Bright Light 2: Thinking the Substrate

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Think ing The SubSTr aTe Spring 2015




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Issue 2


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Editorial Daniel Sturgis

Substrate Pronunciation: /ˈsʌbstreɪt/ (Noun.) An underlying substance or layer. The surface or material on or from which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment. A material which provides the surface on which something is deposited or inscribed. editorial board Dr David Dibosa Bright Light Series Editor Paulus Dreibholz Head of Atelier Dreibholz Prof. Stephen Farthing The Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Drawing, University of the Arts London Hans Hedberg University College Director, Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg Laura Lanceley Editorial Assistant Prof. Malcolm Quinn Bright Light Editorial Board Chair Director of Graduate School and Associate Dean of Research: Camberwell, Chelsea, Wimbledon Daniel Sturgis Guest Editor Issue 2 Prof. Carol Tulloch Professor of Dress, Diaspora and Transnationalism Prof. Chris Wainwright Bright Light Editor in Chief Head of Colleges: Camberwell, Chelsea, Wimbledon. Pro Vice Chancellor University of the Arts London

Bright Light: Issue 2 Thinking the Substrate ISSN: 2055–1606 Published by: CCW Graduate School 16 John Islip, London, SW1P 4JU © 2015 CCW Graduate School and contributors Designed by Camberwell Press Printed in Belgium by Cassochrome

This edition of Bright Light is dedicated to the idea of the substrate. It started with a series of three symposia hosted by the Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon (CCW) Graduate School. Over the Spring Term in 2014, Professor Stephen Farthing, Professor Chris Wainwright and I invited artists, academics and students from across the University, together with outside guests, to think what a substrate could be and if the substrate might be an interesting way to speak in a cross-disciplinary way about practice. The following volume lays out some of what we discovered. With the Series Editor of Bright Light, Dr David Dibosa, I asked participants from each of the sessions to either develop their papers or re-present them in a written form; not everyone who contributed to the sessions or discussions was included, which in some sense is a pity, but space limited us, and we also had a desire to show divergent approaches. The one thing I think everyone who attended the symposia discovered, as the reader will, is what a slippery fish the idea of substrate is because it marks differences not just between practices but within them. In painting, for example, the substrate is not the same as a ‘medium’, or ‘technical support’. It is rather the material foundation of the work, and this encompasses or embodies the idea that the artist acts upon. It can mean very different things to different people – but remarkably within that breadth the substrate somehow still retains a base that links its various interpretations. It is this base that is so intriguing.





The Cogito of Kneading: Tactile seeing and Korean Dansaekhwa painting

Dig, slash and stitch: contemporary artists and their substrates

Simon Morley

Pia Gotschaller



substrate: the common and the doxa of property

The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

Neil Cummings

Adrian Glew



the table is the floor

Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question‌

Richard Layzell

Jo Melvin 35

Substrate: leaning against Medium Daniel Sturgis



The Cogito of Kneading: Tactile seeing and Korean Dansaekhwa painting Simon Morley

I focus on the relationship of Dansaekhwa to tactile or haptic seeing. While the retinal facilitates a general conceptual knowledge through offering spatial detachment from what is perceived, the sense of touch confirms, demystifies and verifies, bringing conviction by providing specific knowledge that is revealed intimately through close contact. In a postmodern world where intimacy with the natural and organic is increasingly ceding to the synthetic, the virtual and immaterial, we are in danger of losing a sense of how creative energy and the imaginative life grow from contact with material things. Korean Dansaekhwa artists belong to a culture that traditionally prioritized a fundamentally different cognitive style to the one that came to dominate the West. By foregrounding the synaesthetic, polymorphous and polyvalent experience of painting, the artists associated with Dansaekhwa sought to provide points of resistance to the Westernizing impulse by becoming sites for the depositing of elusive indexical signs employed in order to communicate more subjective, ‘dark’, empathetic and transient cognitive processes grounded in greater awareness of tactile qualities.


key words Dansaekhwa Korean modern art East Asian culture cognitive styles hapticity tactile perception

The eyes want to collaborate with the other senses. All the senses, including vision, can be regarded as extensions of the sense of touch – as specializations of the skin. They define the interface between the skin and the environment – between the opaque interiority of the body and the exteriority of the world. (Juhani Pallasmaa, 2005, p.42) Such is the secret of his making: the painting is not before his eyes, but in his hands. (Mikel Dufrenne, 1987, p.148) Dansaekhwa – which means monochrome, monotone or one-colour painting in Korean – is a stylistic term employed as a way of drawing attention to a tendency in Korean art that came to the fore in the 1970s and 1980s. The tendency continues into the present, though proponents have been overshadowed by artists adopting more overtly technological media. Social, economic and political change was so rapid for the


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generation of Dansaekhwa artists that they still had one foot in the paddy fields, while the humiliating period of Japanese colonization, the horrors of the Korean War, and the division of the peninsula had occurred during their lifetimes. Furthermore, the period of Dansaekhwa was one when the Republic of Korea was ruled by a repressive military government, during which direct criticism or dissent was difficult and knowledge about Western modern art still came largely via Japan. Dansaekhwa can thus be seen within the specific context of the dilemmas posed for South Korea by rapid Westernized modernization, liberalization, Cold War politics, and the struggles of peripheral cultures to confront, assimilate or challenge the dominance of the centre.1 In what follows I will be exploring Dansaekhwa within the context of the contemporary globalization of art in order to question the cultural norms with which Westerners are familiar and which they continue to disseminate imperialistically while interpreting art. I want to think specifically about the relation of Dansaekhwa painting to tactile seeing, and in doing so I draw on Western thinkers who engage in cross-cultural analysis in order to challenge or re-contextualize the paradigms that dominate Western ideas about culture. I am unashamedly interested in a specifically Western problematic, though because Westernization is now a global phenomenon it is also an issue that increasingly embraces far more than just the West. The problem I refer to is clearly stated by Paul Virilio when he emphasizes that Westerners have historically derived their sense of superiority from the belief that they possess technical superiority, and as a consequence have shown ‘a determination to treat the rest of the world as nothing more than an object predestined for their machinations’ (2000, p.32). Such delusions of grandeur derive from a peculiar fantasy: that it is possible to escape from the tyranny of nature. This is a fantasy emboldened by the promise held out by technology. Indeed the Western and Westernized subject is today wedded to technology and obsessed with the speed and efficiency of visual and verbal communication to an unprecedented degree. ‘With the new means of transportation and transmission, the new virtual tools,’ Virilio writes, ‘it is man who gives himself wildly extravagant dimensions and the earth that reveals its limits’ (2000, p.10). Today’s technologically-empowered citizen is armed with what he calls a ‘vision machine’ (1994) which risks erasing the multi-layered interplay between neural biological matter and man-made context. The central characteristic of the new technologies of vision is immobilization, Virilio emphasizes, a passivity at the moment of reception. ‘What’, he is compelled to ask, ‘does one see when one’s eyes, depending on sighting instruments, are reduced to a state of rigid and practically invariable structural immobility?’ (1994, p.13). As familiarity with the natural and organic cedes to the synthetic, the virtual and the immaterial, we are losing a sense of how creative energy and the imaginative life grow from contact with the material world. We are in danger of forgetting what the 1.  I discuss some of this cultural context in more detail in ‘Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting’, Third Text, Volume 27, Issue 2, 2013, republished in Painting: Critical and Primary Sources (Bloomsbury, 2015), where there are also references to key works on Korean art. Other useful sources of information are the catalogues to the Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting (National Museum of Contemporary Art, South Korea, 2012), The Art of Dansaekhwa (Kukje Gallery, Seoul, 2014) and Joan Kee, Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). Kee addresses the complex interweaving of international and regional cultural influences on Dansaekhwa. Note the alternative spelling used by Kee. It seems that the one I have chosen to adopt is more commonly used.


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philosopher Gaston Bachelard in a memorable phrase called ‘the cogito of kneading’ (1987, p.80); that is, familiarity with the primal ‘paste’, as he called it, an archetypal symbol signalling the vital combination of physical resistance and malleability that is intrinsic to negotiating a relationship with the world. Kneading means massaging, shaping, moulding or squeezing with the hands, and the word is often used to describe the act of preparing foodstuffs such as bread or working with clay to produce pottery. Bachelard was positing another kind of cogito to the one dominating Western conception of the self since Descartes. ‘Cartesianism’ proposes that the cogito is real and discernible through immediate intellectual intuition, and so we must distrust all the senses other than sight and believe that reason alone can provide knowledge of objective innate ideas. Within the ocular construction central to the Cartesian worldview – which remains still today the dominant paradigm in the West – space becomes isotropic, rectilinear, abstract and uniform. As Martin Jay observes (1988, p.11), Cartesian ‘perspectivalism’ assumes that all sight is identical, universal and transcendental, so that any differences must be deemed to be due to error or imperfection. Seeing is construed as monocular, static, unblinking, saccadic (jumping from one focal point to the next rather than panning) and disembodied, because we are construed as standing outside the viewed scene and to be capturing an eternal moment (Jay, 1988, p.5–7). Thus in Cartesian dualism, concepts – as part of thought – are pitted against the senses and feelings, which are denigrated as tied to the body. Bachelard, as Steven Connor writes, challenged the pervasiveness of this world-view by arguing that ‘[i]n between the neutral cogito of mere self-knowing and the more active kind of self-recognition which arises in the ‘phenomenology of the against’ [Bachelard], the sense of straining and striving against things, and perhaps before both of them, there is ‘a cogito of kneading’’ (2004, p.223). It is the relationship of this ‘cogito of kneading’ to the tactile sense, and how Dansaekwha belongs to a culture more adept at mediating it, that I want to think about.

Dansaekhwa artists often use large formats, earth-toned or white and off-white colours, and simple all-over compositions organised without evident representational meaning. Their works also convey a pronounced sense of being the record of a process. As I walked through the galleries of the exhibition Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, South Korea (2012), encountering such paintings for the first time en masse, and again more recently, on seeing the wonderful exhibition at Kukje Gallery, The Art of Dansaekhwa (2014), I was struck above all by how the surfaces of these paintings were worked very differently from those of the Western monochromes to which they can be likened (Fig. 1).2 They evoked raw materiality and tactility, and the artists who made them seemed involved with communicating a heightened awareness of proprioception – of stimuli relating to the position, posture, equilibrium and internal conditions of both the maker and the viewer. It was as if the paintings’ substance, the worked paste of colour and the pliability or rigidity of the surfaces, required of me not so much a visual imagination as a tactile one. I was being invited not to enjoy the play of colours and forms unfolding before my eyes, nor to engage in the interpretation of some symbolic content, idea or theoretical context, but rather to experience a height-


2.  The ‘Dansaekhwa’ exhibition ran from March 17 to May 13, 2012, and The Art of Dansaekhwa from August 28 to 19 October, 2014.


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ened sense of the use and practice of the hand, of the meeting of thought and gesture. I don’t mean to suggest that Western paintings lack tactile qualities. Far from it. The painterly style that emerged in the work of the late Titian foregrounds ‘impasto’ – the potential of oil paint to consolidate the materiality of surface and to enhance the expressive potential of painting – and is one of the most characteristic aspects of Western painting. In modern art in particular, from Impressionism onwards and most especially in post-war tachisme and Abstract Expressionism, or in the work of more recent artists such as Antoni Tàpies or Robert Ryman to name just two, paintings convey a pronounced physical solidity and palpability. For such Western artists, emphasis on surface facture implied concern with broadly four things: the desire to communicate a more fluid and dynamic experience of the visual; the critique of the ‘well-made’ painting through emphasis on ‘raw’ texture; the re-assertion of the objecthood of the work – the two-dimensionality of the picture plane; and the foregrounding of indexical signs, drawing attention back to the maker of the work. Similarly, the all-over monochrome effect we see in Dansaekhwa is also a central characteristic of modernism – from Rodchenko and Malevich, to Ad Reinhardt or a contemporary painter such as Marcia Hafif. This monochrome impulse heads in three diametrically opposing directions. It is either a form of transcendence, ‘opening up some kind of back door in the mind, an expanding, pulsing awareness of the visual process itself’, as Rosalind Krauss puts it (1991, p.123), an assertion of objecthood where ‘(m)eaning would no longer be a function of illusion, of an imagined ‘inside’ or ‘behind’ the surface’, (Krauss, 1991, p.125), or a means of negation, a strategy for resisting the whole remainder of art (Danto, 1994). But I felt that something else was going on in Dansaekhwa, and, as I discovered, while the strategies evident in these works certainly signal engagement with Western modernism, they also reveal the artists’ immersion in East Asian culture and specifically in Korean traditions, which, for example, while heavily influenced by Chinese civilization and the regional religious conventions of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, is also marked by the influence of indigenous shamanism, a characteristic that explains Korean preoccupation with dynamism, disorder, and ecstatic states. Korean art and the artefacts are also noted for being more ‘natural’ than those of the Chinese or Japanese, displaying greater vitality and spontaneity, and their producers are seemingly less interested in ‘perfection’, being unconcerned with displays of overt ‘refinement’.3 More specifically, the legacy of recent Japanese colonial oppression and the division of the peninsula along ideological grounds compelled South Korean artists to seek ways to evolve what they hoped to identify as a specifically Korean modern culture. Dansaekhwa artists 3.  The first attempt by a Westerner to produce an art historical overview of Korean art was made by André Eckhardt, who in Geschichte der Koreanischen Kunst (1929) claimed that ‘classicism’ is the dominant intrinsic characteristic of Korean traditional art, by which he meant symmetrical structure, balance, simplicity, serenity and impartiality. The influential Japanese scholar Yanagi Muneyoshi, during the period of Japan’s colonization of Korea, focused on an ‘aesthetics of sorrow’ in his study from 1920, which also meant that in comparison with Chinese and Japanese aesthetics Korean art displayed an ‘aesthetics of autonomy’. Korean scholars, most notably Ko Yu-seop writing in the 1940’s and Choe Sun-u, in the 1960’s, emphasized disinterestedness, imperfection, naïvet and naturalness. This overview draws on: Kwon Young-Pil ‘The Aesthetic in Traditional Korean Art and Its Influence on Modern Life’, Korean Journal, Autumn 2001, pp.9–34. Kwon also discusses the influence of shamanism and the importance of humour, and writes that the Korean aesthetic is characterized by the ‘classical concept of ‘unification in diversity’.’ (p.9)


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announce such cultural allegiances by showing, for example, a lack of concern for ‘finish’ or ‘refinement’, for working on their supports horizontally rather than vertically, and using traditional materials. Thus in his earlier works Park Seo-Bo scratched into a dull paste of oil (Fig. 2), while Ha Cong-Hyun squeezed earth toned oil paint from the reverse side of the canvas (Fig. 3). Furthermore, in the traditional East Asian manner, several Dansaekhwa artists worked on their surfaces horizontally rather than vertically. Some used hanji – Korean paper made from the bark of the mulberry tree – instead of canvas, or as well as canvas. For example, Chung Chang-Sup laid hanji in a collage-like fashion on canvas (Fig. 4), while Park Seo-Bo in his later work built hanji up into a pronounced terrain of parallel stripes. Dansaekhwa artists also applied paint in emphatically process-based ways; for example, the now most internationally well-known of the artists associated with Dansaekhwa, Lee Ufan, when he was associated with the tendency in the 1970’s and 1980’s, used a brush loaded with paint comprised of stone pigment and glue and progressively depleted the amount of paint deposited through repeating a sequence of horizontal, vertical or random brush-marks (Fig. 5). As Joon Jin Sup, artist and critic and curator of the exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the exhibition at Kukje Gallery, writes in the latter’s catalogue ‘The core of Dansaekhwa is revealed in its spirit, tactility, and performance’ (2014, p.23). A complex, and to Westerners (and today also to younger Koreans) unfamiliar, weave of ideas underpins Dansaekhwa’s value as a specific genre of advanced painting.

While the sense of sight facilitates a general conceptual knowledge through offering spatial detachment from what is perceived, the sense of touch verifies and brings conviction by providing specific knowledge revealed intimately through close contact. To make physical contact with an object is to gain clarification, and touching confirms and demystifies. The accumulation of knowledge gained through touch may be slower than through visual perception, but the sense of touch is more difficult to deceive. The tactile sense, or the haptic, in fact engages two bodily functions – the tactile and the kinaesthetic. The former brings direct physical contact, providing information about location, surface, vibration and temperature, while the kinaesthetic is involved with knowledge about position, orientation and force. As a result, touch helps build a stronger and more authentic awareness of a three dimensional and temporal world than the sense of sight. Indeed, as the architectural theorist Juhani Pallasmaa (2005, p.10) writes: ‘All the senses, including vision, are extensions of the tactile sense’:

Touch in Painting

[T}he senses are specializations of skin tissue, and all sensory experiences are modes of touching and thus related to tactility […] Touch is the sensory mode that integrates our experience of the world with that of ourselves. Even visual perceptions are fused and integrated into the haptic continuum of the self; my body remembers who I am and where I am located in the world’ (p.11). In painting, haptic engagement implies a close link between the eye and the hand. While a predominantly retinal response necessitates viewing a work’s surface from a certain distance, in the haptic mode perception at close range is necessary.


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Tactile ‘seeing’ thus brings into play a greater awareness of body movements, of stimuli relating to bodily position, posture, and equilibrium that come from a more immersive engagement, and also brings awareness of the changeable, multifaceted, kinaesthetically and synaesthetically varied nature of painting. Ultimately, the haptic mode reminds us that the spatial experience is a synthesis of all the senses. As we experience the textural characteristics of space, distinctness and separation give way to interrelatedness and co-dependence.

