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Selections Spring 2010 Sea Marks



Selections Spring 2010 Sea Marks

January 15 – April 5, 2010


Curated by Nina Katchadourian


Introduction by Nina Katchadourian Essay by D. Graham Burnett

Sea Marks Nina Katchadourian

Artists have long contended with how—and from what vantage point—to represent the sea. Leonardo’s deluge drawings, Turner’s watercolors, and Vija Celmins’s drawings and paintings are but three examples of many investigations into the representation of water. Sea Marks examines the capacity of drawing to represent something as dynamic, volatile, and vast as the ocean. Agnes Barley, Jerome Marshak, and Peter Matthews use distinctly different interpretive strategies that yield a range of unexpected results; in fact, one may not immediately recognize the sea in any of their works. Each artist also chooses a distinctly different proximity to the sea. Peter Matthews literally immerses himself in it, drawing on a piece of paper held with nails and wire to a floating wooden board. His Pacific Ocean drawing series, comprising seven drawings in all, were done on Ventanilla beach in southern Oaxaca, Mexico, with each drawing taking from two to eleven hours to complete. With a pocketful of water-resistant pens, Matthews stands looking out at the open ocean, knee to waist-deep in the water, remaining on the same spot as much as physically possible. His immersion, mentally and physically, produces a kind of loop: he records the ocean just as the ocean also records itself on him. As he wrote on the back of his wooden board while resting after a drawing session, he is “experiencing the observable and observing the experiential.”

There are physical limits posed by the heat, the strength of the current, or the length of the day. About Eleven Hours in the Pacific Ocean, Matthews says “I drew until I could not see the piece of paper anymore. Then I slept on the beach…with the first tints of light of the next day, I was in the ocean again.” Matthews’s method for describing the sea treads the boundary between the objective and the subjective, and the slippage between them means that often what is happening to him is also happening to the drawing. A notation in Eleven Hours in the Pacific Ocean reads “unintentionally totally submerged.” Jerome Marshak’s vantage point is at the edge of the sea. Since 1981, he has lived on Lopez Island, one of the San Juan Islands off the Washington coast. He works in a studio on the headlands, about twenty feet from the water and adjacent to a rocky beach. Using custom-made Plexiglas templates inspired by the “iconic landscape lines” in his view, he traces around the highly polished Plexi edge with a very sharp, fast pencil line. Small dots, in a palette related to the tones and light phenomena of the particular day, are added next. Although the drawings initially seem very still, the rhythmical application of the dots produces a shimmering and blinking reminiscent of light as it hits the water on a bright day. Marshak’s tools recall navigational instruments, and although coincidental, his drawings bear an uncanny resemblance to the stick charts of the Marshall Islands, navigational aids that represent the patterns of ocean swells. Given their notational quality, one could take Marshak’s drawings to be scores. With nothing in front of it except the sea and landforms of the Olympic Mountains thirty miles in the distance, the studio is like “a space capsule looking at the edge of Planet Earth,” he says, and the drawings embody a vastness and scale that could even suggest studies of astronomy. Although the drawings are not directly observational, everything present in them is influenced by the marine landscape around him: currents, wind, waves, turbulence, calm, light, sky, and reflection. Of the three artists, Agnes Barley is the most physically distant from the sea. Her abstractions, arranged with great precision from painted and cut paper, take up the waveform as a personal and philosophical investigation of ephemerality and sense of place. A wave is “a form

of architecture that only temporarily exists,” says Barley. Her wave collages were the first works she produced after a three-year creative pause that followed the death of her partner, and she describes them as “imagined landscapes that diagram a conceptual exploration of the human condition.” Barley begins with one “source” wave from which she generates a great number of variations. “I work one wave until I feel I have explored most of the wave’s internal structure, each swell, nook, curve, crash, or aspects of the ‘place/context’ it offers.” Her thorough and exacting process of distillation and reduction transforms the wave from “a monolithic presence to an ebbing system,” sometimes leaving only two spare, hovering shapes as the placeholders of the original wave. The feeling of continuity between one collage and the next is sometimes illusory: we may find that a reiterated shape is in fact more like a cousin of the similar shape in the collage before it, not an identical twin. As we encounter each variation, noticing each of the component parts and their subtle shifts of color and position, it is as if the source wave slowly starts to take form in our minds. Matthews, Marshak, and Barley’s works exemplify how drawing’s long tenure as an expository tool can be credited to its capacity not only to describe but also to enact; to represent, but also register; to employ precision, but arrive at the ineffable. We see how drawing, when fully inhabited, allows access to both the acute vitality of the lived moment as well as the generative power of loss.

