'Current Materiality'

Not Writing, Drawing

The work by Susan Timmins presented at Crescent Artspace this September bears the deceptively prosaic title ‘Not Writing, Drawing’; indicating – at least on the surface – a parallel between processes of writing and drawing and hinting at their innate similarities and differences. Both activities consist of mark-making and are subject to the inevitable unpredictability of physical execution, which counterbalances the preordained procedure inherent in Susan Timmins’s work. Certain factors may be predetermined – for example, the employment of grid or text as a premise for individual pieces or groups of work; orange fluorescent marker pen or paint on paper as the materials of choice. The physical execution then takes over, which in itself may involve highly structured or repetitive actions which follow the ‘rules’ of grid or text.

The use of the grid in contemporary visual arts is not new and can be traced as a modernist device associated with 1960s Minimalism – offering freedom from compositional choices but also restriction through its characteristics of repetition and uniformity. The use of text also features amongst the devices of modernist and post-modernist art. Like the grid it is a double-faced device which can, by way of cultural circumstances and conditioning, both allow and deny access to ‘reading’. The duplex nature of the grid or text is compounded in Susan Timmins’s work by her choice of fluorescent orange, triggering a retinal interference which simultaneously attracts and repels. The colour is, quite literally, eye-catching but is of an intensity that is uncomfortable and hinders or blurs perception.

There is a sublimity in the artist’s work which derives from the mathematical, and gives a sense of overwhelming or vast phenomena, confounding comprehension and evoking feelings of awe and perplexity. This sublimity is phenomenological rather than mimetic (representational); the grid depicts nothing but itself, but neither is it strictly bound by limits of its physical scale, or by precision or exactitude. The irregularities of execution can be translated into infinite and unseen variables, sensed rather than perceived, which mirror the complexity of natural phenomena. That is not to say that the artist’s actions are determined by laws of nature or cause and effect. On the contrary, there is a spontaneity in the work which arises from what Kant refers to as the causality of reason- following autonomous and spontaneous order as distinct from pre-given (external) natural laws. This sense of ‘the sublime’ is also evident in the artist’s use of text which brings it closer to a ‘post-modern sublime’, replacing magnitude with complexity; a notion fuelled by the computer technology of virtual reality. We move constantly within, between and across cultural contexts enabled by technology – which engenders a deceptive sense of common ground – through virtual reality. (The term itself suggests something of the sublime complexities inherent in the concept). ‘As generic formatted screen space becomes more prevalent, I am curious about how we ‘read’ or compose anything visually. In the West, we presume it to be from left to right; this is mirrored in how text is written, yet there are many ‘alphabets’ – such as kanji characters or Islamic text – that are written and read in the opposite.’ The physical presence of the work is inevitably a significant factor, in that it is neither virtual nor computer generated; rather it is a trace of the artist’s own hand (or signature) which imbues it with a human scale, regardless of whether the individual work is fragmentary and intimate or extends beyond the field of peripheral vision. Stuart Cameron August 2010 Further reference: The Virtual Sublime, C. Francis ©1999 www.armageddon.org/~sanvean/sublime.html

Stuart Cameron, Director, Crescent Arts