Cross-cultural comparisons and generalizations are often tagged as methodologically suspect but exploring Dansaekhwa suggests a context of deep-seated cultural differences. Edward Said (1978) famously called Western ‘readings’ of non-Western cultures ‘Orientalism’; they are merely projections onto the ‘other’ of the historically specific beliefs and prejudices of the dominant culture. In this context, generalizations about differences between cultures are understood to be distortions and to serve ideological goals. However, as J.J. Clarke suggests, such ‘Orientalism’ ‘cannot simply be identified with the ruling imperialist ideology’ (1997, p.9), and Said’s version simplifies the picture. For, as Clarke argues, ‘in the Western context it [Orientalism] represents a countermovement, a subversive entelechy, albeit not a unified or consciously organized one, which in various ways has often tended to subvert rather than to confirm the discursive structures of imperial power’ (1997, p.9). For example, the Western discourse regarding Zen Buddhism was intentionally counter-cultural and cannot be subordinated to the ideology of colonialism. In this context, what I refer to below can be described as a characteristic family of attitudes and approaches that Europeans have taken to it [East Asia], forged in the hope of constructing a set of representations of East Asia that, it is explicitly understood, are ‘in pursuit of Western goals and aspirations’ (Clarke, 1997, p.10). Touch and World-Views

In discussing global variations in culture we are encountering not simply ideologically motivated ‘projections’ but also evidence that there are culturally and geographically specific cognitive and behavioural orientations or biases that are historically contingent but also deep-rooted, pervasive and resilient. This recursiveness within cultural formations is due to the fact that, as the social psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelly Taylor (1991) put it, human beings by habit are ‘cognitive misers’, that is, they tend to adopt the most familiar strategies for solving perennial existential problems. The perceived benefits of a world-view explains its persistence, and such recursiveness takes the form of specific biases or segregations. As the philosopher Thomas Kasulis writes, in one culture certain experiences ‘are considered the most interesting for analysis, the most revealing of our basic humanity, the most fruitful to emphasize,’ while in another ‘they might be considered common, not particularly revealing about very much’ (2002, p.22). My interest here, then, is in two broad cultural orientations that are instances of such stubborn historical and geographical formations, and I will refer to two generalizations under the rubrics ‘East Asian’ and ‘Western’. There are of course significant variations both within these broad categories themselves and also throughout their specific histories. But globalization also means that discussions of culture must confront not only the historical but also the ahistorical.


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That is to say, it must be acknowledged that while humanity adopts different cultural strategies at different times, we also share identical neurological ‘wet-ware’ and the ontological fact of embodied experience. The problem with assessing the ‘ahistorical’, however, is that it risks becoming methodologically essentialist. But as Paul Crowther puts it in his discussion of the phenomenology of art, it is necessary to acknowledge ‘transhistorical ontological structures that are basic to individual kinds of cultural phenomena, and form conditions which enable their more historically specific transmissions’ (2009, p.22). This is not the same as asserting that they are ‘timeless and inert essences’ (p.22) because ‘historically specific phenomena always constellate around more constant elements in human experience, most notably those connected with the conditions of embodiment’ (p.20). These ‘ahistorical’ elements, or ‘ontological structures’, lead to the establishment of important ‘conceptual truths’, as Crowther terms them. Thus, variation in the phenomenology of painting ‘arises through the different ways in which this structure can be visually realized and the many different cultural uses to which it can be put’ (2009, p.22). Somewhere between the making of ahistorical ‘universalist’ claims for global cultures and taking a rigidly historicist stance that emphasizes ‘social construction’ lies the evidence of such social psychologists as Stephen Heine (2007) and Richard E. Nisbett (2003) in relation to the ‘geography of thought’. Heine’s empirical research, for example, leads him to assert that it is possible to identify a Western prejudice towards the ‘autonomous self’, in which selfhood is generated in contrast to others, while in East Asian culture there is a bias towards what he terms the ‘interdependent self’ – one in which individuals are understood to be connected to each other via a network of relationships. Richard E. Nisbett argues that there is converging evidence from many fields to suggest that despite globalization the Western model persists in prioritizing what he calls ‘analytic thought’, which elevates the sense of sight over the other senses and ‘dissects the world into a limited number of discrete objects having particular attributes that can be categorized in clear ways’ (2003, p.157). Processes of knowing involve the separation into elemental parts and reorganization into new wholes. Westerners value discrete, clear and distinct ‘building blocks’ for thought, and truth is therefore understood to be bright and clear, and a mode of thinking is promoted that aims to be uninfluenced by personal feelings or opinions when considering and representing facts. In contrast, there is what Nisbett calls the ‘holistic thought’ of East Asia. This means non-duality or monism, which implies the notion of the self as existing in the midst of things rather than being external to them. Nonconceptual practical thinking is encouraged. The data derived from an awareness of the body’s position in time and space is incorporated into cognitive processes. ‘Holistic’ thought considers what exists in relation to material or physical form, and processes of knowing are not separated out into abstract, elemental parts and then reorganized into new wholes, as they are in the West. Consequently, Nisbett notes that East Asians make fewer sharp distinctions among attributes or categories, and some important knowledge is thus construed in what seems to Westerners as ‘esoteric’ or ‘dark’ terms. Thomas Kasulis, approaching similar territory from a philosophically pragmatist perspective interested in comparative ontology, calls such recursive cultural differences ‘integrity’ and ‘intimacy’, and describes several key characteristics (2002, pp.27–51): intimacy is ‘personal’ rather than public and stresses ‘belonging-with’ rather than difference and separation. It is primarily ‘affective’ rather than intellectual, and also


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‘somatic’ rather than mental. Kasulis also calls a key characteristic of the intimacy orientation ‘dark’ and ‘esoteric’; ‘dark’ because ‘the foundation or ground of intimate knowledge is not obvious even to those involved in the intimate locus’ (2002, p.47), and ‘esoteric’ because, while it ‘cannot be communicated adequately to an outsider, it can be suggested’ (2002, p.50). The sinologist and philosopher François Jullien argues that such cognitive divergences can be broadened out historically under what he calls ‘Chinese’ and ‘Greek’ thought. These rubrics stand for two profoundly different ways of conceiving of the subject’s connectedness to the outside world: perception or breathing. ‘There are two ways in which my existence is continuously connected to something outside’, Jullien declares (2009, p.134): ‘I breathe and I perceive’. As he explains (2009, p.124): ‘I can privilege the gaze and the activity of perception, the Greek choice, which led them to grant priority to a conception of reality as an object of knowledge: the mind moves upward from visual sensation to the construction of essences, and vision is corrected, structured, and at the same time transcended by reason.’ As a result, writes Jullien (1995, p.218), ‘[o]ne could say – metaphorically, at least – that Greek thought was marked by the idea, at once tragic and beautiful, of ‘measure’ attempting to impose itself on ‘chaos’’. In contrast, the Chinese became sensitive early on to ‘the regular, spontaneous fecundity stemming simply from the alternation of the seasons’ (1995, p.218), and their conceptualization of the world was founded ‘not on the activity of knowledge but on respiration’ (2009, p.134). Chinese philosophy proceeded ‘from the fact that I am alive, breathing in-breathing out’, and, from this awareness, ‘I deduce the principle of a regulating alternation from which the process of the world flows’ (2009, p.134). As a consequence, it was understood that everything participated in a dynamic field of energy, called qi, gi or ch’i, as the Chinese is variously translated.

Rather than understanding the world as primarily an object of vision, traditional East Asian painting hoped to express a sense of immersion. Artists emphasized the role of the hand and eye together, recognizing knowledge gained through bodily perceptions in general and not just through sight. This tradition fostered an attitude that saw painting as expressing an intrinsic overlap between the self and the world of others, and it aimed to evoke the synaesthetic experience of being absorbed by tones and atmosphere, or of having an intimate tactile connection to the world. Creativity was understood to arise from interactions, and the body was centrally involved in mediating the self with the world. When confronted with a work of art, this way of experiencing did not see a collection of discrete parts to be divided up and analyzed, but rather construed it as a whole linking maker and viewer. East Asian art was less concerned with looking with the eyes than with developing a kind of indirect observing – a looking through the body. Artists used techniques that to Western eyes seem explicitly designed to emphasize the process of making, and often demonstrated a conscious relinquishment of control. They proclaimed that they were creating an ‘artless art’, or the ‘technique of no technique’, as it was known in Taoism.

Traditional East Asian Painting and Touch

In order to further the imaginative entry of the viewer into a work, paintings were often characterized by pronounced qualities of suggestive abbreviation and empty space, and by the juxtaposing of disparate, contrasting and imperfect elements which demanded


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that the viewer ‘complete’ the work. ‘When you paint’, advised the seventeenth century Chinese scholar-artist Tang Zhiqi, ‘there is no need to paint all the way; if with each brushstroke you paint all the way, it becomes common’ (quoted in Jullien, 2009, p.72). The technique known as ‘flying blank’ developed, for example, in which the sparse hairs of a worn brush left unmarked spaces as it traversed the surface, while the style known as ‘flung-ink’ painting aimed to loosen the hold of fixed form and determined meaning through the artist consciously relinquishing control of the painting gesture. What to Western eyes registers as lack of finish or refinement, as sketchiness, emptiness and a sense of incompletion, were actually highly valued because qi, or the vital force or energy circulating through everything, was closely associated with expressions of spontaneity. To a much greater extent than Western art before the modern period, East Asian art therefore points towards a depicted subject (a landscape, for example) but also towards the artist’s own body, whose presence is recorded through the trace of the brush upon the physical surface. A painting mediated a heightened awareness of time and space, and the artist made the viewer feel as if he or she was watching him at work in ‘real time’ by involving them in a synaesthetic experience. Such paintings employed what the art historian Norman Bryson (1983, p.94–95) terms the ‘deictic’ (meaning ‘to show’) mode – that is, paintings are contextual, and an image cannot be ‘taken in all at once, tota simul, since it has itself unfolded within the durée of process.’ A viewer is thus able to visually track the lapse of time and sequence through the traces that the painter has left on the substrate of paper or silk, as if they have participated or witnessed the process of making. This implies a performative and indexical relationship between work and maker, an acknowledgment of the ‘carnal, corporeal body, with its gestures and physical presence’ (Bryson, 1983, p.95).

Since the fifteenth century in the West, oil on canvas has been the normal medium for painting. In East Asia, in contrast, the usual substrate was paper or silk, and the painting medium ink or water-based colours. Due to the characteristics of these media, East Asian paintings traditionally have far less overt surface variability and materiality than Western paintings. Ink on paper, for example, produces a smoother and less directly haptically engaged surface. Western paintings, on the other hand – even when a ‘licked’ on style aimed to produce a smooth unmodulated surface – are inevitably more textured due to the nature of the medium. As a consequence, East Asian works register as more intangible, fragile, delicate, diffuse and immaterial, which contributes to the sense of elusive ‘atmosphere’ they evoke. At the same time, however, the conventions of display of East Asian works – paper or silk attached to patterned mounts that were designed to be rolled up, or fans and folding-screens that were portable and intended to be used – rendered East Asian works more like objects to be engaged with than Western paintings which, since the Renaissance until the era of modernism challenged the dominant conventions, usually mimicked windows or stages from which the viewer is supposed to stand back.

Dansaekhwa and Touch

Especially for the generation of Dansaekhwa, modern Western art meant a kind of painting that drew attention to itself as highly textured structures. This was exemplified by art informel or tachisme in Europe and Abstract Expressionism in the United States. The warp and woof of canvas, and the heavily impastoed terrains built out of oil paint,


The Cogito of Kneading

struck East Asian artists as producing an overtly and obdurately material and visceral kind of painting surface. They would appropriate this augmentation in the haptic potential of painting – its power to directly evince a sense of textured terrain – wedding it to prior indigenous conventions in which paintings have a more permeable, less ‘framed’ relationship to their surroundings. Dansaekhwa artists, in particular, detoured these Western characteristics via a sensibility schooled in a very different understanding of what such materiality implied, one that could derail the mimetic agenda of Western painting, not only paralleling in the process certain aspects of Modernist Western formalism that were becoming increasingly known, but also foregrounding a consciousness bound closely to a more positive evaluation of the relationship between the synaesthetic body and cognitive processes. The lack of focal points of visual interest in Dansaekhwa also has precedent in Western modernism’s all-overness, which was employed to deny the possibility of the spatial illusionism created by nominating positive space, or ‘figure’, as the locus of attention within a nebulous field of negative space – the unremarked ‘ground’. This assertion of the unbroken pictorial field amounted to a repudiation of Western painting’s traditional goals, and it was motivated by the will to materialism at one extreme, and the will to spiritual transcendence at another. In the case of Dansaekhwa’s all-overness, in contrast, a different motive suggests itself. By segregating a surface into areas of visual attention, and of visual inattention or absence, entails a fundamentally cognitive activity that foregrounds the close link between seeing and instrumental thinking. By denying the eye the task of organizing such a Gestalt, Dansaekhwa paintings invite instead a less optical engagement, one in which the cognitive is involved not in segregations but in making connections and finding interrelationships. Such emphasis on painting’s artefactual status would suggest the possibility of a novel re-alignment in Korean painting, one through which the indigenous artisanal activity of pottery making, which foregrounds the close link between the brain and the hand, or between cognitive processes and bodily gestures, and the ‘cogito of kneading’, might be seen to coalesce. This also provided a context within which to shift painting away from the refined traditions of East Asian ‘literati’ painting towards something more radically contemporary.4 Consequently, the haptic dimension unfolds in Dansaekhwa within a different cognitive paradigm or, to use Crowther’s terminology, a set of different ‘conceptual truths’ to the West. Dansaekhwa artists applied a sensibility characterized by a pronounced emphasis on physical engagement and performance – on the studied use of the hand and the measured control of the movements of the body in harmony with thought. The surfaces of Dansaekhwa paintings communicate more subjective, ‘dark’, empathetic and transient cognitive processes that are grounded in greater awareness of sensory-motor experience – tactile or haptic qualities derived from the holistic dialecticism central to traditional Korean and East Asian culture. As a consequence, Dansaekhwa artists devised ways of manipulating materials and employing surfaces that have no real precedents amongst Western artists, while their practices intersect with Western art through being played out on a common art world stage which was 4.  ‘Literati’ is the Western term used for the calligraphy, painting and poetry produced by scholars rather than professional or folk artists in China, Korea and Japan. ‘Literati’ paintings were not intended to have direct practical use or to demonstrate professional skill but rather to reveal the scholar’s cultivation and to express their personal feelings. In some senses, the ideal of the ‘literati’ comes close to the modernist concept of the artist in the West.


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becoming globally hegemonic during this period. Within this context, the specific focus of Dansaekhwa artists on the markedly material, tactile object, and on the performative dimension, can be interpreted as aiming to produce points of resistance from which to both revitalize traditional East Asian conventions and also to deconstruct the Western world-view. The works of Dansaekhwa can therefore be regarded as hybrids that borrow traits of Western modernism and detours them via what were construed as traditional East Asian – and specifically Korean – concepts. The unusual – to Westerners – uses of the discipline of painting make it clear that, like the Mono-ha artists in Japan (with whom Lee Ufan, a resident of Tokyo, was closely associated), these Korean artists were aiming to evolve a practice in relation to what they construed as East Asian traditions as well as Western modern art.5 Indeed, another way of framing the distinction I am making in relation to tactile ‘seeing’ is suggested by Lee Ufan himself, with his concept of ‘encounter’. This refers to the interface or dialogue taking place in the animated space that exists between the beholder and the work. ‘Rather than my work defining me or the other way round,’ declares Lee (1996, p.120), ‘something different grows in the mutual interaction and response and suddenly comes into existence.’ Such an ‘encounter’ is encouraged by the tactile sense, as it brings the two parties into more intimate contact. Multi-sensory intimacy, conveyed by the notion of a ‘tactile’ relationship to the world, one in which there is greater awareness of the embodied nature of mind, was understood by Lee to lie at the heart of traditional East Asian thought. In the Western paradigm, touch plays a far less significant role than vision in relation to cognition. This is because there is a broad recursive orientation that is committed to the correlation of seeing and knowing. As Gilles Deleuze writes quoting Descartes, the West is committed above all to a cogito based on the value of ‘clear and distinct knowledge’ (1992, p.155). As touch takes place within a kind of ‘darkness’ (Deleuze, 1992, p.155) it is denigrated as a less reliable source for cognitive processes. The Western world-view, as the philosopher Mark Johnson writes, ‘aligns meaning with the cognitive and thus dismisses quality, feeling, and emotion from any account of meaning’ (2007, p.216. Italics in the original). This is especially debilitating in relation to the domain of art, Johnson continues, because here ‘it is images, patterns, qualities, colours, and perceptual rhythms that are the principal bearer of meaning.’ As a result, there is a structural problem in understanding how making and thinking, and crafting and knowing, are connected, and in adequately interpreting how raw things are transformed into stable and ordered forms through the imagination mixed with bodily actions. There is difficultly in adequately accounting for what Johnson calls ‘embodied, immanent meaning’ (2007, p.234).

‘[H]uman thought processes are largely metaphorical’, emphasize George Lakoff and Johnson (1980/2003, p.6), and while these metaphors are fundamentally motivated by ontological sensory-motor experience, the bias of the metaphors is conditioned by recursive cultural norms. In the West the dominant conceptual metaphors regarding the experience and meaning of painting


5.  For an insightful discussion of these connections with Japan, see: Joan Kee, Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).