Drawn from the Sea D. Graham Burnett

Alcyonaria is a good-sized subclass of marine invertebrates comprised of some 3,000 individual species most of which would be loosely called “soft corals”—fan-like gorgonians, whip-tailed sea pens, and a mess of sponge-like things that are not sponges at all. The category as a whole is distinguished by the eight-fold symmetry of the individual mini-organisms (“polyps”) out of which the larger colonial structures are composed (not to be confused with the six-fold polyp symmetry of the cousin subclass Hexacoralia). If you were to get interested in these matters, you would very likely find your way to Volume XXXI of one of the truly stupefying scholarly publishing projects of the nineteenth century, Sir C. Wyville Thomson and John Murray’s Reports of the Scientific Results of the Voyage of the HMS Challenger during the Years 1873–1876, since that book contains nearly four hundred pages on the anatomy, distribution, and taxonomy of the Alcyonaria, including more than fifty elegant illustrations.1 For historians of science, this voyage and its truckload of publications are usually taken to mark the origins of modern oceanography. 1�


The Alcyonaria monograph, authored by E. Percival Wright, is Zoology Part LXIV of the Challenger Reports and is bound in Volume XXXI of the series, dated 1889.

For those of a poetic disposition, however, Volume XXXI in particular possesses talismanic power, since it offers something considerably grander than another feeble set of diligent paper representations of the ocean-world. Rather, this slightly yellowed, notably crinkled, large-format tome stands as a magnificently fragile and oblique monument to the perilous business of making pictures of the sea. How? One need only consult the small notice bound into the volume, which reads like a message in a bottle drafted by a Borgesian castaway: The publication of the reports, by no means all of which, as your Lordships will recollect, were prepared in Great Britain or Ireland, has gone on without any mishap until a few months ago, when, unfortunately, a steamer carrying from Leith to London 306 copies of a volume then lately issued, was run into and sunk off the Lincolnshire coast. Among the damaged cargo afterwards recovered from the wreck and sold by auction…were 13 cases containing about 190 of the lost ‘Challenger’ volumes, in a more or less spongy state. These have since been taken out of the covers and dried, and it seems probable that from them…about 100 copies may be made up, stained, but for all practical purposes perfect.

The whimsy of the affair was not lost on the Victorian functionary known as the “Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationary Office,” who was responsible for the work, and took it upon himself to add a closing note to his Parliamentary report on the progress of the publishing endeavor as a whole: It is not impossible that in the eyes of future owners the imperfections of the recovered volumes may be compensated for by the knowledge that the books, like the “Alcyonaria” and “Polyzoa,” which are beautifully figured in them, have been drawn from the bottom of the sea.2

There is in that self-satisfied pun—in fact, in the whole tale and the book-relics it gave to posterity—a palpable air of conquest, as if the sea, ever the devourer of the works of humanity, has in this one precious instance been doubly foiled: in the very act of trying to consume knowledge of herself, her actual substance has fallen into our 2�


Both this quote and the one above can be found in the volume cited supra n. 1.

