or text needs to be big, we would (often) rather draw it small and blow it up – to see the imperfections that make the line unique.

And drawing is one of the tasks we have been found ourselves returning to in a number of our live performance projects, something to do in front of the audience, rather than something to be prepared earlier. The work is full of narrative, character, fiction, mixed in with autobiography and factual research. The mode of presentation utilises text – character dialogue, personal narrative and explanation – along with the performance of tasks. Real actions are part of the performance: carrying all of the furniture required on from the wings; balancing your own weight against your fellow performer’s through a pulley system, whilst creating a perfect, three metre circle of talcum powder on the floor.

Sometimes this live drawing is of diagrams and maps. Sometimes it is illustration. Often it has a restriction placed on it – a simple time limit, or the fact that it has to be done with eyes closed. Restrictions that might seem to say, Don’t worry, of course the drawing won’t be very good in these conditions, when of course, we include the drawing, and the restrictions, because in fact we believe the opposite.

For Working Drawings we are showing a number of pieces:
Mixtape: Songmap (2010)
Video piece / documentation of live performance. 7 mins.
Music: The First Big Weekend by Arab Strap.
Performance devised and performed by Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton.
Filmmaker: Christopher Hall.

The brief, for Unlimited Theatre’s Mixtape project, was to create stage action to accompany a favourite song. We didn’t want to tell a different story to the one in a chosen song, and we didn’t want to act it out. We talked about cataloguing and mapping. Originally the drawing was going to be done much bigger, on a wall, by both of us. But actually our presence, along with the view of our backs, was not helpful. We’d used the drawing table for writing ‘chapter titles’ in the show The Lad Lit Project (2005), but the devising process for that piece had involved a lot more drawing. So we changed the scale of the Songmap drawing and found we had this.

Pleasant Land – Lightbox maps (2003)
Hand drawn maps with text and photographic images.
Commissioned by Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre and Shooting Live Artists.
It began with the Census. There wasn't a 'Scottish', 'Welsh' or 'English' box to tick. Only 'British' or 'Irish'. People in and from Scotland and Wales wanted their own boxes. We noticed that Scottish and Welsh friends referred to themselves as, surprise, Scottish and Welsh.

Between April 2003 and March 2004 we travelled around England, meeting people, asking them about their own Englands and asking what Englishness is these days. Every month we sent digital postcards from our travels. In October 2003 Leeds Met University Gallery hosted a Gallery installation and performance, responding to this travelling research and the responses to Pleasant Land Online.

We’d been keeping diaries and taking photographs. We had planned our routes, but then been distracted and diverted. Or just got lost. In trying to work out, retrospectively, exactly where we had been, we began tracing our route from the road atlas. We became infatuated with these new maps that charted a very selective version of England – the England we had travelled through. It felt important that the lines of the map should remain hand-drawn, and the text be in handwriting, to recognise the personal, partial, nature of the record.

We asked people if they knew the difference between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Often, they didn't. We asked ourselves what our England was, what we liked about our country, what we didn't? We wondered if other people would recognise Our England, or we, theirs.

Presumption (2006)
In association with Sheffield Theatres.
Performers: Lucy Ellinson & Chris Thorpe
Directors & Designers: Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton.
Performance photographs by Mark Cohen.

A bare stage. Bare, that is, except for the white lines marking out the (sometimes multiple) placements of a domestic environment. Furniture. Objects. Stuff. A table, six chairs. Precariously carried, precisely placed. Begin the scene, post-dinner party. Guest have gone. Stop. More furniture required.

Presumption is a show about love – love after the initial thrill of passion has gone. Everyday, what shall we have for dinner, love. The performers attempt to enact scenes from the lives of a couple, but continually come up against the obstacle of missing furniture or set, which they have to carry on from the wings. The positions that the furniture will occupy is marked out on to the floor in (hand drawn) white chalk paint. Somewhere in between a (1:1 scale) floor plan and crime scene.

Parts For Machines That Do Things (2008)
A co-production with Sheffield Theatres.
Devised by Alexander Kelly, Jeremy Killick, Gillian Lees & Chris Thorpe.
A show about aircrash investigation, about cause and effect. The performers piece together the narrative through extracts of text – monologue and dialogue – whilst also constructing, on camera, model-kit passenger airplanes.

The three projection screens were treated as a triptych, frames in which images were constructed as if they were drawings – sometimes explanatory diagrams, sometimes more abstract imagery.

What I Heard About The World – Story Map (2010)
A collaboration with mala voadora, originally presented with Forest Fringe.
Devised & Performed by Jorge Andrade, Alexander Kelly & Chris Thorpe.
Photographs by Isa Maubach.

A durational research performance that gathers, and re-tells, stories from the audience. True stories of fakes, replicas, stand-ins and substitutes. The world is mapped out, alphabetically, using post-it notes over the course of 12 hours. We attempt to collect a story for each country from the audience, or from our own memories. Each story is then labelled with a two word title, and illustrated with a hand-drawn icon to stand on the map.

What I Heard About The World (2010)
A co-production with mala voadora, Sheffield Theatres and Teatro Maria Matos, in association with PAZZ Festival and Worldmapper.org.
Devised & Performed by Jorge Andrade, Alexander Kelly & Chris Thorpe,
in collaboration with José Capela & Rachael Walton.
Rehearsal photographs by Clive Egginton.
Show photographs by Craig Fleming.
Plane photograph by Alexander Kelly.

A theatre performance intertwining stories gathered from the Research Table durational performance and other sources. The live drawing technology from Songmap was in the rehearsal process for some time, particularly to represent the specificity, subjectivity and fallibility of maps. As we moved away from maps to focus on the stories we had gathered, the drawing remained, but as physical objects – as stand-ins – for real things, with one drawing done live to tell the story of donkeys in Gaza zoo being painted to look like zebras.

The ‘prepared’ drawings play with the scale of representation: a life-size ‘flat daddy’ is blown up from a small illustration; life-size haircuts are drawn actual size; a hijacked passenger airplane is drawn in miniature 3D.


Third Angel is Regularly Funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire. All of the projects presented here were also supported by funds from the National Lottery via Arts Council England.

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