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are those pertaining to vision, while Dansaekhwa reflects a culture in which metaphors pertaining to kinaesthetic touch or kneading are more central. Dansaekhwa is a kind of painting that prioritizes gesture, doing, and ‘encounter’ over seeing. Its raw, earthy quality evokes the experience of an agrarian society in which immersion in nature and tending the land is central. It is here also that we should no doubt seek the origins of Bachelard’s ‘cogito of kneading’ – in an awareness of the mind as something embodied in the ‘flesh’ of the physical world that is today in danger of being eclipsed by technology. The emergence of Dansaekhwa in the 1970s, and in South Korea in particular, suggests a context within which some Korean artists encountered the liberating example of Western modernism and sought to break with their own heritage and to assimilate and emulate Western modernism’s styles. Korean monochrome painting is one of the many symptoms, manifested globally according to different time-frames in different countries, that signal the end of an indigenous art and culture characterized by harmonious evolution – by repetitions, emulations and incremental departures from the norm – and by a sense of holistic embodiedness. But while Dansaekhwa artists adopted procedures and underlying assumptions from the ‘analytic’ Western tradition, such as seeing art in terms of artistic autonomy, as highly subjectivized, and as characterized by overt demonstrations of the freedom of expression, they also sought to cleave to what they understood to be key characteristics of a traditional ‘holistic’ Korean culture which they believed were fast disappearing. During the time when these Korean artists were exploring such an overtly tactile kind of painting, their nation was experiencing unprecedentedly fast social and economic change, transforming itself from an overwhelmingly agricultural economy into an industrialized capitalist one. In 1944 13.2 percent of South Korea's population was urban, and by 2000, 80 percent of Koreans were living in conurbations (Kwon). Today, South Korea is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and this modernization project has also meant the rationalization of Korean society around instrumental, Western, ’analytic’ goals. But as Nisbett and Heine have demonstrated through their empirical research, variations in cognitive style between East Asia and the West continue to persist despite such transformations, although the shift from agrarian to urban society has transplanted the context of the East Asian world-view from the natural world to the technological, with profound and still difficult to assess consequences. One thing is for sure: within a society frenetically embracing the fetishes of capitalist-style progress modelled on the Western capitalist ‘dream’, it would prove too much to hope that the fragile dialectical engagements explored by Dansaekhwa artists could be sustained. The artist Nam June Paik seems to have already recognized this, and in the 1960s he threw himself into the midst of the technological maelstrom, inventing video art in the process.6


The Cogito of Kneading references

Bachelard, G. (1987), On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, selected, translated and introduced by Colette Gaudin. Dallas, Texas: Spring Publications. Bryson, N. (1983) Vision and Painting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Clarke, J.J. (1997) Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought. London and New York: Routledge. Connor, S. (2004) The Book of Skin. London: Reaktion. Danto, A. (1994) Ad Reinhardt. In: Embodied Meanings: Critical Essays and Aesthetic Meditations. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, pp.204–211. Deleuze, G. (1992) Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin. Boston: Zone Books, MIT Press. Dufrenne, M., Gallagher, D. & Roberts, M. eds. (1987) In the Presence of the Sensuous: Essays in Aesthetics. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, Inc. Fisher, J. ed. (1996), Selected Writings by Lee Ufan 1970–96. Translated by Martha McClintock. London: Lisson Gallery. Fiske, S. & Taylor, S. (1991), Social Cognition. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. Heine, Steven J. (2007), Cultural Psychology. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Jay, M. (1988), Scopic Regimes of Modernity. In: Foster, H. Vision and Visuality. Seattle: Bay Press, pp.3–28. Johnson, M. (2007) The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Jullien, F. (1995) The Propensity of Things, a History of Efficacy in China. New York: Zone Books. Julien ,F. (2009) The Great Image has no shape, or, On the nonobject through Painting. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Kasulis, T.P. (2002) Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference. University of Hawaii Press.

6.  An earlier version of this paper was read at the 2015 AICA Conference in South Korea, and published by AICA Korea. A shortened version of that same text was subsequently published in the Korean art magazines ‘Public Art’ (September, 2014) and ‘Art in Culture’ (December, 2015) and in the on-line journal TK-21 ( I am grateful to my anonymous reviewers for helping me to clarify certain points, and to one especially, who challenged my apparent ‘essentialism’, thus obliging me to substantially revise my text.

Krauss, R. (1991) Overcoming the Limits of Matter: On Revising Modernism. In: Elderfield, J. American Art of the 1960’s. New York: MOMA.


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Kwon, T. Population Change and Development in Korea (Internet). Available from: (Accessed, September 15, 2014). Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980/2003) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press. Nisbett, R.E. (2003) The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners think differently...and why. New York: Free Press. Pallasmaa, J. (2005) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. Virilio, P. (1994) The Vision Machine. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Virilio, P. (2000) A Landscape of Events. Cambridge: MIT Press. Yoon J.S. (2014) The World of Dansaekhwa: Spirit, Tactility, and Performance. In: Dansaekhwa, Kukje Gallery.

Contributor details

Simon Morley is an artist and writer. He is the author of Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art (2003) editor of Documents in Contemporary Art: The Sublime (2010), and recently co-authored The Winchester Guide for International Students in Art, Design and Media (2014). Another text by him about Dansaekhwa will appear in the forthcoming Painting: Critical and Primary Sources (2015). He has recently held solo exhibitions of his artwork in London, Paris, and at Artsonje and Gallery Baton in Seoul, and participated in the group show, ‘Universal Studios: Seoul’ at Seoul Museum of Art. He holds a Doctorate from the University of Southampton, currently teaches at Dankook University and is a Visiting Fellow at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, UK.




Substrate: the common and the doxa of property Neil Cummings

This talk was presented on 7th May 2014 as part of the third Substrate symposia held at the CCW Graduate School. key words copyright archive Screen Tests commons creative commons property substrate doxa P. Bourdieu FLOSS R. Stallman

I haven’t had time to write a paper for the Substrate workshop, sorry. Anyway, I sensed that they’re more of an informal sharing of ideas than an academic performance. So, I made notes and I’ll speak for as long as the media file that’s playing lasts (a media file is playing from my laptop and displaying on a plasma screen). The file is ten minutes and thirty six seconds long.

And as always, I began to worry about who has access to these substrates, these foundational resources. How a commons-like access, by which I mean there are few, if any, rights of exclusion, are contested and even destroyed by the idea of substrates as a property. Like oil. Properties produced by legal codes and force, creating owners, ownership rights, and rights of exclusion. Rights to exploit.

I came to some of the other Substrate workshops and to be honest I was a bit annoyed. Frustrated even. People seemed to confuse materials, canvas weights and paper textures, with substrates. ‘Substrate’ – I looked it up on Wikipedia – is described as an underlying layer, something profound. Something foundational. Like resources. Like oil, minerals, or justice, even freedom itself. Maybe water? I began to think of energy, sunlight, as a substrate and everything else as its solidified, liquidized or material form.

So what are the substrates in cultural fields? Creativity? No. Because all creative acts are born into property, into copyright. Any instance of a thing you bring into the world, sufficiently different from anything else before it, is defined as a property, it belongs to you and is legally yours. Currently, yours for the rest of your natural life, plus seventy years.


Substrate; the common and the doxa of property

Copyright law evolved to enable literary authors to financially profit from their creativity after the advent of cheap reproduction, cheap printing in the early eighteenth century. The Statute of Anne of 1709 (hmm.......was it 1709?) of Queen Anne, was intended to stop other printers printing an author’s text and selling it. Copyright granted rights of restriction from unauthorized reproduction for fourteen years, then the published work would return to the commons, where anyone could copy, add, modify and re-publish it. There was a balance struck between financially rewarding the author and enriching the common substrate of creative resources.

political, legal or financial – structured by fluctuating rules, behaviours and institutions. And finally Doxa. Doxa to quote Bourdieu is ‘The meshing of internal subjective experience [his Habitus] and external objective structures’ (1977, p.164). It’s where the world appears as self-evident. That’s-just-how-it-is. Like time, like our experience of time, as a fairly arbitrary objective structure that we’ve completely internalized. I set my alarm clock at night and often wake up in the morning in time to turn it off, before it bleats. Or, automatically looking left as you step off the pavement to cross a road. That is, if you’re born in the UK and crossing the road in the UK.

Copyright produces the ideological figure of the author, as a singular, bounded subject, as the source of the creative instance. It emphasizes individual contribution and obscures the common. It’s no surprise to me that 'authorial' and 'authority' have the same root, linked by the power and the legal right to exert that power, to exclude. Largely unchanged for more than 200 years, copyright was extended in 1928 to 30 years, then quickly extended to the natural life of the apparent author, then the life of the author plus 30, then 50 years, and in 1997 extended to the life of the author plus 70 years. I’m sure lobbyists from the ‘creative industries’ are seeking extensions as I speak. And let’s be clear, it’s not authors or artists that are being rewarded here, but vast content and rights management industries. Copyright trolls.

For me copyright is doxic (is that a word?) it’s a meshed internal subjective experience with external objective structures. We experience creativity and we reproduce creativity as individuated, as a property, as a scarce resource, precious, precious as a revenue stream. At the same time, we inhabit creative cultures riven with anxiety about plagiarism, copying, provenance and reproductions, replete with competition and unequal capital distribution. A culture of permissions. Dear DACS, Please can I reproduce that image in my artwork. I’m sorry I cannot afford the £756 you are quoting for the B&W reproduction rights... Copyright is a substrate of creativity, and copyright is toxic.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, evolved a kind of tripartite model of cultural reproduction, made-up of Habitus, Field and the less well known Doxa. Habitus consists of subjective, learned dispositions. Likes, dislikes, tastes, preferences, intuitions, that sort of thing. Fields are meshed, yet competitive flows of capital – cultural, educational, symbolic,

Now, as I said earlier, copyright works by exclusion. In the world of material goods this makes some physical if not common sense. Physical things are bounded, slow moving and have a material presence. Think of a painting (points to a Chris Ofili painting hanging in the room) like this one; it exists in one place at one time, more or less. It’s sufficiently different from previous versions and to make a copy would be laborious, and although different, the copy would always refer back to the previous


Substrate; the common and the doxa of property

version. Like a footnote. These relations are rendered ironic by things made for reproduction, books, prints, photographs, sculptures, readymades... My sketch of copyright, productive for almost 300 years is completely erased by our new every day of digital information, where copy, modify, distribute, is the DNA of our practices. Like breathing. If the right to exclude makes some sense amongst physical things, to artificially define a finite resource, to differentiate, model and copy, and to introduce scarcity amongst digital sounds, images, moving images, objects, texts, archives, collections, databases and creativity is stupid. It makes no sense. And yet copyright, although now it’s morphed into Intellectual Property (IP), is still creativity’s substrate. Mark Getty, speaking in 2006 as chairman of Getty Images, suggested that IP is, ’The oil of the 21st century’. Let me introduce a computer language programmer, a genius programmer called Richard Stallman. In the 1970s and 80s Richard was collaboratively writing programmes when he realized that companies and individuals were starting to claim property rights, Intellectual Property rights, over the code and they were restricting access. Richard felt that all languages, including programing languages are shared and of necessity non-owned and free. (A substrate?) And that a meaningful utterance is only possible by drawing upon, modifying and recombining resources that freely circulate within a community of speakers and listeners, or writers and readers. Restrictions in language limit the possible, it’s why we value freedom, and freedom of expression. He could see that all the ‘individual’ contributions to programing languages, all new knowledge, could be configured, no, worse! Would be born into property, as an Intellectual Property. And, indeed they are.

So, he wrote The General Public License (GPL) in 1989. The GPL is a piece of legal code that is able to license ‘software’ out of proprietary ownership – remember copyright still exists everywhere, and in all things – and protect it from any subsequent enclosure. The GPL enshrines the right to copy, modify and redistribute languages, and it has enabled Free, Libre or Open Source Software (FLOSS), to grow and even flourish. The Android mobile OS is probably the most common example, although various distributions of Linux are not far behind, [points], it’s what’s running my laptop. Most of the critical infrastructure for the Internet runs on Apache, air traffic control, heart pacemakers... anyway. As well as software, the ethic of FLOSS has generated and protected astonishing resources, like Wikipedia, Wordpress, or, and licenses have mutated from software’s GPL to protect other things, other images, sounds, texts, objects, all kinds of things. The best known are Creative Commons licenses. It’s what this text is protected by. Oh, ok. The credits are rolling. I’m running out of time. So, I’ll try and explain the connection to the moving image document you’ve been watching, it’s called Screen Tests.1 I was invited in 2006 to participate in the British Art Show, I collaborated with three other artists Marysia Lewandowska, Ben White and Eileen Simpson (Figs. 6–15). We realized that at each of the touring exhibitions venues, the host city had a public media archive for that region. In this case, in Manchester, it’s the North West Film Archive. We contacted the archive and searched for orphaned, or out of copyright material, our intention was to edit a new ‘film’ from the digitized material, (we were doing something similar with recordings from the British Library for soundtracks), and then release all four films, from all four venues on a DVD, 1.


Substrate; the common and the doxa of property

for free, with all of the source materials, under a Creative Commons license. Screen Tests is assembled from fragments of film shot in the Manchester School of Art in the early 1930’s. You can see it’s the first time staff, students, models, cleaners and cooks have ever seen a camera, they’re all performing, exaggerating, mugging even for the camera. I was reminded of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. The DVD was dependent on securing Arts Council Funding, it looked a long-shot. The North West Film Archive made us sign a contract stipulating what we could and could not do with the outof-copyright moving image sequences, encoded as digital files. Surprisingly, we secured the money, started to produce the DVD, when the archive got cold feet. We could not release the digitized archival fragments. But, I said, it’s in the contract. Why not? Ummmm, the family (presumably the family of the filmmaker who had donated the material to the public archive) have rights, they’ve objected. I said, what rights? What’s it got to do with them? Ummm, we’re not sure, but you can’t release the material. Why not, I said, it’s in the contract and the material is out-of-copyright, we have every right to release it, no? Ummm yes, but no. You see the substrate, the substrate, the celluloid that the moving images are stuck to, belongs to us. We won’t grant you permission.

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Substrate; the common and the doxa of property references

Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Getty, M. (2006) The oil of the 21st century: perspectives on intellectual property. Available from: (Accessed 5th December 2014). Cummings, N., Lewandowska, M., Simpson, E. and White, B (2006) Screen Tests. Available from: (Accessed 5th December 2014).

Contributor details

Neil Cummings is Professor of Theory and Practice at Chelsea. He was born in Wales and lives in London.



The table is the floor Richard Layzell

This performance/lecture was presented on 12th February 2014 at the first of the series of three Substrate symposia held at the CCW Graduate School. key words Performance Acme Gallery Video Artist writing

This is a narrative. It traces a line or a plane in a certain way... for today. One line may be as good as another and the main point is that this is the only one that matters right now on this floor under these lights. The questioning of the surface, the base, the template, the ground, goes through the paper to the desk underneath. You sit at the desk. You sit. Sitting is the obvious position. At the desk that you made in the Slade’s woodwork shop using the electric bandsaw. The desk is modular, four sides of an open cube. So you’re already slightly subsumed by a sculptural form in the constructivist tradition. The top support surface is a square of half inch blockboard not screwed down, so it can lift off, slide off at any time and become part of a work or works. You sit here in Willow Street EC1, behind the awkward Old Street monument, and make drawings, taking paper slowly from a pile of cast-offs from a friend’s printing works. The individual sheets feel fine, firm with a slight sheen, gently secure and ‘other’. But decades later they emit oily deposits while the occasional cartridge paper you reluctantly used stands firm. It’s in process. And you’re in process.

You fall asleep at the desk most days. You don’t understand this but you grow to accept it and rationalize it as an antidote to the three days a week you spend trying to control teenagers at Woodberry Down Comprehensive School in Hackney, where the head of art is a former policeman (‘Respect, Mr Palmer, discipline, man…’) and a self taught draughtsman of innocuous figurative poster paint compositions that the kids admire hugely, ‘can you do mine, Mr Palmer, cor, look Mr Palmer done that bit for me’. He grows geraniums in small pots in the store cupboard. Their acrid smell surprises you when you open the door and fumble for materials, recalling with a shudder your life as an art student 18 months earlier in an art school where you were obsessed with breaking boundaries between video, drawing, sculpture and photography. And your MA graduation work is hovering there as you sit at your desk producing the drawings, drawings which are in part randomly generated, resembling early computer generated art. You are your own machine.

