Live Drawing. Visual Performance Models in the Real and the Virtual Space

Sînziana ȘERBĂNESCU
University of Bucharest
sanzianaserbanescu@yahoo.com

 

 Abstract:

The domain of performance studies, closely related to cultural studies and communication theory, brings important fuel whenever we analyse the world of spectacle around us. Having its roots in theatre, the term performance names today various actions that are taking place in the real space, but also in the virtual space or, as we call it in common language, offline and online. This paper aims at analysing three different, exclusively contemporary types of performances represented by live drawing by comparison with and in respect of the theories in the field of performance studies. The specific questions posed by this research are: which is the message of these particular drawing performances? How much reflective and how much reflexive are live drawing performances? Which is the relation with the audience during the various live drawing sessions and, furthermore, does the audience become a voice when the performance takes place online whereas undertaking the traditional role of the silent audience in the everyday? The intimacy of drawing with an audience watching, this stripping and revealing the act of creation seems to be characteristics of live drawing today, at least in some form of performances.

Key-words: performance, live drawing, illustration, message, actors, script, roles, scene

 

Introduction 

“The performance itself would turn into the main text in Beckett’s playwriting. This is the theory. The practice, however, that is the actual adaptation of the interpretation to the written text does not always come easy.” (Cazacu, 2001: 84) This statement was made with respect to Samuel Beckett texts and is based on a well known truth: there is no written final copy of the works, since the writer modified his oeuvres during staging. He created, he modified the text as he worked with actors on stage. The text was configuring itself spontaneously, following the settled scenario in big lines, which resembled to having only a script. Likewise, the act of live drawing has a certain amount of spontaneity, still in a preconceived frame that gives the viewer a feeling of uniqueness and of assisting to giving birth from the part of the creator.

This paper aims at analysing three different, exclusively contemporary types of performances represented by live drawing by comparison with and in respect of the theories in the field of performance studies. The three case studies are:

  Layer tennis: drawing competition between Noper and Mig Reyes, held online, on the website http://www.layertennis.com/match/reyes-vs-noper/#intro, 2010;

  Live drawing with Pisica Patrata, Matei Branea and Noper, Galateca, BCU, 10.12.2011;

– Kim Jung Gi Workshop at the Art Institute of California Inland Empire, 02.08.2014, seen on website https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUFGe-4k6dU, Inland Arts YouTube channel.

We operate a distinction between performance art, with its definite characteristics and performance in a wide sense. Performance art became popular as a form of art at the beginning of the 1970’s, in close connection to the development of conceptual art (Goldberg, 2011: 7) and is different from the wider concept of performance as theatre or other forms of public expression that are sometimes analysed in anthropology and that are relatively as old as that human species. Both the first concept and the latter may be looked at and analysed by employing the working tools available in the field of performance.

When analysing the Indian performances, Milton Singer speaks of “cultural performances” as being composed of “cultural media” including more that oral expression, namely non linguistic media such as “song, dance, acting out, and graphic and plastic arts – combined in many ways to express and communicate the content of Indian culture” (Singer, apud Turner, 1988: 23). Turner explains that this is not the same message delivered in different forms through different media, but much more. They actually represent several messages that are thus delivered while each media leaves its own mark with its own message (Turner, 1988: 23, 24). Turner speaks of “performative reflexivity”, a concept derived from Barbara Babcock’s idea that most cultural forms “are not so much reflective as reflexive” (Turner, 1988: 24). Therefore, a performance is not only a mirror reflection but also a reflexive action that delivers a message on itself.

Thus, starting from the general theoretical frame of performance, the specific questions posed by this research are: Which is the message of drawing performances? How much reflective and how much reflexive are live drawing performances? Which is the relation with the audience during the various live drawing sessions and, furthermore, does the audience become a voice when the performance takes place online whereas undertaking the traditional role of the silent audience in the everyday? Is the audience not always active in offline performances? The spectators are often recording the performance to post it online later.

