Movement draws itself, in Emily Kngwarreye’s (c.1910-1996) last work, as a series of painted lines, lines painted not with the mobile wrist, but through the dance of a shoulder, leaning down toward a canvas lying on the ground. There aren’t many videos widely available of Emily Kngwarreye painting, but in the few scenes that capture her at work, this gesture stands out: Kngwarreye sitting on the ground, her shoulder directing the shape of the painted movement, the gesture of the line as wide as the stretch of her arm, her whole body leaning.
I turn to Emily Kngwarreye, perhaps the best known Australian Aboriginal artist,(1) to address the question of how drawing composes with movement. I begin here because I want to begin somewhere else than drawing-as-such, somewhere else that contains drawing but is not limited to it. I also begin here to foreground what movement does to the line, how movement is felt here as more-than displacement. Movement is not simply where drawing goes. It is how drawing expresses the thickness of experience. Movement is the qualitative field drawing activates. This makes drawing less a disciplinary practice than a way of conceiving of what movement and line can do. With Kngwarreye, I turn to this elsewhere of drawing to explore what else drawing can do, and what else drawing can be, when it moves into the lean.
Emily Kngwarreye draws movement drawing, painting movement in its exuberance, her reach never quite long enough for the line that seems to pull her into the world. Her movement invents the line as it follows it, catching up with its elseness, with the more-than that is never shy of leaving the page, of leaving the canvas. Nowhere is there a sense of restraint despite the keen precision of colour and composition. Kngwarreye’s work moves us, I want to argue, precisely because it cannot contain the movement that moves it.
Kgnwarreye is well known for her ubiquitous description of her work when asked what her paintings represent. “Whole lot,” she says, “that’s all, whole lot.”(2) Whole lot is the field of experience, the movement of the world, the more-than of representation. As Margo Neale writes: “Kngwarreye was arguably Australia’s greatest painter of the ‘landscape.’ No artist has painted the country the way she has, inflecting it with her personal vision and innovative style.” Speaking of the Dreaming,(3) the spiritual and cultural force of law, Neale continues: “hers is not a view of the law, but rather an experience of it” (1998: 31).
Kngwarreye’s whole lot is a measure of what drawing can do when understood as the tremulous body-line – the line that exceeds posture even as it moves with it – that escapes the frame even while the frame holds it to its limit. The whole lot is the line that bleeds the paper, that makes felt where the more-than of movement-moving connects to what makes representation tremble.
Paul Valéry is concerned with this quality of the more-than that drawing moves. With the drawings of Edgar Degas in mind, he wonders about the relationship between eye and hand, between figure and drawing. Despite his attention to the figural art of Degas, Valéry senses that what is drawn is never a simple representation of the world. To draw, he argues, cannot be to simply to transfer what the eye sees. To draw is to move into a state “that takes us out of or far from ourselves,” toward an instability “that nonetheless sustains us.” Seeing with the hand and not the eyes themselves, seeing in the relation activated by the act of drawing moves us not only beyond the world as given, but “gives us an idea of another existence” (1965: 33). This, he argues, fundamentally alters us: it moves us beyond the “limit-value of our faculties” (1965: 33).
Drawing as making-felt the lively interval that brings body and world together. Drawing as the force of movement-moving that makes apparent how senses are amodal, active in the between of movement and expression. Drawing as the force that makes palpable that there is no contour to reproduce, either of the body or of the world. Drawing as the force of the whole lot electrified by the line, a line that diagrams more than it traces.
What drawing diagrams when it activates the whole lot is not a representation of the world. The diagram, understood in the way Francis Bacon defines it, is about activating the field of forces. The whole lot cannot be traced, but it can be diagrammed. Its diagrammatic force can be activated.
Drawing-as-diagramming is always an act which composes with the whole lot. Drawing not as the every-act-of-inscription, drawing not as the disciplinary category, but drawing as embodiment of the becoming-body of another kind of seeing, another kind of feeling. Drawing as a way of articulating how movement draws experience. Drawing as a force of form that recalibrates the force of experience in the making.
Valéry continues. “There is an immense difference between seeing something without a pencil in hand, and seeing it while drawing it” (1965: 77). The pencil in hand is not simply the tool. It can be a pencil, or it can be a paintbrush, or it can be a sewing needle, or even a mouse. What matters is that it activates a shift in posture toward the world that opens what is seen to the nuances of the more-than. Speaking of the concept of semblance, the quality of the unseen within seeing, Brian Massumi emphasizes that all acts of seeing are accompanied by what cannot be contained by the notion of representation. All sensuous form is accompanied by what Walter Benjamin calls nonsensuous similarity – the force of form (2010: 130-131).