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And the shift comes when the job shifts and the housing shifts. You’re allocated an Acme House in Bow, a derelict terraced house opposite the gas works where the upstairs eventually becomes a studio. Then, supported by documentation of your MA show, you’re given your first solo show at the Acme Gallery and when your exhibition’s on they need invigilators so you start working there as well. You call it Breaking Down and the drawings find a place, this time on larger cartridge paper.1 These are the survivors. You continue working at the gallery and your interest in performance takes a new turn as you sample the scene. So at 2B Butlers Wharf, a new performance venue, your drawings are revisited, projected in negative onto a rough wooden structure that is also derived from them. You call it Line Flying.2 And you’re live-ness in the work, your physicality, empowers you unexpectedly. You’re not falling asleep at the table desk any more (Fig 16). A couple of years later, an opportunity arises to slide off the table and onto the floor, the parallel underfoot surface. You take the train to Carlisle. That’s where the floor is. It's parquet and the black bitumen adhesive impeccably designed to hold firm is now cracking underneath in brittle fragments. The impacted, accumulated dust lies heavy in the crevices and gaps between the thick rectangular blocks. See what you find if you look underneath, or better not, get someone else to do it. Get the workmen in. The ones who are used to the job, so hardened and toughened they refuse to wear facemasks for fear of being tarred with effeminacy. Breathing in dust and shit makes a man of me. It’s already giving way in places, that’s why it needs replacing, 1.  Breaking Down - Finding New Paths (1977). London: Acme Gallery 29 July – 17 August. 2.  Line Flying (1978). London: 2B Butlers Wharf.

especially as this is now a low budget media studio, home to unwieldy former television cameras that frequently need to glide on tripod wheels for smooth shots. Where the surface is broken, the wheels jump, the camera judders and the picture shakes. This floor has to go. Or is it a floor? It’s an ecosystem, a memory bank, a reservoir of human impact: stand on it, lie on it, rely on it, wipe it, smell it, ignore it. Having outlived so many of its users and resurfacings, there is an implicit revenge contained in its impasse. They call it refurbishment. You gradually draw it into submission and disintegration, ripe for your particular camera and action. You lift a single loose wooden brick block. It emerges easily at one end, inclined at an angle, resting its underside on the top edge of its neighbour in lip contact. It’s that easy. The raised block casts a sharp, prismatic shadow under the strong lights. It reveals a presence, a persona, and the floor is now a space of potential. Lift one you can lift more. The floor is in take-off and no longer a bland underfoot surface. It is what it always was, an assemblage of oak slabs clustered together for support and adhesion. Separate one from the crowd and they all want to follow (Fig. 17). You progressively find yourself using the studio less. You generate ideas in transit, on trains, in café's, in pubs, through video editing, through writing. The table becomes a space, a support for the book, a resting place. You start to think of the anonymous table, with its intrinsic horizontal support, as a metaphysical space. Its inexplicable value goes beyond itself. The triangular relationship of brain/mind, pen/pencil and paper/book is nothing without the table. You look for it. You rest on it. You notice it. You greet it. You meet it. You rely on it.

the table is the floor

The table rests in your consciousness as a domain of absorption and exchange, while concomitantly, exchange becomes an intrinsic part of your practice. And for a site-specific commission in Norway you actively select a park café The Park Caffeen as your location for interaction, developing a work of social engagement (relational even) where your work hovers between performer/worker/waiter (English speaking and popular with a surprising number of regulars) and installation artist.3 The table is the surface of subtlety and action, whiteness and darkness, the container and holder of cloth, dialogue, plate, glass, action and fly. This experience marks the start of a new relationship with the table, from plane of support to plane of action, invention and intervention. When you start to investigate your process with a renewed seriousness, a methodology of self-questioning begins to surface as a conceptual mirror and out of this you start to formalize and objectify this relationship by Talking to Tania, a fictional artist who represents a slice of your psyche, in an emerging dialogic process inspired by Bakhtin, Dostoyevsky and Ivy Compton-Burnett, or a muse.4 Tania’s responses are fluid and distinct. She is opinionated and vigorous with plenty to say, sometimes uncomfortably confrontational. Your dialogues evolve into a web published global exchange that takes place in Greece, Bangkok, Barcelona, New York, Penzance and London. As this relationship unfolds Tania’s voice becomes stronger and more demanding. You’re gradually being probed, sanded down and unpicked by a being and an inquisitive presence you yourself invented, 3.  Art Work / Work Art (2003) Lillehammer, Norway: Park Caffeen. 4.  Talking to Tania (2003) Layzell/TalkingToTania/tttintro.html#.VNEEKmisV8E

perhaps for this purpose, but not with these anticipated outcomes. You feel exposed and defensive and it doesn’t make sense. Is it getting out of control or do you trust in the process and the voice? Yet you’re hooked, fascinated to see where it will go and you decide to stay with it. One of your increasingly collaborative foci, along with White on White, The Radiant Curve and The Stumbling Block, is The Table as Metaphorical Space. These are lingering concepts from the notebook that have not been developed and you welcome Tania’s insistence and persistence to make something of them. When you finally acknowledge that a manifestation of your collaborative process is inevitable, in the form of a gallery-based installation, you begin conversations with curators across a table, meetings in which Tania is included through her aesthetic of absence, and represented by a place setting and an object of her choice. At the end of each meeting you leave a copy of your now newly published dialogues in book form, Cream Pages.5 The site-specific installation entitled The Manifestation is becoming a reality and tours the UK. It’s jointly authored, presented as a collaboration, and each showing is taken from a different range of thematic clusters.6 The Glasgow showing contains The Stumbling Block (Fig. 18), Falling Phoebe and The Dialogue (Fig. 19). The London showing also includes The Radiant Curve and The Table as Metaphorical Space. They are all referenced in The Dialogue, which is 5.  Sofaer, J. (2008) Cream Pages: The dialogues of Tania Koswycz and Richard Layzell, London: ResCen Publications 6.  The Manifestation (2008) London: Café Gallery Projects and then to Glasgow, Stroud and Colchester

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the table is the floor

documented from a live dialogue about each show and presented as a core element in the work. The text, the word, is enough and elevated to a deserving status. The Table as Metaphorical Space takes form as a group of 12 tables with an unexpected aesthetic of absence, as if in cahoots with Tania (Fig 20). Tania suggests you look again at the video material from the Norway project, envisaging that this could be integrated into The Manifestation in London. She insists on re-editing the material alongside you and to your surprise it holds up and finds a place as a video projection. You call it The Table (Fig. 21). So the table is now acknowledged in your practice as a holder of potential, a reference for the ground of standing on, drawing upon, moving across, gesturing through, dialoguing, shaping up, keeping distance, sloping off, scaling down, fantasizing, a universal cultural icon of support and civilisation or inappropriate behaviour, (stands on table) (Fig. 22) get off the table, get on the table, no, get down, off, stop it, behave yourself…

33 33

the table is the floor Contributor details

Richard Layzell’s extended residency in industry as a ‘visionaire’ led to the invention and profiling of Olaf Gunderssen and ultimately the Gunderssen Building, alongside several other interventions into corporate culture. His subsequent collaboration with the equally fictional Tania Koswycz developed, through her early appearances in Colchester and Wagga Wagga, into the Talking to Tania dialogues. Their work together took physical form as The Manifestation, a dialogic installation, which toured the UK in 2008–9. His Square Mile residency in Shanghai, hosted by the elusive Shanghai E Arts, spawned a series of interventions and an ongoing performance/lecture The River Flows, shown in Glasgow, London and the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai. His recent work includes Dataography at the Knowle West Media Centre Bristol, the promotion and profiling of Pivotal Dave for Key Notes and Glory, a major installation for the Commonwealth Games at the Tramway in Glasgow in 2014. He is the author of Cream Pages and Enhanced Performance, is an honorary associate of the NRLA and Pathway Leader for Print and Time Based Media at Wimbledon College of Arts.



substrate: leaning against Medium Daniel Sturgis

This article looks to the substrate as a way to complicate thinking around the ideas of discipline, medium and material support. It does so by drawing on two artists' work, Tony Conrad and Carl Ostendarp, and reflecting on Rosalind E Krauss' text Under Blue Cup (2011). Conrad’s Yellow Movies can be seen to utilize languages from painting and structuralist film to comment on both genres, whereas Ostendarp’s fascination with a specific type of silk screen printing can be seen to lay the foundation for both his paintings and museum installations. The article asks if the substrate can provide a means of discussing the material qualities of an artwork as holding contained theoretical meanings.


key words Tony Conrad Carl Ostendarp Rosalind E Krauss Film Silkscreen

The idea that the materials we use as artists are loaded, meaningful and vital is something that I recognize in the studio. I am certain that most artists would implicitly know this. That the materials we use have their own histories and their own associations. By materials, I mean not only the products – the paints, pigments, canvases, linens, papers, and the ‘what-have-you’ – that you make art from – but I also mean the broader resources – the easels, brushes, studio, and, of course, the vagaries of framing, which is both actual and contextual. Even the context of past studio scenarios will play on current making, as will if one uses a studio at all or if one has rejected it and operates in a post-studio position. So, every permutation of every possibility, which are too limitless to define, but which might be drawn on by an artist to make work can be seen as a material. One significant material in this plethora of possibilities is the substrate: the foundation of the work. It is a foundation that is practical as well as theoretical. A foundation, that I can see intertwining these ideas, of material practice with theoretical and historical considerations. Taken within this context the substrate is like a lens through which work can be seen, a lens which emphasizes the twisting and convoluted relationships that artworks have with their material makeup. Through this reasoning the substrate is not the same as a ‘medium’, or ‘technical support’. It is rather the material foundation of the work, and this encompasses or embodies the idea that the artist acts upon. An idea, which of course could be at odds with its material constraints, or could complicate them in some way. It is, in my mind, a coming together of the material and the theoretical.


Substrate: leaning against Medium

Now this is a vague definition; one that requires, in truth, much more work and careful consideration. However, even in its present state it can perhaps offer a rich insight into specific art works. By looking through this ideological lens, the substrate is revealed as less of a material presence than a condition, which encompasses both ‘a material to act upon’, and interestingly ‘an idea to act upon’. As such could the substrate offer a way to talk about art that complicates or intertwines the ‘material’ and the ‘idea’? That brings them both in to sharp relief from this bi-focal viewpoint. As an artist, I make paintings. Paintings that I call ‘abstract’, but which also recognize an inherent inability to make abstract paintings. This is because in-part I see that current abstract painting will always be a type of re-presentation of the formal and ideological qualities of past (historical) abstract painting. The history of this medium, this mode, although short, is so pervasive that as a current practitioner one can never truly escape from it. This dichotomy, between what was once abstract painting and what it might be now, this antagonism even, is something I hope to address through my painting. I have likened this position before to speaking concurrently in opposing voices – in a variety of tongues, if you like – that are each articulated simultaneously and stand together with none cancelling the others out. A position that in my mind relates or can be thought about, through other historical precedents, such as the architectural baroque of Borromini, Hawksmoor or Vanbrugh, where buildings, due to whimsy, restlessness, and theatricality can hold multiple non-complimentary readings simultaneously. Where buildings can be, if you like, both classical and anti-classical at the same time as different architectural schema are jammed together. Part of the tension I find in the studio is to find a painting language that adheres to and even believes in traits within modernist abstraction, traits perhaps associated with the way that past-paintings were made or seen, but which also allow me to depart from them without negating them. This revolves around decisions I make in the studio and adding layers both visually and metaphorically to the construction of the paintings. And these considerations of wanting to stay within painting, but to question painting itself, govern many of the material considerations in the work. When speaking about the material considerations that artists are drawn to it is important to remember the intertwining of the physical properties of a material and the theoretical ideas held in it and its specific present and past use. Just possibly the idea of the substrate might enable this collision between the material and conceptual. I see this materiality as concrete and not so far removed perhaps from Rosalind E. Krauss’s boundaries on the side of the swimming pool. In Under Blue Cup Krauss (2011) likens the swimming pool wall to the idea of the medium within the post medium condition – where the pools edge can be used by the artists to push of against as they create new technical supports for their work – supports that they invent as they leave the safety of the handrail and push off away from the aridity of modernist determinist positions. One example that Krauss gives in this essay of an artist who makes paintings is Ed Ruscha. For Krauss, though, Ruscha’s technical support is the automobile – a support she sees as technological, rather than craft-based, and one that can be seen to act as a governing entity for much of Ruscha’s practice, from his books and prints to his paintings. She likened it to a windshield through which Ruscha has formed his vision, but which he never depicted.


Substrate: leaning against Medium

The substrate perhaps complicates Krauss’ idea of the technical support as it insists on a materiality, a physical material quality, that the artist can push off from, and which allows them to glide or move between mediums as they follow or exploit the theoretical ideas of that material. The two examples I am going to cite, using this idea of the substrate, are both within the culture of painting – of specifically abstract painting. For these two artists the materiality of the substrate is essential. Their substrates are within painting but come from outside of its determinist norms. The examples are cross-disciplinary (or touch on that conceit) but in doing so reference the framing of abstract painting – a frame that through its modernist history saw the constraints of medium as central to its self-determined identity. I see this work, which is so clearly within the vernacular of painting, complicating and enriching that vernacular through the theoretical and material combining of the substrate. Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies are paintings. You understand them as paintings, they have the materiality of painting, but of course they are structuralist films. They are movies. Not only are they movies, but they worryingly enable you to view all paintings as movies. In short they seriously complicate things. Their material foundation is film. Their substrate is film. The works were made in the early 1970s, and first shown, screened if you like, at the Millennium, a showing space in New York in 1973. The films, as there are a number of them, are arguably all still running. In this work, Conrad, disrupts both how painting can be seen, and film. Conrad had a specific desire to make a long durational film: a film that could run for over 50 years. That could trump even Andy Warhol’s Empire (1964) which was only 8 hours and 5 minutes long. To achieve this aim Conrad turned to painting. The Yellow Movies consist of a central off-white monochromatic screen which has been painted in cheap household paint. There are many works and thus many paints were used. All are materially different. They are perceptively different as paintings. The works are mainly on rolls of scruffy paper, though there are four on small stretched canvases. The installation was in the true New York style of the times, a suite of paintings. They are not singular works but borrow from painting’s discourse and through the presentation of multiple works form a single installation. However, the monochrome paint mimics in a significant way photographic emulsion. It reacts like all paint always does. The Yellow Movies' monochrome surface will change over time. The change will be ever so slow, but change it will, the colour will shift as the material degrades and ages, affected by different light levels and atmospheric conditions as much as by the material construct of the paint. The format of Conrad’s paintings mimics both the cinema screen and of course the look and feel of painting. Though they are Ryman-esque, they also tap into the tensions of their age, being neither minimalist nor formalist. Aesthetically and within the discourse of painting itself, perhaps the Yellow Movies relate as much to the handmade paintings of Jo Baer, and work by other Post-minimalist painters, as they do to Warhol’s movies. They speak in two voices (Figs. 23–25).


Substrate: leaning against Medium

Tony Conrad, who is really through and through a musician and filmmaker, was at the time very conversant with the challenges within modernist painting and wrote about the discourses around Greenberg and Fried, with the latter’s slur of theatricality. Within this work, this movie theatre, he reveals not only the propensity for painting to absorb outside influence but of course that all paint is always a movie record, a very slow durational one that bleaches and changes over time. Yellow Movies is a work that through the emphasis of the substrate and the intertwining of the material and the conceptual takes us on a conceptual journey across disciplines yet remains materially within painting. Likewise, the painter Carl Ostendarp has always intrigued me. When talking with him about the alignment of the material and the conceptual he suggested we should perhaps begin with the combination of silkscreen ink and paper. The silkscreen perhaps acts as a foundation for his work – as a substrate. Specifically the now outlawed oil based inks that many Colourfield painters from the 1970s used for the then cheap editions they made from their paintings. A redundant technology that relied on a now banned substance deemed too dangerous and toxic for today’s print-studios. This oil-based ink, however, can be seen to hold its colour and then sit on the surface of the paper in a way that is quite unlike current screen-printing inks that have neither the brittle oily sheen nor the ability to rest on, rather than be absorbed into the paper. For Ostendarp this quality of sitting on top of the ground creates an almost metaphysical field that is independent, physical and visually continuous. And those qualities, from 70s printmaking, of a sheer surface, neither absorbed nor painterly, Ostendarp can be seen to echo within his painting. He also perhaps echoes an attitude from those prints and printing inks. Because those prints, which were often made in big editions, can whilst purportedly adding a mass audience to a work, complicate the integrity of the painting – the modernist whole – as they sail willfully close to the idea of reproduction, and parody. They are often small-scale approximations of a larger work, based on and built from photographs or drawings from other pre-existing paintings. In that respect they are translations across medium, and across a medium that at the time sought specificity at all costs. Ostendarp can be seen to take the idea of the material and conceptual substrate of 70s Print Club editions, which naturally referenced painting, referred to it or mimicked it and then through that mimicry he builds his paintings. Through painting that has been displaced he comments on current painting. Within his work the sheen ground is populated by an image or word that resonates through its material make-up phenomenologically and physically, so that materially the work tries to resist being an image. Willem De Kooning when talking about the abstract painters from his generation famously likened some to sign-painters and some to house-painters, both of course trades that De Kooning himself had once done. Ostendarp also does both – house painting and sign painting – in one art work. With his signs often onomatopoeic words or literally ‘signs’ of painting – floating like decals on their sheer wall-like ground. A ground that has been made with reference to the architectural spaces they inhabit or the dimensions of past paintings with the independent addition, carefully, indeed mathematically placed on the ground. An entity in itself. Separate and apart from the world it inhabits.


Substrate: leaning against Medium

This separation is key and through it one can see how Ostendarp’s installations relate to his own paintings. Here he places other people’s art or his own, on top of wall paintings, with the wall paintings acting like grounds for the additions. They follow the same Print Club edition logic with the paintings sitting on top of the ground, in much the same way as he recognized the ink laying above the surface of the paper. So for Ostendarp the substrate of the print informs the paintings and provides the nexus for a methodology that crosses mediums whilst firmly being positioned in the way certain specific prints relate to paintings (Fig. 26). It would be foolhardy to try and claim too much for my reading and thinking around the substrate, after all I have but two examples. But from the position of practice – and uncomfortable as I am as a painter – the way material considerations can complicate rather than reveal seems fundamental. Could the idea of ‘the substrate’ be a relevant or interesting way to re-think ideas about medium and discipline? To re-think these deeply problematic and recurring questions, which have certainly haunted the history of painting, and much of the modernist and post-modern discourse around painting, but to do so in a way that embraces ideas of cross-disciplinarity, or even postdisciplinarity? Can the substrate provide a way of talking about the material qualities of an artwork as holding contained theoretical meanings? This for me, is perhaps, what the substrate can offer.


Substrate: leaning against Medium references

Krauss, Rosalind E. (2011) Under Blue Cup, London: MIT Press.

Contributor details

Daniel Sturgis is an artist and Reader in Painting at the University of the Arts London. He is the Fine Art Programme Director at Camberwell College of Arts. He studied at Goldsmiths College and had his first major solo show at Camden Arts Centre in 1997. Since then he has shown extensively in Europe and the USA. Notable solo exhibitions include Everybody Loves Somebody at The Locker Plant, Chinati Foundation, Marfa (2007); Galerie Hollenbach (2008, 2010, 2013) and And then again at noshowspace, London (2014) He has curated a number of exhibitions looking at aspects of contemporary painting and its historic legacy. These include, The Indiscipline of Painting Tate St Ives (2011/12), Daniel Buren’s Voile Toile/Toile Voile at the Wordsworth Trust Grasmere (2005) and Jeremy Moon – a retrospective (2001) a UK touring exhibition.