At present, the practice of performance is common and we tend to imagine that it is employed more frequently than previously. As there is no study available to look into this growth in volume, we may put forward the idea that this is a false perception given by the more intense communication and online social community present around performances. These phenomena have the role to amplify the echo of a performance and to make it present in the audience conscience. This audience is not necessarily a classic audience, like the one in the theatre, it is the audience present on social media. This happens in the online hosting entire performances but also nearly always reflecting offline performances by transmitting and commenting them. We will always learn online of an event scheduled down-town. It will have a dedicated page on Facebook, with updates, where those interested may exchange ideas and information, texts and images, audio and video recordings. Thus, the space where the performance takes place is determined in its analysis. Taking it to the extreme, we may regard any action as performance (Schechner, 2009: 25). It is no longer limited to the space of the stage or other set areas and the online space is also open for action at present. We may wonder whether dreams or thoughts are also a special type of personal, intimate performance.

Apart from the space, this analysis will also look into the concept of script as described by Richard Schechner. The scripts he is discussing are not modes of thinking, but patterns of doing (Schechner, 2009: 27). Since the drawing demonstrations are not accompanied by text, the process however follows a certain script. We may best see it in Kim Jung Gi’s practice, as his actions during a live drawing session have the repetitive force of a ritual. Schechner also gives a clearer definition of the script; in relation to drama, theatre and performance, the script is:

all that can be transmitted from time to time and place to place; the basic code of the events. The script is transmitted from person to person, the transmitter is not a mere messenger. The transmitter of the script must know the script and be able to teach it to others. This teaching may be conscious or through empathetic, emphatic means (Schechner, 2009: 72).

The actors in a performance are another element to be analysed in the discussion about the author, the performer and the audience. A performance will always incorporate the three. As explained by Schechner, a play may come to an end but the performance lives on through later communication such as discussions, debates and others (Schechner, 2009: 42).

 

First performance: Layer Tennis, an online live drawing demonstration 

Layer Tennis is an online performance consisting of a series of online live design events. The name of the performance unexpectedly brings together two terms of different semantic fields. “Layer” is an English word that means “stratum”, “coating” and, in computer software overlapping objects (image, text, vectorial elements, gradients and others, it indicates the transparent fields on which the elements of graphic design works are set on. “Tennis” comes from the popular sport. So this is a game of “tennis in layers”.

 5
Layer 1 (Mig Reyes) – Image created during

the Layer Tennis competition, 2010 (photo credit

http://www.layertennis.com/match/reyes-vs-noper/#intro)

 

 6
Layer 2 (Noper) – Image created during

the Layer Tennis competition, 2010 (photo credit

http://www.layertennis.com/match/reyes-vs-noper/#intro)

 

The matches are played online, with the support of several tools: video editing, animation, sound, photography, illustration, graphic design and many more, depending on the creativity and means available to the players. Two players pass folders from one to the other in real time, adding to and enhancing each other’s work. The two are at their homes, sitting in front of their personal computers, while the match and the entire communication take place online. The competition is global.

Each artist is allowed 15 minutes for his shot, and then the work is sent to the organisers who post it online, in real time, on the website of the match, and release it to the audience. A third participant, acting as a scriptwriter and commentator gives live explanations of the action, as it takes place. A match consists of an exchange of 10 works and, when it’s done, the audience (fans) vote online as well and the winner is announced. The playing system is similar to the sports one and is organised in qualification matches, quarter-final, semi-final and final matches. Season 4 took place in the autumn of 2014. Just as in sports, this gives way to habits and expectations: “we’re watching the match this Friday evening.”

Match related terminology belongs to sports discourse, thus maintaining a competition spirit similar to the one on an actual sports field. It includes “players”, “match”, “pass”, “fans” and, in the end, a “champion.”

Online communication takes place in the main social networking websites: Facebook and Twitter, as well as in videos describing the event posted on specific YouTube channels, similar to “promotional” or “promo” videos in television. The sports-like event is broadcast online but it is more than a basic competition with an audience. It brings together people from across the globe who are involved actively. Unlike the offline, the online gives a wider freedom of dissemination and expression, only that it happens behind the screen of your personal computer. Thus, the space where the performance takes place is the online space. The organisers’ internet website is the sports field where the match is played, while social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are the grandstand. To all participants, this is more than a television screen showing an actual tennis match. Everybody is part of the action.