hands; what was to be a drowning has become, in effect, a baptism, sealing this set of images in their element, and giving us the ocean “on paper” in the most literal way. Volume XXXI, by these lights, is less sea-semiosis than sea-sacrament, less oceanic mimesis than oceanic methexis, and the recovery of the hard-won learning inscribed on those spongy pages amounts to a veritable redemption, even a resurrection. Those inky smudges and faint, washy smears spell out a secret legend: knowledge triumphs over the abyss! Seldom has the etymological link between “salvage” and “salvation” seemed so close to the surface. Holding the old book, one is tempted to lick the page and taste the salt: drawn from the sea, indeed. ••• The stained leaves that document Peter Matthews’ meditative exercises in submersion convey a similar sense of communion with that vast negation that the poet Wallace Stevens called “the obese machine / Of ocean.”3 Much of the power of Matthews’ images derives from a tension between their poignant gestures at formal, even mathematical, rigor (the numbers, the notational conventions borrowed from meteorology and hydrography) and their simultaneous general air of shattered unraveling. What we have here in a most palpable form is the age-old aspiration to sea-knowledge—the idea that there must be a mathesis of the abyss—visibly foundering in the experience of ex-stasis, the experience of being moved outside of oneself. In different ways the work of the other two artists in this show, Jerome Marshak and Agnes Barley, similarly engages the promise of geometrically studious graphic mastery of the “obese machine.” The mathesis is in each case private, but no less manifest for that. And if there is a sense of contingency in each image, there remains an aspiration in the direction of the absolute. For what is the sea, if not, as Stevens puts it elsewhere, “the veritable ding an sich”?4

3� 4�


See Canto IV of “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.” The line appears late in Canto I in his great mini-epic of oceanic undoing, “The Comedian as the Letter C.”

Knowledge that transcends us—objectivity, angelology, the “view from nowhere”—has always rocked unsteadily between mathematics and madness, and Matthews’ sheets of paper in particular seem to me a powerful sort of flotsam from the wreck of that whole project: they look for all the world like the scrawlings of a Pip who jumped the ship of transcendence: one feels the wheeling workings of the great loom, but it is unclear whose foot, if any, is on the treadle.5 But this reading is perhaps excessively metaphysical and apocalyptic. After all, the brilliant French cultural historian Alain Corbin, in his invaluable essay on the sea (Le territoire du vide), has argued that the tactile experience of sea-bathing—a novelty in the early nineteenth century in Europe—gave rise to a new encounter with the body, and thereby nothing less than a new species of subjectivity: the “coenaesthetic” awareness cultivated by those who plunged in the waves marks, for Corbin, the discovery of the modern self, which coupled bourgeois composure with a therapeutically heightened attention to sensation.6 On this account, it was in releasing the body to the raptures of the engulfing surf that the modern subject was born. We are left, then, with a paradox: those who are pulled from the deep have either been blown away, or they have, to coin a phrase, “found themselves.” In the end, the difference has always been a little murky. ••• There is, thank heaven, a proper science of murk, born of those who stared into the depths, and it fittingly literalizes—and spiritualizes—the dialectics of ocean-loss and ocean-recovery that have been my subject. At two o’clock in the afternoon on the 20th of April 1865, the well-armed corvette L’Immacolata Concezione, the flagship of the Papal Navy, set sail from the Italian town of Civitavecchia, bear5�



Of Pip’s unhinging experience of drifting in the Pacific, Melville wrote: “He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad.” Moby-Dick, chapter XCII, “The Castaway.” Le territoire du vide is available in English as The Lure of the Sea: Discovery of the Seaside in the Western World, 1750–1840 (New York: Penguin, 1995). I am here rehearsing the argument of Chapter 3.