Within what is actually perceived lurks a field of experience that is tremulously active, if only virtually there. This is what the artist sees-feels-draws, what Kgnwarreye paints, what draws her into the movement of the Dreaming. Kngwarreye sees beyond form, beyond object, and lets her body be drawn there. Drawing that moves drawing accepts that without the gesture that unmoors, “we never really saw it. The eye had until then only served as intermediary” (Valéry 1965: 77).
The semblance that is activated in the act opens the drawing to its diagrammatic potential. It is in activating the semblance that drawing becomes force-of-form. A drawing that only represents is not a movement drawing. It is a reproduction not simply of what the eye saw, but of what “we imagined we expected to see” (Valery 1965: 21). No surprises here. This is not what the diagram does. “The suprasensible diagram is not to be confused with the audio-visual archive” (Deleuze in Massumi 2010: 132). The diagram is what makes the line tremble and the body shift from its axis beyond the limit-value of its faculties.
Drawing happens not by the intermediary of preexisting faculties. It activates faculties – vision, touch, hapticity – in the interval of their coming-to-be-themselves. It transforms the very question of what it means to see-feel the world.
When Degas writes that “the drawing is not the form, it is the manner of seeing form,” seeing would seem to be stable (1965: 205). But this would be too simple a reading. Degas’s concern, as Valéry makes clear, was to push drawing away from category. As Valéry explains: “[Degas] opposed what he called the ‘putting into place,’ that is to say, the conformal representation of objects, to what he called ‘drawing’ (206). The act of putting into place diminishes the capacity to see-feel the relational field: it privileges form as given. The “manner of seeing” Degas associates with drawing would have to go beyond form toward the more-than. Valéry reads Degas’s statement this way, suggesting that the manner of seeing must always be allied to the qualitative field – “manner of being” (1965: 207). Drawing is not only how else the world can be seen, but how else being in the world can be experienced. Massumi calls this a shift from form to form-of-life. He writes, “the ‘drawing is not the form,’ if by that is meant a visibly sensuous form. The form-of-life departs from the drawing in that sense of form” (Valéry 1965: 207 in Massumi 2010: 131).
Form-of-life does not mean life-as-form. It means life-living as invented in the relational field activated by drawing movement drawing. It means “whole lot.” It means movement-moving at the rhythm of landscapes dreaming.
Drawing movement drawing is what drawing does when it takes us beyond “ourselves” toward the activation of what Brian Massumi calls “diagrammatic techniques of existence.”(4) It is what drawing does when it activates the relational field that reorients the perceived stability between eye, hand and world. It is what drawing does when it makes felt the semblance agitating at the limits of the sensuous. It is what drawing does when it destabilizes disciplinary divisions, moving drawing into the lean. This, it seems to me, is what we feel when we see Kngwarreye’s bold Utopia Panels, the 18 panels that trace an uneasy line, the line that leans her from canvas to world, the line that cuts into continuity, foregrounding not pure flow but relation: “by continuity we mean the set of relations between changes” (Deleuze 1995: 183). Looking at Kngwarreye’s work, seeing the line drawn across the canvas as it extends into the world, we feel the whole lot stretching into appearance. This stretching into appearance is not a representation of the Dreaming. It is a movement that draws movement, moving her. It is a movement that catches experience in the making, activating the relation between line, eye, hand and world, a relation invented anew in each iteration of the lean.
This is the paradox: movement drawing movement is not the act of sectioning experience. It is not the parsing of the world into form. It is the making-felt of form’s outdoing, the making-felt of form’s semblance, and with it, the activation of forms-of-life invented in the relational interplay of body-world.
©Erin Manning. April 2015.
1. I’ve addressed Emily Kngwarreye’s work more thoroughly elsewhere – see Erin Manning “Relationscapes: How Contemporary Aboriginal Art Moves Beyond the Map” in Relationscapes: Art, Movement, Philosophy (MIT Press, 2009) pp. 153-183.
2. “Whole lot, that’s all, whole lot, Awelye, Arlatyere, Ankerrthe, Ntange, Dingo, Ankerre, Intekwe, Anthwerle and Kame. That’s what I paint, whole lot” http://www.aboriginalartstore.com.au/artists/emily-kame-kngwarreye/”
3. Dreaming is another word for Jukurrpa. Dreamings are stories passed down through more than 40 000 continuous years of Australian Aboriginal history. Sustaining a lived relationship to land, dreaming is also an enactment of law, and is often translated as such.
LIST OF WORKS CITED
Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia UP, 1995.
Manning, Erin. Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009.
Massumi, Brian. Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010.
Neale, Margo, ed. Emily Kame Kngwarreye – Alkahere: Paintings from Utopia. Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery, 1998.
Valéry, Paul. Degas, Danse, Dessin. Paris: Gallimard, 1965.