Dig, slash and stitch: contemporary artists and their substrates Pia Gotschaller

The essay begins with a definition of the term substrate and what it denotes in contemporary painting practice. The following discussion of artworks is divided into two parts according to the artist’s approach to the substrate: the first part discusses works in which the substrate plays a supporting role, i.e. it receives more or less conventionally applied paint layers. The artists discussed include Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, Max Beckmann, Mel Bochner and Ibrahim El-Salahi; specific sociopolitical circumstances are shown to have a decisive impact on the reading of their material choices. The second part focuses on works in which the substrate has been accorded a leading role, letting the visibility of the material itself come into focus. Works by Lucio Fontana, Sigmar Polke and Blinky Palermo present a range of possibilities of artistic action that include slashing, stitching, pouring and sanding.


key words Substrate versus Support Cy Twombly Jackson Pollock Mel Bochner Ibrahim El-Salahi Lucio Fontana Sigmar Polke blinky Palermo

The symposium for which this presentation was first prepared was dedicated to the exploration of the term ‘substrate.’ The definition offered as a starting point for all participants was:

Definition of Terms

An underlying substance or layer. The surface or material on or from which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment. A material which provides the surface on which something is deposited or inscribed. In an initial discussion of the symposium’s aims with its organizer, Professor Stephen Farthing, I realised that in my mind I kept substituting the term ‘substrate’ with the one more commonly used by painting conservators, ‘support.’ Subsequent consultation of the Oxford English Dictionary revealed that the word ‘substrate’ is generally employed in four different contexts: biology, linguistics, chemistry and materials science. If referred to in the latter, substrate means ‘any bulk phase or material to which a film, coating, etc. is applied.’ However, after leafing through countless pages of possible definitions of


Dig, slash and stitch


Dig, slash and stitch

‘support’, bypassing the spiritual, legal, militaristic, commercial, philosophical, mathematical and nutritional, I eventually arrived at section II7d and found: ‘The solid surface or material on which a painting is executed.’

initial definition of substrate states, and he in fact painted a lot of with his fingers. He very much relished the tactile, unmediated experience of touching paint and canvas, and he could do it with much more force when the fabric rested against a wall.

The difference between a substrate and a support in the context of art is, therefore, that a substrate is a subcategory of support; ‘substrate’ only denotes a support to which a film or coating is applied. But such is the conundrum of the dictionary user: while one question is solved, the next one is generated. Why does the Oxford English Dictionary state that the support is a solid material? General usage in painting conservation distinguishes between flexible supports such as fabrics and solid, stiff supports such as panels, but support is the acceptable umbrella term.

Jackson Pollock, on the other hand, had a much more physically detached relationship to his substrate: beginning with his poured paintings in the late 1940s, he mostly renounced the act of directly touching the surface of his canvas or Masonite panels. As is well documented, he flung house paint at the substrate with sticks and hardened brushes and squeezed oil paint directly out of a tube. But his decision to put the substrate, usually cotton duck canvas, on the floor was not only related to gravity and how the paint lands on the canvas, it was also about the choreography of Pollock circling his substrate from all sides and even being able to walk on it – and it having some resistance in the same way that Twombly desired it to have.

For the purposes of discussion of the wide variety of materials below, I therefore make the following distinction: the first part considers artworks in which the artist attributed to the substrate a supporting role. This means that quite literally ground, paint, varnish layers or other forms of a composition were applied to the supporting material, be it solid or flexible. By contrast the second part presents examples in which the substrate plays the leading role, where the identity of the substrate material is not obscured by any other form of artistic intervention. The overall purpose of this discussion is to draw attention to the influence that the choice of substrate exerts on the perception of the artist as well as the viewer: Why did the artist choose one material over another and what were the consequences? How does the artist relate to the substrate intellectually? Which role does he or she attribute to it? And do we as viewers need to be aware of any of these considerations in order to be able to read the work?

The vast majority of paintings in any Western museum collection have been executed on canvas, the most traditional of substrates: it is usually made of linen, but occasionally also of cotton or burlap. These woven fabrics are, with few exceptions, generally stretched to an auxiliary system such as a stretcher or a strainer. However, the substrate remains relatively flexible and so the painter, when she or he works on the surface, experiences a certain amount of give when working on the surface.

Supporting Role

Cy Twombly, for instance, did not like this lack of resistance, which led to him pinning the canvas to a wall in order to paint (Mancusi-Ungaro, 2013, p.68). He then had it stretched up later on. Twombly also painted on panels, but more rarely, for two reasons: he was an acutely history-conscious artist, who in fact made the many forms of intellectual legacy the subject of his artistic explorations, and although that didn’t keep him from using a whole range of modern, commercial materials, the overall aesthetic experience of his works is one of classic easel paintings. The second reason for working on canvas rather than panels is that he preferred to be alone in his studio, without any assistants to distract him. The relative lightness of stretched canvas as opposed to the weight of panels allowed him to move the works around more easily and generally by himself. The large room at the Museum Brandhorst in Munich, which is dedicated to the artist’s large-scale series of Roses from 2008, comprises both smaller paintings on plywood panels and considerably larger paintings on canvas (Fig. 27).1 But Twombly’s primary aim was to leave very physical traces of his thoughts, to inscribe his surfaces, as the

Another side effect of this painting process is that because the canvases were stretched only after they had been painted, the paint drips extend to the tacking margins and all the way to the rear edges of the fabric. The oft-mentioned ‘all-over’ quality of Pollock’s works, the visual effect of the traces of his movements extending into infinite space, and the abolition of top and bottom, or of hierarchy in general, is largely dependent on the tacking margins not being white optical ellipses. Pollock’s manner of making the crucial decision of where the edge of his painting would be was to a large degree aleatory. He only had to arrive at it after he had finished painting on the floor, but more importantly still, once the piece of fabric was stretched he still had the opportunity to make adjustments – if he wished. In addition to the linen and cotton canvases just discussed, painters sometimes also choose non-traditional fabrics. Their reasons are usually economical or technical, and an example of the former is Max Beckmann, who while in exile in Amsterdam during World War II painted on bed linen out of sheer necessity. Another example of an economical substrate choice is Ibrahim El-Salahi, who in an interview during his retrospective at Tate Modern in 2013 explained that he painted the very large work Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I, from 1961–65 and now in Tate’s collection, on damouriya cloth (El-Salahi, 2013). It is a hand-woven fabric from his native Sudan where it is used for sewing clothes. As a result, it only comes in narrow widths, which made it necessary for Salahi to have three pieces sewn together. Like bed linen, damouriya cloth is thinner and not as resilient as regular canvas, and so the work a few years ago required relining to a second canvas for added support. Originally the sewn-together fabric was much larger than the current work, and Salahi explained that he cut it into several pieces to share with a colleague. They both painted with it tacked against a wall and used the only paints available to them, inexpensive commercial lacquer-based paints. While in the case of the Beckmann paintings the substrate itself does not have any real visible impact, El-Salahi deplores the physical degradation that his work has undergone. In both cases, however, the choices made 1.  There is a natural limit to what the largest size of a panel, be it wood or aluminum, reasonably can be. At one point, a panel becomes simply too heavy, cannot be rolled or generally moved as easily, not within the studio nor from studio to gallery or museum. This is also the reason why Gerhard Richter’s small abstract paintings tend to be on aluminium dibond panels, while the larger works are on canvas.


Dig, slash and stitch


Dig, slash and stitch

by the artists are significant and historically relevant and as such cannot be separated from our experience of the works.

He still worked with canvas and applied paint layers to it, but he transformed the canvas itself, the substrate, into a carrier of meaning.

A non-traditional substrate very rarely found in the contemporary fine art world is velvet. Mel Bochner after a lengthy trial and error process chose it for purely technical reasons. In an interview shortly after his 2012 retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery, he explained that so far nobody had been able to guess how extraordinary paintings such as Blah Blah Blah from 2009 are made (Bochner, 2012, p.58): Bochner works with metal plates out of which the letters of the words he wants to stamp on the velvet are cut with a laser. Then he presses oil paint of various hues into the hollow spaces of the letters and distributes the paint with a squeegee, which encourages the first streaky mixing of the colours. Next he places the black velvet substrate on top, along with several felt blankets, and submits the package to 750 tons of pressure in a hydraulic press. On peeling the velvet away, he is never quite sure what pattern he will find as the enormous pressure creates unforeseen results in the distribution of the paints. Bochner loves this element of chance, as well as the contrast between the perfectly straight edge of a letter, due to the laser cut stencil, and the sheer mass of threedimensional, viscous paint: 'This (…) tension between the mechanical and the organic (…) might be the ultimate in the dialectic of edges.' (Bochner, 2012)

Lucio Fontana had no fear of crossing boundaries: he worked in both the figurative and the abstract mode for his entire career, and he used every conceivable medium from clay to neon and from canvas to metal. Fontana also collaborated with architects as well as designers, after his return from Argentina in 1947 in search of his most audacious artistic concept, the ‘concetto spaziale.’ The ‘spatial concept’ as he understood it meant providing an opening to the fourth dimension, the space that lies behind the substrate: by slashing the canvas with a knife, he did away with the Albertian illusion of the flat, painted surface functioning as a window into the world. He instead formulated an invitation to access a new, abstract mental space altogether.

The greatest challenge for Bochner was the identification of a suitable substrate because the absorbency and porosity of cotton, linen, silk and satin allowed the oil paint to spread too much. He could not substitute the oil paint because any another kind dries too fast in the stencil. At one point a friend suggested the type of black velvet used by photographers, effectively a flocked fabric made from spraying a synthetic material onto a rubber sheet. It has the benefit of making the paint sit up on the surface, and the nap of the velvet causes the paint to stay in place rather than allow it to creep. Bochner said that he buys the synthetic velvet in Mexico and that, as far as he knows, he keeps the place in business with his very large orders. The other customers probably contributing to the survival of this Mexican factory are the makers of the Velvet Jesuses and Velvet Elvises that fill trailers of North America. This site-specific popularity however obscures the fact that painting on black velvet originates in ancient Kashmir, the homeland of the fabric. These works were painted by Russian Orthodox priests who portrayed saints of the Caucasus region. Black velvet, through its absorption of light, creates the illusion of a non-descript, otherworldly space, and it further provides a strong contrast for gold-coloured highlights. It is said that it was no one other than Marco Polo who introduced icons on black velvet to Europe, where some early examples are still kept in the Vatican Museums.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of substrate, ‘any bulk phase or material to which a film, coating, etc., is applied’, does not specifically exclude art works in three or four dimensions. Walter de Maria for example used the pure barren earth as a substrate for his chalk drawing, as in his Mile Long Drawing from 1968. Michael Heizer did away with drawing altogether and for Double Negative in 1969 simply dug straight into the earth in order to create positive and negative space. And it is also space which Lucio Fontana many years earlier was primarily interested in: the creation of physical, mental, and philosophical space.

Leading Role

His first forays from 1949 were simple holes torn and pierced into paper. But he soon realised the import of this dramatic gesture and embarked on a process of refinement that eventually led to his classic ‘tagli’, cuts made with a Stanley knife into canvas. Not only was it physically easier to slash into a fabric, it was also important to violate the sanctified easel painting as a symbol of hundreds of years of European art making. But there is a fascinating dichotomy between the seemingly brutal gesture, the deceptively legible result, and the very finely balanced, complicated and refined process that led to these ‘concetti spaziali.’ As explained in detail elsewhere, Fontana via a laborious trial and error process established that the ideal components were linen canvas of a particular medium weight and aqueous PVA-based house paints or acrylics (Gottschaller, 2012). But the preceding and most essential step was the application of a white layer of Cementite on the reverse. Cementite is a commercially available, alkyd-based primer that imparts so much stiffness to the reverse that the cut or cuts can then be encouraged by hand to deform concavely, rather than convexly. Several early surviving works demonstrate that when the sides of a cut curl in the wrong direction, i.e. facing out, no space opens up at all. When there is not enough tension in a slashed canvas, or when the edges of a cut begin to fray, the cuts appear to be mistakes or damages rather than the result of artistic intention. If there was too much tension, on the other hand, the canvas would not be able to curl at all and instead the slashed area would gape wide open. Simulations showed that the basis for the generation of appropriate tension is timing, a factor at least as crucial as the materials themselves: both Cementite and the paint layers had to have dried to a certain degree before Fontana could make the slash. It was a question of creating a very fine balance of tension between front and back. Further, he had only one shot at making the cut, with no possibility to improve or modify the result. There was always the possibility that all the time-consuming preparation had been for nothing, and in fact Fontana stated that he had to throw away many unsuccessful canvases, which is easy to believe in view of all the factors that needed to come together perfectly. For that reason, he isolated himself before making the final cut. The subtitle of these works is in fact ‘attesa’, in English meaning 'anticipation' or 'expectation' (‘attese’ in the plural were there several cuts), indicating that he descended into a meditative state before making the gesture in full concentration. A ‘taglio’ functions like a membrane of time-space, the fourth dimension: he probably spent more time on


Dig, slash and stitch

the reverse than on the front as he in the end also added an inscription and adhered a black fabric, a telletta, over the cut to deepen the sense of depth. Fontana experimented with other supports as well, such as the already mentioned paper, often glued to muslin, and chipboard, which required drilling into, and also sheets of metal. He worked with aluminium, copper, brass and steel (Fig. 28). These works were evidently inspired by a trip to New York where he observed light reflections on skyscrapers. The cuts made into metal did not allow the elegance and the ease with which he could slice into fabric; instead these openings have inscribed into them the sheer physical strength conjured for making them. In fact Fontana asked Nanda Vigo, a younger artist who assisted on various projects, to help force the tools through the sheets (Vigo, 2006). These works showcase the identity of the substrate because Fontana renounced traditional paint layers altogether. Sigmar Polke created a strange hybrid between the two purposes of substrate discussed so far in his large-scale paintings on nylon and polyester fabrics from 1987 onwards. By flooding the synthetic textiles with many layers of a yellowish sealing lacquer, polyurethane-based and formulated for use on floors, he made the fabric semi-transparent. Because the fabrics are quite thin, he often used them in double layers, occasionally also opting for patterned fabrics or combining them with monochrome ones. Paint layers are added from both the front and the back. All of this creates a two-fold effect: on the one hand, the viewer can partially see through the fabric and be aware of the paint layers sitting on a substrate. The viewer also sees how the support is attached to a stretcher, and that the stretcher in turn hangs on a wall – the painting is perceived as an assembled object. At the same time, some sections are sometimes so glossy that one’s gaze is also being reflected back out. The environment is mirrored on the surface so that one can only partially perceive what lies behind the surface. Looking at one of these works can feel like being caught in a mirror cabinet where one’s gaze is being endlessly deflected, and this play with revelation and obfuscation is a comment on the instability of the act of seeing. Where Fontana used the substrate to prise a literal opening into a mental space, Polke’s transformation of an opaque material into something transparent provides an opening as well, but towards what exactly remains ambiguous. Polke’s approach to materials and his interest in their iconography was in large part influenced by his studies at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, and by Joseph Beuys in particular. Beuys famously stated that ‘the mistake already begins when one sets about buying canvases and colours’ (De Domizio Durini, 1997), and so he encouraged his students to identify and test new materials for their suitability for inclusion in art making. One of Beuys’s students and a very close friend of Polke’s was Blinky Palermo. Polke at least later in life, with his return to painting in the early 1980s, became very passionate about incorporating new materials into his art making as well as actually manufacturing some of them himself. The same cannot be said for Palermo, but two groups of works for different reasons warrant discussion here: his painted series on aluminium panels and the so-called cloth pictures. After his move to New York in 1973, Palermo was drawn to the idea of aluminium panels for at least two reasons: on the one hand, there was no precedent for such use, no great master he had to contend with. On the other hand, aluminium is a lightweight metal and relatively easy to shape with normal wood-working tools. It is not


Dig, slash and stitch

that easy to prime, however, as Palermo found out the hard way, due to aluminium’s naturally occurring oxide layer. This oxide layer is formed as soon as the metal is exposed to oxygen. The reaction usually happens extremely fast, although measurements can range from minutes to hours until completion of the layer. All industrial surface pre-treatments are therefore designed to remove this oxide layer to help aluminium accept a second material as the oxide layer itself does not display any adhesion-imparting properties. Sanding by hand and water-based primers generally make the situation only worse: sanding increases the surface area and water contains oxygen. Only chemical pre-treatment such as degreasing, cleaning, pickling with a lye or a corrosion layer treatment consisting of a chromate-based coating bring stable results. It is questionable that Palermo had any knowledge of these processes. It is more likely that he set out to experiment with the panels, guided by the limited experience that he had collected while working with sheets of steel. He seemed to cherish the fact that aluminium was a more or less semantically neutral material. In using it, he did not have to align himself with a long list of artists who had come before him and made successful uses of it. He could impart lightness, a sensation of the panels floating in front of a wall simply by adding a 1 to 2cm deep hanging system on the reverse of the thin rigid supports (Fig. 29). An added benefit was that the topography of paint applied to canvas is often visually less prominent because the texture of the fabric hides it. On the smooth aluminium panels, however, the effect of the impastoed brushwork is enhanced and stands in tense contrast to Palermo’s Minimalist compositions of simple monochrome fields. All of these issues Palermo also addressed, with however contrary solutions, in his earlier cloth pictures: they consist of two or three differently coloured fabrics sewn together and stretched onto an auxiliary support. Between 1966 and 1972 he experimented with a wide variety of fabrics such as satin, cotton, taffeta and linen, and in recognition of the challenge that a straight long seam represents, he asked Gerhard Richter’s first wife to do the sewing for him. A single very early work from 1966–7 with a vertical seam survives, whereas all others are joined horizontally. This early work, Rot-Rosa, also shows a number of stains and other slight disturbances to the otherwise monochrome purity, but Palermo eventually settled on unadulterated fields of uniform, often subdued hues. The sculptor Ulrich Rückriem said with regard to these works that it was precisely this diminished amount of decision-making that interested Palermo (Rückriem, 2003). He essentially collapsed all layers into one: the support, the priming and paint layers. As a result, because the substrate and only the substrate would be fully visible, the selection of colours and types of fabric became the most important part of the process. In a Pop-inspired gesture Palermo decided to limit himself to commercially available dyed fabrics, rather than aiming for specific hues by custom-dyeing. Palermo went shopping in a large department store in Düsseldorf with Polke, who searched for funky, glamorous or ‘bourgeois’ fabrics to paint on while Palermo scanned the monochromatic section only. Polke recounted these shopping sprees in his characteristically ironic manner saying that it wasn’t any fun buying fabrics with Palermo because:


Dig, slash and stitch

I always had to look for some patterns, and for me it was more about the rapport than the monochrome, that I thought was just too simple, you know, really dopey. While others were toiling at I don’t know what, he sewed two pieces of fabric together and then had the day off. (Gottschaller, 2003) But Polke also struck a more profound chord in the interview by pointing out how these works create a sense of calm. He considered them proper compositions in the musical sense, a joining of harmonic chords.

