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Ignacio Uriarte Line of Work


The Drawing Center January 17 – March 13, 2013 Drawing Room

Ignacio Uriarte Line of Work

Curated by Joanna Kleinberg Romanow

D R AW I N G PA P E R S 10 3

Essay by Joanna Kleinberg Romanow

Line of Work Joanna Kleinberg Romanow


Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements. —peter gibbons, Office Space (1999) The cult film Office Space savages corporate culture by following the plight of a handful of disgruntled employees who are fed-up with their jobs at Initech, a fictitious software company plagued by an absurd bureaucracy and asinine management. The hero is Peter Gibbons who, through an accident of hypnosis, embraces the cause of non-productivity instead of doing his job programming banking software, and convinces his colleagues to follow suit. The film’s sympathetic depiction of chagrined IT workers rebelling against the indignity of their sedentary workplace and its obligations makes comedy out of life at the office. For Spanish businessman turned artist Ignacio Uriarte, combating the nine-to-five grind lies in showcasing the contemporary aesthetics of administration.1 Uriarte’s art draws influence and inspiration from the information, skills,



As the class of the salaried masses grew in the 1970s and the drudgery of office work led to labor attrition, it became necessary to create a situation of “autonomy and creativity” in which workers would be self-motivated to do what they had been assigned. This is what sociologists Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski, have called “leaning on the artistic critique” at the heart of the “new spirit of capitalism,” a criticism that promoted flexibility in working hours and the development of parttime work in order to better serve workers’ aspirations. See Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Verso, 2005), 201. While Uriarte’s artwork critiques much of 1960s “social capitalism”—the hierarchies and the monotony of its assembly-line work, for example—it also models this “new spirit,” which allowed for a certain amount of “stealing” time away from the employer to engage in personal activities.

working conditions, and supplies encountered in the workplace. He has created a body of drawings, at turns bold and subtle, improvised and predetermined, that occupies the zone between the febrile forces of imagination and the stultifying culture of office life. Born to parents of Spanish decent, Uriarte was raised in the city of Krefeld, Germany. His decision to study business administration at the Europäische Wirtschaftsakademie in Madrid and at the Berufsakademie in Mannheim led to employment at major corporations such as Canon, Interlub, and Siemens. Though Uriarte felt the work to be tedious, the ideological and pragmatic clash between corporate capitalism and individual creativity fascinated him and resulted in his unlikely transition to working as a professional artist. In 1996 he moved from Europe to Guadalajara, Mexico, where he studied Audiovisual Arts in a two-year program at Centro de Artes Audiovisales, which provided his only formal arts training. While in Mexico Uriarte became attracted to the work of Gabriel Orozco (b. 1962, Mexico), whose improvisatory style reiterated the synthesis of prosaic materials and poetic gestures that characterized much of arte povera and postminimalism. For example, in one of Orozco’s most infamous pieces, Empty Shoebox (1993), for which an open cardboard box is left on the gallery floor to be kicked about, the simplicity of the gesture combines with the commonality of the object to generate a subtle magic. Uriarte shares Orozco’s commitment to the everyday and similarly defines the parameters of his visual world by giving weight to mundane objects and subtle actions. Consistently creating what he can with what is immediately known and available to him, Uriarte converts his office materials into explorations of plane geometry: grids, arcs, straight lines. The images are often exactly what they look like: trial-and-error explorations of an artist trying his hand at a new discipline, combined with what Uriarte describes as the “inevitable error intrinsic to the making process that is representative of my own incapability.”2 Uriarte’s drawings are both the by-products of his experiments and evidence of his observations. For example, 2


Ignacio Uriarte in conversation with the author, June 4, 2012

his Fold Spin Couples (2012), sculptural drawings made through five stages of turning and folding two sheets of white A4 paper at varying increments of ninety degrees, appear as though they have become art by accident [PL. 7]. Akin to the workplace protocols of his former employers, Uriarte’s systems and constraints are essential to the abstractions he creates. In one set of drawings, BIC Transitions (2010), Uriarte documents the simplified act of scribbling with disposable BIC ballpoint pens to create dramatic color fields on A4 paper [PL. 4]. The drawings originate with four standard colors – the black, blue, red, and green of office supply closets – that Uriarte mixes via a ratio of thirds to form a vibrant palette of intersecting orbs. The radical reduction of means needed to make the work and the transparency of the process itself are reiterated by the piece’s title, which readily describes what the work is. The visual effects are complex, but the language is plain: lines, colors, and clean surfaces. Uriarte’s intentionally formulaic styling and minimal detailing convey a formal elegance that is reminiscent of Sol LeWitt’s diagrammatic readymades. While LeWitt’s delegation of execution eliminated the expressiveness of the artist’s hand, Uriarte focuses on what the individual can accomplish on his own with what he has in front of him. Call it a “lapsed conceptualism.” Take, for instance, Diagonal Equation (2012), a two-part drawing of serialized geometric variations made by steadily marking blank paper with an empty pen cartridge [PL. 6]. The juxtaposition of triangular and circular forms, as well as the horizontal incised lines used to delineate them, slip in-and-out of focus. So engaged, the defunct writing instrument becomes the subject matter of the inkless monochromes. In another work, Blue Wrist Suite (2012), Uriarte reduces the path from idea to artwork by employing an intimate process that charts the artist’s natural wrist movement and fluctuations in pressure on the pen tip while he draws [PL. 5]. This is drawing as parsimonious and ephemeral, pointless and playful. It is organized doodling, which immediately invokes the intensely handmade and the intensely mechanical. In this, the work poses an important question: “How do you draw something without having