ing a delegation of clerical dignitaries and learned Jesuits intent on conducting scientific investigations into the currents and physical characteristics of the Mediterranean. The somewhat bombastic captain, Commendatore Alessandro Cialdi, was particularly interested in studying the physics of wave motion, but his eventual monograph on this topic is remembered exclusively because it includes a brief memorandum by one Father Pietro Angelo Secchi, then director of the Observatory of the Collegio Romano and in effect the Pope’s personal astronomer. Secchi’s memo details a set of experiments he performed on the voyage, experiments aimed at quantifying the transparency of the sea. For hours on end the patient padre and his boatmen lowered an array of painted disks (primed canvas stretched on hoops) down into the depths by means of system of graduated lines dangled into the darkness. Secchi watched intently as the shimmering white form gradually dissolved from view. Then it was drawn a bit back up, until he could spot again the faintest ghost—then released down again until it was lost. Then up again, then down—all this careful winching and unspooling to zero-in on the exact point of disappearance, the precise threshold of the abyss. Up and down, up and down—until the smallest turns on the crank enabled one to enact and reenact the whole drama of loss and recovery. In this manner, with patient metrical exertions, the point of erasure was finally specified: a white disk of 3.73 meters diameter was found to hover at the extremist verge of the visible at 42.5 meters depth, with a full sun at elevation 60° 17 . Polarizing filters appeared to have no effect on this benchmark, and the spectroscopic profile of the light reflected from the descending target confirmed the progressive absorption of the shorter wavelengths. Secchi noted that it seemed to make no difference whether one worked in the shadow of the vessel or on the bright side, but he recorded that it helped to keep the eye “as near to the water as possible.”7 There is something simultaneously majestic and, somehow, tragic 7�


For an English translation of Secchi’s report, see “On the Transparency of the Sea,” Limnology and Oceanography 13, no. 2 (April 1968): 391–394.

about this image: the cassocked papal stargazer leaning out in the shadow of the S.S. Immaculate Conception (a vexatious doctrine declared ex cathedra just a few years before), his eye a veritable fraction of an inch above the chopless sea, as he labored to put an exact measure on the depth of loss and the failure of light. He was, of course, conceiving and re-conceiving a perfectly immaculate sea, even as he repeatedly eclipsed the divine radiation from above. Seldom has the etymological link between “salvage” and “salvation” seemed so deeply submerged. But the water is pretty clear. ••• The Secchi disk remains the fundamental low-tech tool of hydrological and oceanographic research. I myself have dangled one over the edge of a small boat in a tropical gulf, and watched as the little circle of radiance slipped into the green nothing. Then back up, just a bit, then down. Interestingly, the measurement today functions as an index of the “trophic status” of a body of water. In other words, the point of erasure is a proxy for the vitality of the sea itself. In this, we might say that the lowering of a Secchi disk amounts to a ritual by which the modern priesthood of scientific believers converts the measure of loss into a measure of life; a shimmer from the deep announces that knowledge can be made to triumph over the abyss. Drawn from the sea? Indeed.


Agnes Barley

b. 1970, Jacksonville, Florida Lives and works in New York City



Seventeen individual drawings, each: Untitled Collage, 2009 Acrylic on cut paper 15 x 16 inches [PGS. 21–33] All works photographed by Cary Whittier


Jerome Marshak

b. 1942, St. Louis, Missouri Lives and works in Lopez Island, Washington



Untitled, 2009

Untitled, 2009

Ink and graphite

Ink and graphite

23 1/4 x 19 inches

19 x 13 inches

[PG. 36 and cover (detail)] Untitled, 2009 Untitled, 2009

Ink and graphite

Ink and graphite

19 x 13 inches

26 x 19 inches [PG. 37]

Untitled, 2009 Ink and graphite

Untitled, 2009

19 x 13 inches

Ink and graphite 26 x 19 inches

Untitled, 2009

[PG. 38]

Ink and graphite 19 x 13 inches

Untitled, 2009 Ink and graphite

All works photographed by Derek Johnson

26 x 19 inches

except cover by Cathy Carver.

[PG. 39] A l so P ict u red

Untitled, 2009 Ink and graphite

The artist’s tools

26 x 19 inches

[PG. 43]

[PG. 41] The artist’s studio, Lopez Island, Washington Untitled, 2009

Photographed by Jim Lockwood

Ink and graphite

[PGS. 44–47]

20 x 26 inches Untitled, 2009 Ink and graphite 19 x 26 inches






Peter Matthews

b. 1978, Derby, England Lives and works in Nottingham, England



2 Hours in the Pacific Ocean, 2007 Ink, water from Pacific Ocean, and rust on paper 13 x 40 1/2 inches [PGS. 50–53] 7 Hours in the Pacific Ocean, 2007 Ink, water from Pacific Ocean, and rust on paper 13 x 40 1/2 inches [PGS. 6, 54–61] 11 Hours in the Pacific Ocean, 2007 Ink, water from Pacific Ocean, and rust on paper 13 x 40 1/2 inches [PGS. 10, 64–65] A l so P ict u red