Although the examples here discussed cannot even begin to represent the pluralism of contemporary painting practice, they do point towards two basic possible approaches towards a substrate: either the artist continues to use it as a supporting structure for paint layers, or the choice of substrate itself becomes the most crucial decision from which all else must follow. These decisions will be largely dependent on where the artist places herself or himself in the continuum of 20th and 21st century Modernism. But what hopefully has become also clear is that this choice is sometimes subject to severe limitations outside of the artist’s control – it may depend on where in the world the artist lives, on which resources are accessible to them because of geography, time period, war or peace. The substrate has by now also become a mirror of the richness of 20th century industrial production and invention. Secondary factors such as what is fashionable or whether the artist wants to make a statement and therefore chooses material that upsets viewers’ expectations enter into the discourse as well, but first and foremost it is the artist’s task to identify the most ideally suited material for the realization of his or her inner vision, regardless of all other factors. We the viewers then try to understand.



Dig, slash and stitch references

Bochner, M interviewed by Gottschaller, P (2012), New York. De Domizio Durini, L (1997) The Felt Hat. Joseph Beuys. A Life Told, Milano: Charta. El-Salahi, I interviewed by Gottschaller, P and Whiteley, G (2013), Oxford. Gottschaller, P (2012) Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles: J. P. Getty Trust Publications. Gottschaller, P (2004) Palermo: Inside His Images, München: Technische Universität München/Siegl Verlag. Mancusi-Ungaro, C (2013) Cues from Cy Twombly. In Sylvester, J and Del Roscio, N. eds. Cy Twombly Gallery. New York and Houston: The Cy Twombly Foundation and Menil Foundation. Rückriem, U in a telephone conversation with Gottschaller, P (2003), Munich/Cologne. Vigo, N interviewed by Gottschaller, P (2006), transcript, Milan.

Contributor details

Pia Gottschaller took a BA in Art History at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and trained at The Courtauld Institute of Art to become a painting conservator, then worked at the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, and The Menil Collection, Houston. She received her Ph.D. in 2003 from Technische Universität München for a thesis on Blinky Palermo. Then followed appointments as Associate Conservator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Postdoc Research Fellow at Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Rome, Assistant Fine Arts Director at German Academy Villa Massimo, Rome, Caroline Villers Research Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art and Painting Conservator at Tate. Her publications focus on issues of technical art history in the work of postwar European and American artists.



The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items Adrian Glew

This article – taking its cue from an ongoing major digitization project of some of Tate Archive’s treasures funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – highlights how the hidden substrates of an archival item can create access points for more efficient discovery of their contextual genesis for an online audience. By using an international standard most of the elements and substrates that characterize an archive collection can be adequately covered, however, the author goes on to identify other hidden substrates, comparing these to a physicist’s investigation of the quantum world, to highlight less tangible foci that will hopefully lead the online user back to the archival artefact for further, more multisensory, avenues of discovery.


key words Tate Archive





Reference Code

Archives and Access


Heritage Lottery Fund


Archive-centric; Access-centric

Level of Description

Contextual Information



Name of Creator

General International Standard


Archival isad(g)





Exteroceptive Stimuli


Interoceptive Stimuli


Sense Impressions


Working at Tate for 30 years, firstly as an Assistant Archive Curator (responsible for non-manuscript material), then as an Archive Curator (responsible for acquisitions and cataloguing) and – since 2010 – as Tate’s Archivist (managing the department), I have witnessed first-hand, and have played a part in developing, the archive sector’s transition from an analogue to a digital world.1 From utilising hand-written lists and typed cards to capturing data on Excel spreadsheets and bespoke cataloguing databases, this is no less a transformational epoch than the one which saw the inexorable move from illuminated manuscript to the printed page.

1.  An early example includes Glew (1994).


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

Tate Archive – as the largest art archive of British art in the world housing hundreds of thousands of visual items – has been at the forefront of this technological transition by digitizing and placing images of its archives online from an early stage.2 When viewing images online, especially of archival items, one can easily overlook the supporting structure or substrate (in this context) that enables such seemingly easy access. Information is king or queen in the online research world. And yet, without some kind of sub-structure, deeper delving of the intellectual content or metadata (i.e. cataloguing information) of an image can be well-nigh impossible. This was one of the reasons why Tate decided to create – in a recent and innovative digitization project – clearer links to enable users to interrogate the matrix and levels of description inherent whenever an archival item is catalogued and yet so often missing when associated images are placed online. One has to remember that – unlike single items within a library collection – single items within an archive collection (such as a letter from a particular correspondent to a person) form a contextual element within the whole (all the correspondence to that person within his or her archives) and it is this context that will be made more manifest in this current project. This, in itself, is part of a wider £5million grant generously allocated, by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to Tate for its Transforming Tate Britain: Buildings, Archives and Access initiative that has created, for the first time, dedicated archive galleries and a digital archive space close to the Library and Archive at Tate Britain. £2million of this grant, dedicated to the Archives and Access part of the project, has enabled Tate to develop the infrastructure to digitize 52,000 items and pieces from the Archive to place on Tate Online as well as supporting an associated learning programme covering five of the regions of the UK and a new digital learning suite at Tate Britain.3 Thus, for the first time in a major digitization project in the UK, one will be able to see the archival contextual (substratum) information alongside the digitized images of items rather than viewing these pixelations as seemingly random images floating in the digital ether. In addition, one will also be able to move seamlessly from accessing artworks held by Tate (together with their ‘tombstone’ substratum information) to associated archival material, often by the same artist, as the 52,000 images are sequentially released to the public from October 2014 until July 2015. Innovatively, users will also be able to create personal albums or scrapbooks from the archival images digitized and to upload their own content to share with others. Other features that will become available will be a transcription tool and opportunities for users to tag content with their own specific keywords.

Throughout the 18 month development and implementation part of the Archives and Access project, archivists have had to move from being previously much more archive-centric to being primarily user or access-centric retaining as much of the feel of how an archive is arranged as possible. This arrangement forms the superstructure of an archive and

Processes and methodologies

2. Our first foray was in 2000 when Tate received a National Lottery New Opportunities Fund award designed to bring the learning material and resources currently contained in museums, galleries, libraries, archives and universities directly into homes and communities. For Tate’s project 4,000 archival items, relating to the history of Tate, artists connected to Bloomsbury and the Anglo-American art historian, Barbara Reise, were captured and placed online in three leaning journeys in 2003. For further information, see 3.  For further information see


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

the substrate of any resulting surrogate image. Professional archivists adhere to the levels of description outlined in the General International Standard Archival Description, or ISAD(G) for short, published by the International Council on Archives (ICA, 2000). This international standard serves as the template for archivists – similar to the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules or the Resources Description and Access code for librarians – to catalogue any item they encounter as it is applicable to artefacts irrespective of media.4 In total there are 26 elements to consider (see Appendix 1), but I will focus – in this article – on six key elements, namely reference code, title, date, level of description, extent and name of creator. These are the elements deemed essential for the international exchange of descriptive information. And it is important to state that most elements can be repeated up or down the hierarchical tree that constitutes an archive collection. So, using examples from Tate Archive collections, if one looks at the reference code this tends to be an artificial construct created by the repository as normally any existing numbering system, inherent to the material to hand, would be redundant within a wider context of repository and supra-repository environment. However, this is not to say that existing numbering systems are ignored or dismissed as there is a field for recording such data under the ISAD(G) standard. Normally, when assessing a collection, the archivist will attempt to gain an intellectual handle of the material by arranging items firstly by how the creator organized it or – if chaotic or unknown – by imposing a coherent order by grouping, say, all the correspondence, sketchbooks, writings, etc. together. Once these series – as they are known – have been identified, each one can then be further arranged alphabetically or chronologically. Having checked that this ordering is coherent and makes sense, it is only then that the archivist may safely sequentially number the items. At Tate, since the Archive was established in 1970, we have used a reference number that encompasses the year and point in time when the archive collection might have been accessioned, for example the collection of Graham Sutherland sketchbooks was the second archive collection to arrive in 1981 and so was allocated the accession number: TGA 812. This reference number can then be used as the basis or prefix for the rest of the numbering system of the archive collection. Incidentally, all of Graham Sutherland’s remarkable collection of sketchbooks housed at Tate will be digitized, as part of the Archives and Access project, including one of his earliest executed in Pembrokeshire, the place where he ‘began to learn painting’. The second element – the title of the collection – is what it says on the tin, namely how one might naturally refer to the archive collection, for example the personal and professional papers of Prunella Clough, the records of the Institute of Contemporary Art or the sketchbooks of Graham Sutherland. Many of Clough’s fascinating photographs of industrial landscapes such as views of the fishing port of Lowestoft in the 1950s will be digitized in the Archives and Access project (Figs. 30–31) Similarly, dates – the third element – encompasses the inclusive dates of the archive collection displayed in a myriad of formats, such as 06 Feb–09 Mar 1940; Jul 1904; 4.  The Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR for short) were first published in 1967 and cover the description of, and the provision of access points for, all library materials commonly collected at the present time. In 2010, AACR2 was succeeded by Resource Description and Access (RDA for short), which was conceived to be a framework more flexible and suitable for use in a digital environment.


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

1933–1938; Sep 1933–[c 1966]; 10 May [1988]; nd. In addition, there is a date note field if one wishes to provide further details about the derivation of the date, often noted in square brackets, for instance a postmark or from the archivist reading the material, and, if one wishes, to indicate where the bulk of the material in the archive collection lies. Material being digitized in the Archives and Access project covers the latter part of the 19th century exemplified by items from the Newlyn School of artists (Henry Scott Tuke (Fig. 32), Thomas Cooper Gotch and Stanhope Forbes) – including some great shots of Cornish fishing boats – to the more contemporary and the present day best seen in items from the archives of black British artist, Donald Rodney (Fig. 33) (all his sketch/notebooks, some of which he executed whilst being treated for sickle cell anaemia in hospital), Ian Breakwell (including some of his humorous observational notebooks) Conrad Atkinson (preparatory material for his work, Northern Ireland 1968–May Day 1975 in Tate’s collection based on the political murals in Belfast) and Stuart Brisley (Fig. 34) (a range of documentation and photographic material covering the breadth of his performance and other work). The fourth element indicates, to the user, where one is located in the hierarchical tree from the very top: i.e. the archive collection (also known in archival circles as the fonds, a French word encompassing the records of one creator), through any sub-fonds, series, sub-series and/or file; down to item and piece at the bottom of the tree. These lower levels are the ones that researchers would normally hone in on when looking for an item and, because each item is linked to the upper levels, users can view the context from which they spring. The piece level is not normally used by archivists when cataloguing, but it comes into its own, as a substrate, when one wishes to have images of individual pages, within a bound volume or multi-page letters, digitized and made available online. The reason for this is that each digitized image must have a unique identifier and having one that relates to the reference number of the archive collections aids the positioning of the piece within that hierarchy. This comes into its own with the digitization of Henry Moore’s letters scattered in the archives of various luminaries such as Lord Clark of Saltwood (aka Kenneth Clark) and Sir Michael Sadler which are all being captured for the Archives and Access project. The extent of the material is the fifth key element to note providing details of the quantity, bulk and size of the unit of description. This element would also describe the substrates of physicality and media such as paper, canvas, and audio tape, etc. – all important for an online audience to discern. For instance, Paul Nash’s photographic output – including some intriguing images of wrecked German warplanes stored in Oxfordshire during WWII – will be digitized in the Archives and Access project alongside little known love letters to his wife Margaret, and mistress, Eileen Agar. The sixth and final element comprises the name of the creator of the papers or records, such as Prunella Clough, ICA or Graham Sutherland. Occasionally, the name of the creator seemingly may have little relevance to the bulk of the papers within the archive collection, for instance, the Margot Eates and Hartley Ramsden archive collection mostly comprises correspondence from Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, whilst the David Mayor collection contains one of the finest collections of Fluxus artefacts in the world.


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

So, these are the key elements underpinning the description of an archive collection (fonds) and its contents, although there are others that are often and should be used. These range from the administrative or biographical history, and immediate source of acquisition to the scope and content, and physical characteristics fields, all of which are listed in the appendix. Some of these will be touched upon later when examining further substrates within the metadata as a physicist might examine the protons and neutrons of an atom. Within the ISAD(G) guidelines, there are references to these protonial substrates, in the four additional multilevel description rules. Firstly, a rule that states that descriptions should aim to move from the general to the specific. At the fonds level, information for the fonds as a whole is given, whereas at the next and subsequent levels, information for the parts being described should be given. This ensures that the resultant descriptions are presented in a hierarchical part-to-whole relationship proceeding from the broadest (fonds) to the more specific (item or piece). Secondly, information should only be provided as is appropriate to the level being described. For example, detailed file content information would not be described at the fonds level, and in the context of institutional records, the administrative history for an entire department would not be given if the creator of a unit of description was a division or a branch. Thirdly, each description has to be linked to its next higher unit of description, if applicable, and the level of description needs to be identified. Finally, one should provide information that is common to the component parts at the highest appropriate level meaning that information should not be repeated at a lower level of description that has already been given at a higher level.

To continue with the particle physics analogy, there are other interesting and more subtle neutronial substrates that help to provide colour and tone to the archival material catalogued to hand or imaged for viewing.

Revelatory and unexpected research outcomes

For instance, there are temporal substrates that provide data to help place the material within a particular time period. This is achieved in two ways; firstly, through the extended text of the artist’s biography or institutional history; and secondly, through the bald fact of inclusive dates covering the material being catalogued or imaged. The temporal data held within the field for biographical or institutional histories may well extend beyond the chronology of the person or institution. This may be done so as to position the artist or institution among their forebears or institutional forerunners in order to make sense of the period of time covered by the whole archive collection. Occasionally, material relating to these precursors can be found among the papers of an individual or the records of an institution, making the overall temporality ever more tangible. This scenario can be reflected in the field devoted to recording the inclusive dates of the material so that dates can indicate the start and end periods and where the majority of the material catalogued or imaged may fit within this overall time period. Examples in Tate Archive include an indenture dated 1591 found in John Nash’s archives and an engraving by an unidentified artist, c.1650 found in the art writer, Barbara Reise’s personal papers: possibly related to her unfinished PhD on J.M.W. Turner.


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

The field for biographical and institutional histories may also highlight particular textual substrates providing users with actual facts and figures as well as sub-texts ripe for further investigation. There may be evidence or clues that need to be teased out to enable a full reading of how and why the archive collection came into being. The archival material being catalogued often enables the archivist to highlight social and political issues that may have lain hidden from view or known only to intimates of the subject. One example, from the papers being digitized as part of the Archives and Access project is Felicia Browne who was tragically killed in the Spanish Civil War. Similarly, opinions and prejudices may surface that few may have been aware, such as Jacob Epstein’s dim view of his neighbour, Sir Winston Churchill’s artistic abilities mentioned in a letter to his daughter, Peggy Jean which have also being digitized. Of greater physicality are the media substrates so that the image viewed, or the item called up in the reading room to be consulted, can be envisioned before or alongside its eventual appearance. Thus, all manner of media need to be identified, some such as paper, canvas, wood, metal and plastics easier than say textiles, prints, photographs, food and, more frequently, digital code. Coupled with the media substrates are the evidential substrates. These would comprise such notions as strength and dexterity as well as further, less obvious, physical substrates such as embossing and watermarks. Imagine the shock and awe of discovering that the watermark of paper used by Sickert was the same watermark found on letters purporting to be from Jack the Ripper sent to the police (Cornwell, 2003). Here one is exploring the nature and feel of the item moving to a more kinaesthetic description that highlights what can so easily be lost when items are digitized. There are, however, intangible substrates that are harder to describe or detail within the ISAD(G) standards of description. In effect, they are the quantum physics of the archival world and break down into exteroceptive stimuli (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, plus temperature, direction, pain, balance, and sense of position in relation to one’s own body) and interoceptive (sensations in internal organs). It is only by physically entering the archive and being in proximity to an item that these substrates of the archives come to the fore. Even then, there are restrictions about how one might handle a fragile and/or potentially friable item within a reading room context so touch, smell and taste may have to be perceived through another substance such as latex (as in gloves) or Melinex (as in the inert plastic envelopes of archival specialist stationery). How can the sensation, for instance, of manipulating a magnetic multiple, the pain of standing on a sharp mat spelling GENOCIDE, or the removal of a bag impregnated with vanilla from an envelope mailed through the post ever be replicated virtually.5 On the Higg’s Boson scale, there’s also the sixth sense of the mind encompassing sense impressions, feelings, perceptions and volitions that move away from Western concepts to Eastern precepts, ideas and philosophies. From personal experience, the 5.  Sound Piece,1971 by Alice Hutchins. A magnet sculpture, comprising a cylindrical magnet, on top of which balances a movable steel ball. Also six steel discs to be arranged on the steel ball, creating different visual combinations. Marketed and distributed by REEVES as a multiple. (TGA 20021/19); Genocide, 1972 by Ken Friedman – a green doormat with white eponymous lettering where ’WELCOME’ usually is placed. (TGA 815/2/2/4/36); and Vanilla Bag, 1973 by Paul Brown comprising a cardboard box containing piece of cheesecloth in Greaseproof bag impregnated with vanilla. Bag typed: `VANILLA BAG – PLEASE SNIFF' Paul Brown. April 1973. 3/6’. (TGA 815/2/2/4/14)


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

hairs stood on the back of my neck when I realized that an unassuming autobiography, housed in Tate Archive, might hold the key to the real-life identity of the hunchback of Notre Dame (Nikkhah, 2010).