to draw something?” Historically, drawing has stood for discipline and verisimilitude. “Disegno,” the Italian word for drawing, was long the term used in academic debates to refer to the conceptual articulation of compositional structure. Drawing was the same as preparing. More recently, the onset of the spontaneous, the instinctual, and the unplanned have taken precedence. But for an artist like Uriarte, beauty lies in a kind of planned improvisation. In one recent work, Linealstrichstrukturverlauf (Ruler, Line, Structure, Gradation) (2012), the sequence of thirty-three abstractions subtly gradate from light to dark [PL. 1]. Forms awash in black magic marker transform from drawing to drawing, shifting in contour and emphasis. Although there is a sameness to the layered matrices of lines, the ruled gestures gradually reveal infinitesimal shifts in density, patterning, and tonality. It is the intervals between each image, as much as the individual works themselves, which create this effect. The drawings as such become representations of time, measuring it but also eating away at it. Abandoning the ruler as measure, Uriarte uses it to create this organized chaos. The work illustrates the ways in which randomness, when given a particular frame, often reveals emergent order. Drawing without thinking, and drawing as thinking, come to look a lot alike. Uriarte’s prototypical forms derive from industrial readymades and everyday detritus. In the 35mm slide projection XL (2009), ascending roman numerals (one through forty) are cleverly configured using pens plucked from the office supply cabinet, while the rhythmic ticking of the slide projector sounds like the ballistic punch of the time clock [PL. 8]. Similarly, in Strong Upper and Downer (2012), Uriarte uses a typewriter to depict a cross-hatching of red and black squiggles [PL. 3]. Upon closer inspection, one sees that the static of falling lines is composed of percentage signs typed in such a way that the red ones appear to move downwards and the black ones upwards, like stock-market curves. The drawing grants the now obsolete typewriter a place within the domain of digital technology; it is also enhanced by the accompanying sounds of one of the earliest typing machines on the audio track ASDFGHJKLÖ (2012), which includes a dolby-surround recording of the twelve central letters of a German typewriter chanted by Blixa Bargeld, famed front man for the indie rock band Einstürzende Neubauten [PL. 2].


The fact that much of the art of the last decade has been exceedingly nostalgic and obsessed with antiquated administrative supplies such as the typewriter is significant. Ignacio Uriarte’s work is certainly symptomatic of the state of cultural production in an age of instant image saturation, and of his desire to extricate himself from it. In many ways, Uriarte’s showcasing of the aesthetics of office supplies and daily travails is a direct response to the monotony of cubicle culture; the frustration, boredom, as well as joy encountered on the job are all part of the art. At the same time, it is hard not to see his practice in light of the new corporate Zeitgeist dedicated to a lively workplace equipped with recreations, such as pool and foosball rooms (Skype’s headquarters) or indoor slides (at YouTube). A handful of companies like these have embraced the proposition that work need not always be drudgery, even that “office ordinary” can indeed be satisfying. With corporate life playing a crucial role in articulating, if not dictating, culture to the rest of the world, Uriarte’s ideas and visual offerings perhaps stand as sublime annunciations of this evolution.




PL. 1

Linealstrichstrukturverlauf, 2012

PL. 2


PL. 3

Strong Upper and Downer, 2012

PL. 4

BIC Transitions, 2010

PL. 5

Blue Wrist Suite, 2012

PL. 6

Diagonal Equation, 2012

PL. 7

Fold Spin Couples, 2011

PL. 8

XL, 2009


PL . 6

Diagonal Equation, 2012 PL . 1

Inkless pen on paper

Linealstrichstrukturverlauf, 2012

Two drawings, each: 25 x 17 1/8 inches

Permanent marker on paper

[not included in exhibition]

Thirty-three drawings, each: 16 9/16 x 11 11/16 inches

PL . 7

Fold Spin Couples, 2011 PL . 2

A4 paper, tabletop


Twelve sheets of A4 paper, each:

Screen print and audio soundtrack

11 11/16 x 8 1/4 inches

51 3/16 x 37 7/16 inches

Tabletop: 94 1/2 x 20 1/4 x 28 inches

Audio duration: 32:28 min.