 7
Layer 5 (Mig Reyes) – Image created during

the Layer Tennis competition, 2010 (photo credit

http://www.layertennis.com/match/reyes-vs-noper/#intro)

 

 8
Layer 6 (Noper) – Image created during

the Layer Tennis competition, 2010 (photo credit

http://www.layertennis.com/match/reyes-vs-noper/#intro)

 

The actors in the game are: the players, the commentator, the organisers and the audience. But the event goes beyond the limitations of a sports competition with its performance features: the spectators are directly involved. They leave comments in real time and then vote to decide the winner: “well done, Răducu in the finals!!! best of luck this Friday”, a fan says on the Facebook page and she gets an instant answer from her favourite player: “thanks, Anca… not easy with the Americans.” But how are the actors represented? As names on a computer screen, next to some information and a description of their actions. Fans may get more information, again in the online, such as for example on the personal websites of the players, when they have one.

The main action of the performance consists of the layer creation process. They are put together in the 15 minutes granted for each material and then shown to the public and analysed by the commentator. Certain graphic elements are reused freely by the opponent in the following serve. The layers convey messages, include illustrations, photography, text. They form a dialogue and are more than mere decorative works. They can touch upon topics of general interest: politics, arts, aspects of daily life. However, for an efficient communication and to comply with the game rules, the message is condensed. The commentator gives a sample of his own analysis, but the spectators are free to their own interpretations.

The script according to which the entire event is performed is what gives a frame to the action, according to which each actor knows what he has to do, preserving nevertheless a considerable freedom of action. Both texts and drawings are created freely but the circuit in which the action takes place is known from the start and set by clear rules which fit into the definition of the script in Schechner’s terms described in the introduction of this study.

This performance has various types of effects. The most obvious might be its commercial nature, as the entire deployment is based on promoting an Adobe product (Adobe Creative Suites 5, the latest version of the software collection of tools for graphic design, video editing and internet application development). Another result would be the live creation of demos exemplifying what the products can provide. Just as in sports, the matches are bought, and branded with the sponsor’s logo. Adobe’s logo is everywhere.

 9
Layer 7 (Mig Reyes) – Image created during

the Layer Tennis competition, 2010 (photo credit

http://www.layertennis.com/match/reyes-vs-noper/#intro)

 

 10
Layer 8 (Noper) – Image created during

the Layer Tennis competition, 2010 (photo credit

http://www.layertennis.com/match/reyes-vs-noper/#intro)

 

The competition influences the image of the players as well. They promote themselves in their game, express their art, ideas and convey certain messages. At the same time, they set in motion an entire online social network which supports them throughout the process and votes for them in the end. “Vote for me on twitter with #lyt #noper. Thanks.” says the Facebook page set up by Noper, on of the players in the 2010 final as well as on his social networking pages. This network consists of acquaintances, the existing online group of friends as well as of an unknown audience, which simply attends an event and gets actively involved in it. The applause and cheering in an actual grandstand are represented here by commentaries and endless online conversations held on Messenger, Facebook and Twitter. The audience has its favourite players and fights for them, as they mobilise their own networks of friends to support their favourite player: “Such a compelling game played by the ilustratorus maximus NOPER against his American homonym: from Nicholas Cage to lubricant and trashing tattersall shirts. Let us gloriously vote for him, we say” can be read on the Facebook page of the Magazine Decât o Revistă. In the end is the winner the best or the most popular among online friends? Players turn into a sort of heroes within the communities watching their game. These communities may be virtual (spectators on Twitter, Facebook), as well as real (circle of close friends, work mates who are also online attendees, but also actually real through direct support given to the players).

The audience is mainly represented by international designers communities and people in related industries. A small part of the audience is represented by aficionados of such works and the players’ close circle of friends, the latter participating in the game more out of solidarity.

The performance Layer Tennis brings together several cultural areas.

It is first of all a form of artistic performance, although it is based on a commercial intention. The works created during the match are art works functioning together as a series. In evidence, an exhibition is organised at the end of the season, grouping the works.

Secondly, Layer Tennis is an event of the advertisement industry. It promotes work tools of the designers and matches them in a performance, as players or audience. It gives them the space and tool to perform in one way or another. The event nevertheless is organised and financed for a commercial purpose, that of bringing reputation to Adobe, the host brand. The values of such a performance (creativity, globalism) are, ideally, now associated with the brand. Adobe products become inspirational, in a process of live trial. What better advertisement for any product than a real demonstration of it capacities. The awareness objective is masterfully reached.

Thirdly, and probably not necessarily lastly, just as in the actual game, cultural layers are much greater in number. Layer Tennis is an online social performance set in action by the communities represented in networks such as Facebook, Twitter and such others. The audience gets together for an online social event. It has a unquestionable entertainment value and such events may be regarded as a form of future popular culture.