Unlike the substrate of something physical such as the weft and weave of a piece of textile, archives have both tangible and intangible characteristics that require a myriad of descriptors to encompass them and yet, even then, there are substrates that are left behind as being too esoteric or impossible to capture. This is one of the few areas – except in particle physics – where there is a gulf between description and perception, between reality and spirituality, between strata and substrata.



The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items references

Bettington, J. ed. (2008) Keeping Archives. Sydney: Australian Society of Archivists.


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

Nikkhah, R. (2010) Real-life Quasimodo uncovered in Tate archives. The Telegraph, 15 August (Internet). Available from: artsandentertainmentbooksreview/7945634/Real-life-Quasimodo-uncovered-in- Tate-archives.html (Accessed 20 January 2015).

Brown, C. ed. (2013) Archives and Recordkeeping Theory into practice. London: Facet. Bülow, A. E. & Ahmon, J. (2011) Preparing Collections for Digitization. London: Facet. Cook, T. (2011) The Archive(s) Is a Foreign Country: Historians, Archivists, and the Changing Archival Landscape American Archivist. Volume 74, Number 2 / Fall-Winter 2011.

Peltomäki, K. (2014) Situation aesthetics: the work of Michael Asher. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Prom, C. J. & Frusciano, T. J. (2013) Archival arrangement and description. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Cornwell, P. (2003) Portrait Of A Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. London: Sphere.

Rolnik, S. (2011) Archive mania = archive manie. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz (published on the occasion of Documenta 13, 9 June –16 Sept. 2012).

Craven, L. ed. (2008) What are archives? cultural and theoretical perspectives: a reader. Aldershot; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.

Schellenberg, T. R., (1996 reprint online) Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (1997) Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schellenberg, T. R., (1988 reprint online) The Management of Archives New York: Columbia University Press.

Dobreva, M. & Ivacs, G. eds. (2014) Digital Archives Management, use and access. London: Facet.

Vankin, J. ed. (2013) All this stuff: archiving the artist. London: Libri Publishing.

Ellis, R. H. & Walne, P. eds. (2003) Selected Writings of Sir Hilary Jenkinson. Gloucester: Alan Sutton. Farr, I. ed. (2012) Memory. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Glew, A. (1994) Automating audio-visual documentation in the Tate Gallery Archive, The Journal of the Society of Archivists, Vol. 15, issue 2, pp.159–171.

Appendix 1

ISAD(G) ELEMENTS OF DESCRIPTION KEY bold text = essential elements [text in square brackets] = examples found in Tate Archive 1. Reference code(s) [e.g. “TGA 816/2” as a unique identifier]

Hill, J. ed. (2010) The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping A Reader. London: Facet. 2. Title [e.g. “The personal papers of Prunella Clough”] International Council on Archives. (2000) General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G). Second Edition adopted by the Committee on Descriptive Standards, Stockholm, Sweden, 19–22 September 1999 and published in Ottawa, 2000.

3. Date(s) [e.g. inclusive dates of material] 4. Level of description [e.g. fonds, sub-fonds, series, sub-series, file, item, piece]

Lebeter, N. & Smith, B. &. R. Ed. (2013) How to let an artist rifle through your archive. Walsall: The New Art Gallery.

5. Extent and medium of the unit of description (quantity, bulk, or size) [e.g. physical and media]

Merewether, C. ed. (2006) The Archive. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

6. Name of creator(s) [e.g. "Prunella Clough”] 7. Administrative / Biographical history [e.g. history of company or mini biography of artist]

Millar, L. A. (2010) Principles and practices. London: Facet. 8. Archival history [noted when not acquired directly to ensure authenticity, integrity & interpretation]


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items

9. Immediate source of acquisition or transfer [aka Provenance] 10. Scope and content [e.g. breakdown of the collection: personal, financial, writings, correspondence, photographs, press cuttings, etc.] 11. Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information [primarily a field for records management] 12. Accruals [e.g. estimate of quantity and frequency of accruals such as additional material regularly received from other institutions such as the CAS, British Council, etc.] 13. System of arrangement [e.g. usually noted in field 10, but here indicates whether the material was kept in an order by the creator or else dis-ordered when acquired.] 14. Conditions governing access [e.g. “Correspondence from the Nicholson family closed until 2008”] 15. Conditions governing reproduction [e.g. “Copyright is retained by the artist”]


The Hidden Substrates of Archival Items Contributor details

Adrian Glew, Tate’s Archivist, manages the National Archive of British Art from 1900, currently comprising a team of ten. Formerly, he worked in the archives at Lambeth Palace, an oil company and a management consultancy. At Tate, Adrian curated the first display of Fluxus in 1994, the first correspondence art show at Tate Modern in 2003, and the first archival display, Reception, Rupture and Return: The Model and the Life Room in the new Archive Gallery, Tate Britain 2014–5. In 2001, he conceived of the virtual Church-House project ( for the Stanley Spencer retrospective at Tate Britain. In addition, Adrian established archival microsites on Tate’s website for, amongst others, the Artist Placement Group, Audio Arts, Naum Gabo, Outsider Art, and Donald Rodney. More recently, he has been closely involved in the planning and production of the digitiztaion project, Archives & Access funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will see 52,000 pieces digitized and made available alongside artworks on Tate’s website for the first time.

16. Language/scripts of material [e.g. “English and German”] 17. Physical characteristics and technical requirements [e.g. “Videotapes are in ½ inch helical open reel-to-reel format”] 18. Finding aids [e.g. lists that repository or creator have made such as “Printed list available in reading room”] 19. Existence and location of originals [e.g. “The originals were sold to the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada with copies deposited as part of the export licence”] 20. Existence and location of copies [e.g. “Digital reproductions of the sketchbooks are available at: http//etc.”] 21. Related units of description [e.g. “See also TGA 965”] 22. Publication note [e.g. citations] 23. Note [e.g. information that cannot be accommodated elsewhere] 24. Archivist’s Note [e.g. how the description was prepared and by whom] 25. Rules or Conventions [e.g. “Description based on Tate Archive’s Cataloguing Manual”] 26. Date(s) of descriptions [e.g. “Finding aid prepared, April 2014”]

Qualified as an archivist and art historian, Adrian edited an anthology of Letters and Writings by Stanley Spencer and wrote a new introduction to Wassily Kandinsky’s, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Tate: 2001 & 2006). Beyond Tate, Adrian was art editor for a lifestyle magazine and has published widely in periodicals such as The Burlington Magazine and Art Monthly. He is currently a director/trustee of four external bodies relating to archives, public monuments and artists.



Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question… Jo Melvin

Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question facing the researcher. The archive contains holes caused by lack of information. The dilemma of what to do when there is a missing link or a hole in evidence, generates new lines of thinking for knowledge production. Lacking hard facts leads to different research tactics, following hunches, reflexive and critical stock taking, asking questions and undertaking interviews. In conducting this process anecdotes surface. These accounts are often perceived to be trivial and of marginal research interest. In contradistinction, I assert the reverse, these handholds conjure the possibility of new animations. Penetrating the substrate, or as I prefer, ‘substrata’, is like plummeting the archive. This paper presents case studies from Peter Townsend’s editorial archive of Studio International magazine where I have employed tactical and dynamic investigative processes.


key words Peter Townsend Studio International magazine archive research processes anecdote gossip substrata Item

When I first heard about the Substrate symposia symposium, I immediately started to think about how the term provides a metaphorical framework for my research strategies. What is particularly salient is how the word, ‘substrata’ conjures and combines various interpretative referents. These range from layers of geological formation under the surface of the earth’s crust and, one wonders, if all layers below are defined as ‘substrata’, to a metaphorical way of linking interfaces, either as horizontal networks between people and events, or as a ‘catch all’ to express the matter as well as the fissures and the cracks between them. A line of thinking directly related to my research is the notion of penetrating the substrata because this is like plummeting the archive. Penetration punctuates the surface to create holes, rupturing the surface and reconfiguring linearity. The archive is a site to be excavated and by digging through documents and the consequent emerging questions, I surmise, ventriloquize and draw conclusions.

Holes: Penetrating the substrata


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

The penetrating action in the archive is one form of a ‘hole’. Another form is the lack or absence of connecting data, when information is missing, mislaid, forgotten or overlooked. However both these ‘hole’ characteristics serve to disturb the substrata and cause its reconfiguration. Substrata also suggests the presence of invisible links and layers operating below or beyond what can be seen in the immediate, which may or may not function independently from the surface layer. The term invites paradoxical interpretation and juxtapositions of metaphorical matter, which lends itself favourably to the look of an archive with its piles and sheets. This paper is an extended version of the talk I gave in the substrata symposia held at CCW Graduate School between February and May 2014. It addresses the correlations between the archive as a resource that contains, either materially or by allusion, detritus or waste products. Michel Foucault’s writing (2002) on the excavation of knowledge, to dig, sift and to re-figure material informs my thinking although I do not explicitly discuss his work in this essay. I am also indebted to Gavin Butt’s book, Between You and Me, for the way in which he enlists gossip as a method of triggering speculative investigation, leading to the possibilities of reinterpretation (Butt, 2005). Butt’s identification of two strands of argument and exploration trigger my enquiry’s starting point. These are ‘gossip’s role in history’ and ‘gossip’s role as history’ (Butt, p.9). Although I do not return to these markers in this essay, they are useful to bear in mind. I address research questions that arise through consulting documents in archives, in parallel with oral histories – which is to say, the conversations I have recorded with artists, editors, writers and museum or gallery personnel over many years. This work begins with my involvement in Peter Townsend’s editorial papers of Studio International magazine 1965–75. I interrogate the diverse sources by bringing together exhibition catalogues, pamphlets and ephemera which in turn lead to other avenues of enquiry. The counterpoise between what appears to be trivial, or has been discarded, or even lost, is like the relationship between the hole and the earth removed during the process of its creation. The metaphorical hole in knowledge, encountered in the archive, is an ellipse between information and the potential for substantiation, caused by a lack of material. The other important metaphorical aspect of the hole is how to define the displaced matter of its digging. And the process of research is akin to the act of digging, of sifting, retaining and editing out. By playful allusion to re-contextualizing ways in which waste becomes usefully productive I draw attention to the more profound concerns of the researcher when facing the realization of a dead end and that what is lost and overlooked may not be redeemable. Why and how this matters are interconnected and the researcher has a responsibility to respond to both.

This essay considers how sifting through the archive unearths ephemera in the form of anecdotes or gossip. These lines of investigation create a new parallel network, potentially as complex as that revealed in the particular document examined. I tackle the problem of rhetorical holes exposed in research investigations. The process presents strategies to circumvent as well as to use the gap created by absences and demonstrates how this might privilege an emphasis on anecdotal history. I do not think of these ellipses (or holes) as dead-ends but instead as triggers to generate attention to what might otherwise have been overlooked. I am specifically engaged with recent histories and their archival traces. I write

Anecdote and gossip


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

with the researcher’s paranoia to leave no stone unturned, when forming suppositions, and or, conclusions. Note the choice of outcome, a supposition might inform a conclusion but if a conclusion is to be effective it must be substantiated. Questions of how to substantiate the supposition surface continually for the researcher. This anxiety is common in the archive, where one seeks to find the authentic document – authentic in that it will resolve uncertainties. Anecdotes might be overlooked in favour of a scholarly presentation of hard facts derived from various sources and methodologies. Anecdotes are often to be found because the gaps revealed in the archive give leads to the present, generating interviews and conversations. The cracks that might have been forgotten surface because of an overlooked detail, or an unrealized project used as a trigger for an individual’s recollection. The following is an example of such an instance. It concerns a small notational drawing by Naum Gabo. There was nothing obvious to indicate this but I had a hunch that there might be something interesting about it, which may or may not be contingent on the slightness of the paper (Fig. 35). When I asked him to elucidate, Townsend wrote: Jo- this drg(?) [sic] is by Gabo. I asked him about his commemorative sculpture in a [Rotterdam] square and said I was surprised and sorry to see it [as] such a static piece. He said he was too and had wanted something with movement and hope, more in the manner of his endless wave (not correct name) in the Tate. And he took this sheet of paper and said “something more like this”. Perhaps it should go in its own folder. (Naum Gabo, SI, Peter Townsend editorial papers, TGA 20028, London.) (Fig. 36). I found the notation interleaved in one of Townsend’s appointment diaries from 1977. This factual ‘dating’ avenue proved to be a red herring, because the occasion Gabo made the drawing was earlier, in 1966. Townsend’s recollection identifies it as by Gabo. Townsend worked closely with Gabo in the lead up to his retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery which opened in March 1966. Studio International magazine’s April issue was dedicated to Naum Gabo and Constructivism (Fig. 37). They worked together on an interview, reprinting the 1920 Realist Manifesto by Gabo and his brother Antoine Pevsner and a contextualizing artist statement. Townsend, in consultation with Gabo, commissioned younger artists, with whose work there was an implicit exchange of ideas to write a series of articles. This included John Ernest and Anthony Hill, both of whom were at that time teaching at Chelsea School of Art. Townsend shared Gabo’s commitment to ideological as well as political revolution and the potential for publically sited sculpture to make a difference to the surrounding environment, and contribute to the society’s day to day experience. The discussion of Townsend and Gabo’s political commitment and affiliations is outside the scope of this essay, suffice it to remark that Gabo made the notation, as Townsend declared, to answer his criticisms of a publically sited work in a Rotterdam square. The work in question, Untitled Z.T. (1957) a 25-metrehigh free standing sculpture was illustrated in the magazine (Thompson, 1996, p.133). Studio International hosted a special lunch for Gabo, his wife and the magazine contributors at the stylish restaurant, the Terrazza in Soho (Townsend, 1966). The restaurant was reputably the first to abandon the tie as the standard dress code after a visit from the photographer Lord Snowdon, Bryan Robertson, Whitechapel art gallery director and the art critic John Russell to celebrate their collaborative and recent publication of the book, Private View (1965). The book profiled a cross generation of artists, dealers and art world luminaries who were established or up and coming in London in 1965


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

with portrait photographs and an informal biographical text on each subject. As Snowdon came to the restaurant wearing a roll neck sweater, the management jokingly told Peter Townsend they were considering instituting this look as the new requirement. It was on this occasion, during the lunch that Townsend remembered Gabo using a piece of scrap paper to illustrate his intentions for the Rotterdam sculpture (Townsend Melvin interview 1998). I deliberately use an informal and discursive way of writing in order to draw attention to the weaving together of information from different sources which may be considered trivial. I would argue that the apparently slight detail speaks with potential for new insight. Derrida’s use of Freud’s mystic pad as an analogy that represents traces and layers of memory is a productive model to illuminate this approach (Derrida, 1988, p.13). The mystic pad is a child’s drawing board that can be wiped and used again. However the layers of wax below the surface of the drawing or writing leave imprints and faint residual traces which might be slightly visible when it is next used. This creates a textured layer of impressions. It is a type of palimpsest. The term in itself is a useful metaphor to explore the processes by which archives modify meaning because it gives a visualization of how impressions and traces continually revise interpretations of meaning and context. It is liberating to point out that primary sources are open to revisions. The revisions might do violence to and change earlier interpretation which echoes the manner in which the original palimpsest, made from animal skin, needed to be scraped in order for the surface to be reusable. These layers are seen years after the event, and an interview leading from their examination can draw other, different, even contradictory testimony. The many timeframes in the archive introduce further complexity but can animate it, and bring it to life relevantly in the present. The problem of how to frame questions in order to find answers to material is a perennial problem for the researcher. It is partly caused by a quixotic desire to square the circle – or to fill holes. The model I wish to adopt is non-hierarchical and transparent. I aim to point to the gaps and ellipses rather than attempt to smooth them out. As a method it segues from a tactical use of the space between document, anecdote and memory. It is malleable and utilizes this fluidity.