Installation view of Arbeitsrhythmus,

Installation view of Arbeitsrhythmus,

Figge von Rosen Galerie, Berlin

Figge von Rosen Galerie, Berlin

[not included in exhibition]

PL . 3

PL . 8

Strong Upper and Downer, 2012

XL, 2009

Typewriter ink on paper

Eighty black-and-white 35mm slides

Nine drawings, each:

Continuous loop

23 1/2 x 16 9/16 inches All works courtesy of the artist and PL . 4

Nogueras Blanchard, Barcelona.

BIC Transitions, 2010 BIC pen on paper Sixteen drawings, each: 11 13/16 x 16 9/16 inches PL . 5

Blue Wrist Suite, 2012 Ballpoint ink on paper Four drawings, each: 27 9/16 x 19 11/16 inches

All photographs by Simon Vogel.


Joanna Kleinberg Romanow is Assistant Curator at The Drawing Center.



Co-Chairs Frances Beatty Adler Eric Rudin Jane Dresner Sadaka

Ignacio Uriarte: Line of Work is made possible in part by Acci贸n Cultural Espa帽ola (AC/E). Additional support is provided by Nathalie and Charles De Gunzburg, Daniel Romanow, The Goldstone Family Foundation, John Romanow, an anonymous donor, and Martina Yamin.

Treasurer Stacey Goergen Secretary Dita Amory Brad Cloepfil Anita F. Contini Steven Holl Rhiannon Kubicka David Lang Merrill Mahan Iris Z. Marden Nancy Poses Pat Steir Barbara Toll Isabel Stainow Wilcox Candace Worth Emeritus Melva Bucksbaum Frances Dittmer Bruce W. Ferguson Michael Lynne George Negroponte Elizabeth Rohatyn Jeanne C. Thayer Executive Director Brett Littman

Special thanks to the Goethe-Institut, New York.


This is number 103 of the Drawing Papers, a series of publications documenting The Drawing Center’s exhibitions and public programs and providing a forum for the study of drawing. Jonathan T.D. Neil Executive Editor Joanna Ahlberg Managing Editor Designed by Peter J. Ahlberg / AHL&CO This book is set in Adobe Garamond Pro and Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk. It was printed by BookMobile in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

L I B R A R Y O F C O N G R E S S C O N T R O L N U M B E R : 2 013 9 3 0191 I S B N 9 7 8 - 0 - 9 4 2 3 24 -7 2 3 Š 2 013 T H E D R AW I N G C E N T E R


Drawing Papers 102 Alexandre Singh: The Pledge Drawing Papers 101 José Antonio Suárez Londoño: The Yearbooks Drawing Papers 100 Guillermo Kuitca: Diarios Drawing Papers 99 Sean Scully: Change and Horizontals Drawing Papers 98 Drawing and its Double: Selections from the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica Drawing Papers 97 Dr. Lakra Drawing Papers 96 Drawn from Photography Drawing Papers 95 Day Job Drawing Papers 94 Paul Rudolph: Lower Manhattan Expressway Drawing Papers 93 Claudia Wieser: Poems of the Right Angle Drawing Papers 92 Gerhard Richter: “Lines which do not exist” Drawing Papers 91 Dorothea Tanning: Early Designs for the Stage Drawing Papers 90 Leon Golub: Live & Die Like a Lion? Drawing Papers 89 Selections Spring 2010: Sea Marks Drawing Papers 88 Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary Drawing Papers 87 Ree Morton: At the Still Point of the Turning World Drawing Papers 86 Unica Zurn: Dark Spring Drawing Papers 85 Sun Xun: Shock of Time Drawing Papers 84 Selections Spring 2009: Apparently Invisible Drawing Papers 83 M/M: Just Like an Ant Walking on the Edge of the Visible Drawing Papers 82 Matt Mullican: A Drawing Translates the Way of Thinking Drawing Papers 81 Greta Magnusson Grossman: Furniture and Lighting Drawing Papers 80 Kathleen Henderson: What if I Could Draw a Bird that Could Change the World? Drawing Papers 79 Rirkrit Tiravanija: Demonstration Drawings

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Profile for The Drawing Center

Ignacio Uriarte: Line of Work  

The Drawing Center's Drawing Papers Volume 103 featuring an essay by curator Joanna Kleinberg Romanow.

Ignacio Uriarte: Line of Work  

The Drawing Center's Drawing Papers Volume 103 featuring an essay by curator Joanna Kleinberg Romanow.