Ventanilla beach, Oaxaca, Mexico [PGS. 62–63]





Agnes Barley wishes to thank Arthur Miller, Laurie McLendon, Cary Whittier, Jane Mayle, Reatha Ziegler, Libeth & Big Mac, and all Barleys big and small. Jerome Marshak wishes to thank Sally and Tom Reeve for their generosity. Peter Matthews wishes to thank the British Council for their assistance with shipping and the Universidad del Mar, Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico, where he taught from 2005–2008. He would also like to thank his students for their hard work and vision in protecting and preserving the ocean habitats.


Nina Katchadourian is an artist and the Viewing Program curator at The Drawing Center. D. Graham Burnett is an editor at Cabinet magazine, based in Brooklyn, and a professor at Princeton University, where he is a member of the Program in History of Science. He studies the relationship between power and knowledge, and writes on human beings’ changing understanding of the natural world. Burnett was a Marshall Scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he completed a Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science, and he is the author of four books, including Descartes and the Hyperbolic Quest (2005) and Trying Leviathan (2007), which won the New York City Book Award in 2008.




The Drawing Center’s 2009–2010 exhibitions and

Frances Beatty Adler

public programs are made possible, in part, with

Eric Rudin

the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual

Dita Amory

Arts, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Lily

Melva Bucksbaum*

Auchincloss Foundation, and with public funds

Suzanne Cochran

from the New York State Council on the Arts, a

Anita F. Contini

State agency.

Bruce W. Ferguson Stacey Goergen Steven Holl Michael Lynne*

Selections exhibitions are curated through the

Iris Z. Marden

Viewing Program, which is supported, in part, by

George Negroponte

public funds from the New York City Department

Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro

of Cultural Affairs. Additional assistance for

Elizabeth Rohatyn*

this exhibition has been provided by the British

Jane Dresner Sadaka

Council and Foundation for Contemporary Arts.

Allen Lee Sessoms Ken Silver Pat Steir Jeanne C. Thayer*

Additional funding is provided by members of the

Barbara Toll

Drawing Room, a patron circle founded to support

Isabel Stainow Wilcox

innovative exhibitions presented in The Drawing

Candace Worth

Center’s project gallery: Devon Dikeou and Fernando Troya, Amanda Innes, Judith Levinson

Executive Director

Oppenheimer, Elizabeth R. Miller and James

Brett Littman

G. Dinan, The Speyer Family Foundation, Inc., Louisa Stude Sarofim, Deborah F. Stiles, and Ann


Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee.


This is number 89 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 Berman 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 0 0 9 9 4 2 76 0 I S B N 9 7 8 - 0 - 9 4 2 3 24 - 5 8 -7 Š 2 010 T he D rawing C enter


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

T O O R D E R , A N D F O R A C O M P L E T E C ATA L O G O F PA S T E D I T I O N S , V I S I T D R AW I N G C E N T E R . O R G


3 5 W O O S T E R S T R E E T | N E W YO R K , N Y 10 013 T 212 219 216 6 | F 212 9 6 6 2 9 76 | D R AW I N G C E N T E R . O R G

Introduction by Nina Katchadourian Essay by D. Graham Burnett

D R AW I N G PA P E R S 8 9

$10.00 US

I S B N 9 78 0 9 42 3 24 5 8 7 510 0 0




Profile for The Drawing Center

Selections Spring 2010: Sea Marks  

The Drawing Center's Drawing Papers Volume 89 featuring work by Viewing Program artists Agnes Barley, Jerome Marshak, and Peter Matthews wit...

Selections Spring 2010: Sea Marks  

The Drawing Center's Drawing Papers Volume 89 featuring work by Viewing Program artists Agnes Barley, Jerome Marshak, and Peter Matthews wit...