Sometimes what becomes an archive begins as piles of undifferentiated documents. The reason the piles have been kept varies and it’s a chancy business. The archive, strictly speaking is defined as such because of its systematic cataloguing structure which is designed to enable an item’s retrieval. Archives are seen as the portal to temples of knowledge. Archives properly designated are hierarchical in structure and sometimes difficult to access. Gaining permissions to read the material can be complicated and persistence is a required characteristic for the researcher. This occurs in particular when the documents are not housed within a public institution or when they are deposited in a public institution but not yet catalogued. Is the archive abject? Like detritus? This is a question I like to keep afloat in my continuous interrogations. My first seriously sustained encounter with archives began in the early 1990s when Peter Townsend former editor of Studio International magazine and the founding editor of Art Monthly asked me for help in ‘going through’ (Townsend’s euphemism) his papers. At the time these were variously stored in different locations across London. Margaret Garlake, art historian and editorial

Archives, detritus and chance


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

assistant at Art Monthly recounted how these papers were stashed in bin liners under the office desks. She remarked on the bags’ aura, and of how they emanated mystique and importance and although no-one knew what they contained, the portentous feeling was created. Townsend had another larger amount of bags in his two daughters’ attic in North London and a further quantity under his bed. Properly speaking, at this point, Townsend’s archive was not an archive but a collection of papers. These documents are correspondence, notes, articles, drafts and galley proofs, page pulls, postcards, photographs, tickets, appointment diaries and ephemera. These are now in Tate Gallery Archive and are in two collections. These are Studio International, Peter Townsend editorial papers, TGA 20028, deposited in 2002, and the other deposited after he died in 2006, is Peter Townsend archive, TGA 20094. (Fig. 38) When I began the task of examining Townsend’s documents I had a desire to slip away from the ownership of authorship that an articulation of the material would require. As if, somehow, it were possible to develop a strategy whereby the information and material in the archive – that is to say, Peter’s papers, (I use his name here deliberately to indicate our friendship and to suggest for the reader the complexities involved by the interpersonal and subjective) might be rendered transparently readable, without Jo Melvin’s inflection. At that time, my desire for anonymity stemmed from a naïve view that archives and documents (the printed word) are somehow clear readings and are in themselves pure. I, as researcher in this context, have an anthropological relationship to the material, where the subject and the object is subjectively perceived, because as protagonist in the interviewing process and thus garnering new material to create a related archive. This implicates and embeds me as a ventriloquist and presses me to address the responsibility of authorship. I have remarked, already, that the archive contains notes addressed to me. In a very obvious way this extends the material’s time frame. There is another growing body of documents, sound files and ephemera which is initially contingent upon my questioning avenues arising in Townsend’s editorial papers. This source material leads to projects, exhibitions and publications. One for instance, is the exhibition I’m preparing, Five Issues of Studio International which opens in February 2015 at Raven Row, London. This dynamic and exciting process shows the fluid exchange of ideas and their configurations are always open to re-invention.

The following case study shows how what might have been regarded as trivial and overlooked can become illuminating and cast new light on events, to give a different nuance and understanding of the context. In an anecdotal fashion it re-situates the networks between people and illustrates how a causal exchange of ideas can become a tool and instrumental in examining their influence and effect. In turn this adds another layer of interpretation. In 1970, Jonathan Benthall sent Peter Townsend an article called The Death of Rubbish by Michael Thompson, published in New Society on May 28th of that year. The sub-heading read: ‘People have usually seen society on a vertical model, like the digestive tract, with rubbish like excrement at the base. This could be changing.’ (Thompson, pp. 916–7). The transfiguration of rubbish has proceeded so far that waste and detritus are read as signs of illumination and commercial value. Thompson developed this position in his book, Rubbish Theory: the creation and destruction of value (1979). The book became very popular and although long since out of print, it is evidently still in demand because copies command a high price The death of rubbish:

serendipity, gossip and anecdote


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

from specialist book dealers. The investigation of rubbish, known as ‘garbology,’ to see whether items of saleable value might be among the trash has developed as a result of this observation. It is from the discards of former civilizations that archaeologists have reconstructed much of what we know about the past, and it is through discussing the phenomena of how our society deals with rubbish that William Rathje and Cullen Murphy expose domestic shopping to provide a mirror of the typical behavioural patterns of today (Rathje and Cullen Murphy, 2001). Thompson’s article refers to William Burroughs’s character teaching his ass [sic] to speak (the talking asshole routine in The Naked Lunch) where he instructs it with an unnatural knowledge and productivity. Shit is transformed into a use value, the commodity value of words, and knowledge. Thompson drew indirectly on the anthropologist, Mary Douglas’s designation of ‘dirt’ as ‘matter out of place’ Douglas 1991, p.33). Benthall was working as an exhibition organizer at the ICA, and had been taught by Mary Douglas in the anthropology department at UCL. He commented to Townsend how pleased he was in finding a ‘very good article by Michael Thompson’ in the second issue of ArtLanguage journal with the observation, ‘unfortunately it turns out his assessment of conceptual art is now about the same as my own.’ (Benthall 19/10/70). This was low in estimation. Thompson had also studied with Mary Douglas and Benthall described him to Townsend as her former student and ‘bright anthropologist’. Benthall’s regular column in Studio International, ‘Technology and art’, elicited irritation from two of Townsend’s editorial assistants, Charles Harrison and Frank Whitford, formerly students together at the Courtauld Institute of Art, who generally did not agree with each other but on this occasion they both regarded it as an arbitrary designation for a column (Harrison, 28/3/07, Whitford, 25/10/06). In their view the methods used to produce the work should be intrinsic to any discussion of it and singling out technology isolated it, as if its application was unusual. John McEwen, another of Townsend’s editorial assistants introduced Benthall to Townsend, and to the magazine. He and Benthall had met at Eton and both went on to Cambridge University. These interconnections, inflections and disagreements are not declared in the ‘clean’ publication. Thompson’s article refers to William Burrough’s character teaching his ass to speak (the talking asshole routine in The Naked Lunch). The idea of giving an arsehole the power of speech, resonates in the non-hierarchical approach to uncovering research material because it gives a voice to waste products, even if it is a form of ventriloquism. This voice from the depths emphasizes the horizontal aspect of substrata and identifies how the points of intersection surface through rupture. Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down, you dig, farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard. Bubbly, thick, stagnant sound. A sound you could smell. (Burroughs last accessed 3/11/14)


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

What to keep and what to discard are editorial decisions common to any project. Research exposes what was once confidential in letters, for example, in notes of ideas committed to paper or recorded from conversations. Often these documents reveal the dirty side: art’s interpersonal connections, passions, opinionated reactions, anecdotes, hearsay and gossip. It is this kind of dirty matter which gives the archive its peculiar status, and distinguishes it from the ‘clean’ publication. Often overlooked, the dirty or the banal can invigorate. It is transformative in its effect. Reinforced by its new value, which I am asserting is caused by a dirty gossipy register, the changed status of the archive’s matter adds inflection, and nuance to the historicized account and by establishing a vivid reconnection, it reanimates the original product and purpose of both. What gets left out:

a sound you could smell

There is a great deal more than the magazine as text, not simply in the authors’ copy and all the hopeful unpublished submissions – this is another story – but in the signs of editorial intervention. Often these are naughty asides, humorous, such as the comment ‘do ya wanna bet?’ that Charles Harrison penned on John Baldessari’s NSEAD exhibition announcement card, which was filled with the statement: ‘I will not make any more boring art’, repeated as a school child’s lines (Baldessari, TGA 20028). For a short time contributing editor, Frank Whitford, was the correspondent in Berlin. On a PhD scholarship, he had given up a decent salary as one of the Evening Standard cartoonists for a thesis on German Expressionism he subsequently abandoned. He wrote to Townsend about his frustrations with academia’s alienation from the tangible experience of art. More than exposing personal frustration in their retelling as gossip or anecdote, the letters present a position that became one of the key components in editorial policy. This was hands on and pragmatic, as Townsend was far more interested in giving artists the magazine’s pages to use as they saw fit, than in commissioning art critics and historians to write theoretical explanations. Frank Whitford was the contributing editor who from the beginning of this period was not interested in theory. He recalled frequently dropping by the Museum Tavern at the end of the day to meet Townsend, who, as he described, ‘loved a gossip’ (Whitford, 25/10/06). One such story Whitford recounted was an occasion in the Tavern when the poet and writer William Empson and Peter were exchanging recollections of their time spent together in China, drinking pints of Guinness with crème de menthe chasers. The magazine was going to print but Townsend would not allow the externally set schedule to impinge on a vital social exchange. I found it fascinating and amusing when Townsend explained that the Plough was the pub most favoured by the editorial office because its two entrances meant that the ‘conceptualists’ and the ‘formalists’ could arrive and leave through different doorways and meet him, seated in the middle easily accessible and visible from both sides of the pub. Haphazard, incidental accounts are often excluded from historical perspectives. The circumstances surrounding Gabo’s notation, or indeed its attribution, would not have been possible without intervention. Jonathan Benthall’s sending Townsend a copy of Michael Thompson’s The Death of Rubbish is a serendipitous instance and it is a device used to substantiate this reading. These overlooked details provide a means of reliving the complexity of an event. This transfer of emphasis upsets normal


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

expectations of editorial authority. Townsend regarded his editorial role as akin to that of a conductor, never of a soloist (Townsend, 1975). Both in the archive and by interviews the serendipitous encounter can provide more insight than seamless coherent written accounts. Haphazard and chance, combined with continual reflection directs my attempts to navigate among the paradoxes inherent in personal accounts of an occasion or situation, with the idea or ideals posited by it, and its various forms of documentation. Anecdotes and gossip are too often cast out of academic writing as merely incidental to the event and its historical-material analysis. The main characteristic of gossip is that each person’s account varies, if only slightly, and no objective version of events can be assembled. Much of my work relies on following leads from the ephemera that appear in the diverse archival material, resulting in interviews and their inevitable recourse to gossip. In his account of the editorial atmosphere at the Partisan Review, William Barrett noted that ‘Certainly people gossip; the main topic of conversation as Jane Austen remarked is the failings of other people’ (Barrett, 1982, p.45). The anecdotal is a handhold with making sense of research; its necessary subjectivity animates the personal. This method demonstrates how the researcher can become entangled in the layers of communication in a particular document. Far from obscuring, the flimsy and fragmentary accounts provided by anecdote illuminate evidence of the anxieties inherent in artistic practice and other concerns central to editorial policy.


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question… references

Baldessari, J. (1970) I will not make any more boring art. July/August 1970 file, Studio International, Peter Townsend editorial papers, Tate Gallery Archive, London: TGA 20028. Barrett, W. (1982) The Truants, Adventures Amongst the Intellectuals. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday. Benthall, J. (1970) Letter to Townsend, 19/10/70. Technology and art file. Studio International, Peter Townsend editorial papers. Tate Gallery Archive, London: TGA 20028. Burroughs, W. (1959) The Naked Lunch. (Internet) Available from: (Accessed 03 November 2014). Butt, G (2005) Between You and Me. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Derrida, J. (1998) Archive Fever, a Freudian impression, translated by Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: University of Chicago. Douglas, M. (1991) Purity and Danger, an analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo. London and New York: Routledge. Foucault, M. (2002) The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Psychology Press. Gabo, N. (1966) Studio International, Peter Townsend editorial papers. Tate Gallery Archive: TGA 20028. Harrison, & and Melvin, J. 28/3/07. Unpublished interview transcript. London: Melvin papers. Rathje, W. & Murphy, C. 2001. Rubbish! The archaeology of Garbage. London and New York: Harper Collins. Robertson, B., John R. & Snowdon, L. (1965) Private view. London: Nelson. Thompson, D. (1966) Outlines for a public art. Studio International Vol.171, No. 876, pp.133–139. Thompson, M. (1970) Conceptual Art: Category and Action. Art-Language, Vol. 1 No. 2, February, pp.77–83. Thompson, M. (1970) New Society, Vol. XXX. pp.916–7. Jeremy Benthall, (19/10/70). Technology and art file. Studio International, Peter Townsend editorial papers. London: TGA 20028.


Holes in the archive – to fill or to leave, that is the question…

Thompson, M. (1979) Rubbish Theory: the creation and destruction of value. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Townsend, P. (1975) Ave Atque. Studio International, Vol.189, No.975, May/June, (pp.168–171). Townsend, P. & Melvin, J. (1998) Unpublished Interview transcript. London: Melvin papers. Townsend, W. (1966) William Townsend Journal Vol.xxxvi. 23/3/66. London: UCL Special Collections. Whitford, F. & Melvin, J. 25/10/06. Unpublished interview transcript. London: Melvin papers.

Contributor details

Dr Jo Melvin is Reader in Research in Archives and Special Collections, Chelsea College of Arts, CCW, UAL. Jo is currently preparing an exhibition for Raven Row, London, Five issues of Studio International, opening in February 2015 and an exhibition at Flat Time House, pataphysical exchange, opening April 2015. Recent exhibitions include JocJonJosch, Musée d’Art du Valais, Switzerland, 2013–14. Publications include Seth Siegelaub Source Book Walter König, 2015 and the Barry Flanagan catalogue raisonné, Modern Art Press, 2017.


image list


Fig. 01  Installation view, The Art of Dansaekhwa, Kukje Gallery, Seoul, August 28 to 19 October, 2014. The works are by Chung Sang-Hwa.

Fig. 27

Cy Twombly, The Rose (III), 2008, acrylic on four wooden panels, 252×740cm ©Cy Twombly Foundation. Image courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Fig. 02 Park Seo-Bo, Ecriture (描法 ) No.17–76, 1976, pencil and oil on canvas, 96×130cm. Courtesy Kukje Gallery.

Fig. 28

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, 1961, copper ©Lucio Fontana/SIAE/DACS, London 2015.

Fig. 29

Reverse of Blinky Palermo, A of Times of the Day I, aluminium ©DACS 2015.

Fig. 30

Prunella Clough, A man at work on a barge in front of two cooling towers, circa. 1950s, black and white photograph, (TGA 200511/4/3/10/33) ©Estate of Prunella Clough 2015. All Rights Reserved DACS.

Fig. 31

Prunella Clough, Lowestoft, circa. 1950s, black and white photograph, (TGA 200511/4/3/7/15) ©Estate of Prunella Clough 2015. All Rights Reserved DACS.

Fig. 32

Henry Scott Tuke on the beach painting The Embarcation, 1914 believed to have been photographed by George W. Beldam, 1913/14, (TGA 9019/1/4/1/10) ©Tate.

Fig. 03 Ha Chong-Hyun Conjunction 87–101, 1987, oil on hemp cloth, 194×260cm. Courtesy Kukje Gallery. Fig. 04 Chung Chang-Sup, Return one-H, 1977, mixed media on canvas, 163×111.5cm. Courtesy Kukje Gallery. Fig. 05 Lee Ufan, From Point, 1977, pigment suspended in glue on canvas, 162×291cm (3 pcs). Courtesy Kukje Gallery. Figs. 06–15 A collaboration by Neil Cummings, Marysia Lewandowska, Eileen Simpson and Fig. 16 Ben White, Stills from Screen Tests, 2006, film, 10 mins 36 seconds. © CC

Fig. 22

Fig. 16 Richard Layzell, Line Flying, 1978, performance. Fig. 33

Donald Rodney, Sketch of an open suitcase inscribed 'THIRD WORLD BRIEFCASE', 1983–84, (TGA 200321/3/6/59) ©Estate of Donald Rodney.

Fig. 34

Stuart Brisley, View from Yoden Way Peterlee, 1976. Image of a girl standing next to the entrance to an alleyway viewed from Yoden Way, Peterlee from Brisley’s artist project in Peterlee. (TGA 201114/4/24) ©Stuart Brisley

Fig. 17 Richard Layzell, Parquet Floor, 1980, film. Fig. 18 Richard Layzell, The Manifestation – (the Stumbling Block), 2008, installation. Fig. 19 Richard Layzell, The Manifestation – (the Dialogue), 2008, installation. Fig. 20 Richard Layzell, The Manifestation at Cafe Gallery Projects, London, 2008, installation.

Fig. 35

Fig. 21 Richard Layzell, Still from The Table, 2008, film. Fig. 18 Fig. 22 Richard Layzell standing on the table, 2015 Fig. 23 Tony Conrad, Yellow Movie 3/31–4/2/73, 1973. Emulsion: Gull white flat interior latex. Base: Studio white seamless paper, 295×270cm. Courtesy the artist, Greene Naftali, New York, and Galerie Buccholz, Berlin/Cologne. Fig. 24 Tony Conrad, Yellow Movie 3/2–3/73, Yellow Movie 3/4/73, 1973. Emulsion: Odorless White Flat A-C-M Scrubable Nu-Plastic Velvet by Arthur C. Mangles Industries Inc. Base: Riviera blue seamless paper, 440×270cm. Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Figs. 25 Tony Conrad Yellow Movie 1/25–31/73, 1973. Emulsion: Gull white flat interior latex, Magicolor No. 3011–11. Base: Lilac seamless paper, 185×330cm. Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.

Fig. 19 Naum Gabo, Sculpture Notation, 1966, 25.5×21cm, with Peter Townsend explanation attached, G correspondence files 1966–68, Studio International, Peter Townsend's editorial papers, TGA 20028 ©Tate, London 2015.

Fig. 36

Detail of Townsend's explanation seen in Figure 35. ©Tate, London 2015.

Fig. 37

Naum Gabo and The Constructivist Tradition, Studio International, Vol. 171, No. 876, April 1966, cover design.

Fig. 38

Peter Sedgely, photograph of Peter Townsend in the Studio International office 37 Museum Street, London WC1, 1968.

Fig. 26

Fig. 23

Fig. 21

Fig. 26 Installation view, Carl Ostendarp All Tomorrow's Parties, 2007. Latex on wall, soundtrack, dimensions variable at the Museum Für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany. Featuring Roy Lichenstein's Yellow and Green Brushstrokes, 1966, oil and magna on canvas, 213.4×457.2 cm ©Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2015. Fig. 20

Fig. 25 Fig. 24



Fig. 27

Fig. 30

Fig. 35

Fig. 36 Fig. 29

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Fig. 37

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Fig. 38



ediTorial board


ediTorial Daniel Sturgis


The CogiTo oF kneading: TaCTile Seeing and korean Dansaekhwa painTing Simon Morley


SubSTraTe: The Common and The doxa oF properTy Neil Cummings


The Table iS The Floor Richard Layzell


SubSTraTe: leaning againST medium Daniel Sturgis


dig, SlaSh and STiTCh: ConTemporary arTiSTS and Their SubSTraTeS Pia Gotschaller


The hidden SubSTraTeS oF arChival iTemS Adrian Glew


holeS in The arChive – To Fill or To leave, ThaT iS The queSTion… Jo Melvin


image liST

ISSN 2055-1606

9 772055 160008

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