This type of performance may be subsumed to what Richard Schechner calls the “actual avant-garde”, “what is happening now”, productions that are new not in the sense that they would do away with existent taboos or might show the way, in conceptual or technical terms, to something unprecedented to the spectators (Schechner, 2009: 264). Schechner adds:

The work of current avant-garde is often excellent, virtuosic in its mastery of formerly experimental and risky materials and techniques. This mastery, coupled with a second and third generation of artists working in the same way, is what makes the current avant-garde classical. Over time, the historical avant-garde modulated into the current avant-garde: what were once radical activities in terms of artistic experimentation, politics and lifestyles have become a cluster of well known alternatives. Where once avant-garde fiercely opposed the bourgeoisie and the government, the avant-garde today is expecting financing, just as is the work. (Schechner, 2009: 264)

 

Second performance: Live drawing with Pisica Patrata, Matei Branea and Noper

A different type of visual performance was Live drawing With Pisica Patrata, Matei Branea and Noper at Galateca, BCU, taking place on 10.12.2011 within the event-project organised by ICR: 5 Arts in 5 Days. The performance consisted of a live drawing session, on an easel that the three artists shared.

 

 13  12
Empty scene The performance has begun

 

The space was demarcated from the very beginning by a theatre high stage, where the considerably wide easel was placed. The three actors had to go up stage to draw. In parallel, the action was recorded by a camera set on a second smaller easel and the images were projected in real time on another wall. The projection was an alternative for the audience to watch the on-going art show, but also for the three artists to observe the entire work. While each drew individually on their slice of paper on the large easel, they were checking the projection in order to see the evolution of the whole. The audience had its place, on some rows of chairs placed in front of the stage. The event took place in the art gallery of the Central University Library, BCU.

Although the live drawing session are regularly informal, often taking place in the street, in the public and open space of the city, this time the organisers chose to stage the creation. By doing this, at a formal level they brought it near the model of the theatre, with the performance taking place on the stage and the audience seated at its place. It was probably related to the topic of the project 5 Arts in 5 Days aiming at supporting and encouraging the new Romanian wave of graphic design and illustration art. On this background, taking the artists up on a stage may be read metaphorically: illustration is an art like all the others so it is entitled to a stage.

 11
Artists at work

 

The message of the performance is directly related to the name of the event: 5 Arts, which again makes us think of the recognition of various forms of art. It is a daring initiative, entailing certain risks that were probably particularly undertaken by the organisers. The convergence of two different worlds, that of street artists and the formal classic world of the library, during the live drawing performance, resulted in unexpected images. The three artists took on stage cans of beer they drank out of while drawing and a bag of chips, a gesture more suited to the open space of the street or park or, maybe, to drawing in the privacy of one’s studio. One of them played music on his phone. The three openly discussed during the show, on stage, but not necessarily about the event; instead, they were catching up. There was also a moment when one of the artists came down stage and took a seat among the audience to talk to some of the spectators about the drawing or about how he felt about drawing live, after which he went back up stage and returned to his felt-tipped pen.

The audience on the other hand also behaved in accordance to the unexpected spirit of the event described. First of all, the participation in the event was very limited, although this type of events normally gathers a wide audience. Probably precisely the formal aspect of the action – its placing into a library – worked here against its popularity and kept away one of the most important elements of a performance: its audience. Nevertheless. The space worked into gathering an audience diverse especially in age, while the library was a familiar place to all, from children to older adults. Live drawing sessions often attract an audience not only out of curiosity but also because the artists are famous by their works and completely unknown as individuals. As their works circulate most of the time in the virtual online space, they have no opportunity of showing it as actors in action, while performing their work. The space of the library opened to a relatively new form of art, according to a comment on the event’s Facebook page: “Libraries are not only for reading!”

  

Third performance: Kim Jung Gi Workshop at the Art Institute of California Inland Empire, 02.08.2014

Kim Jung Gi is an artist from South Korea, known especially for his live drawing demonstrations. The artist manages to draw complex boards out of memory, with no photographic references or any other model, as everything is stored in his memory and reproduced on paper in real time. These performances are most of the time recorded and later shared online. The internet channels on which the artists delivers his creations are YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and his official website; they gather tens of thousands of viewers. Although this isn’t anymore attending the creation act as it is performed, the recording nevertheless bears the same value, as it preserves the idea that the drawing, the work was performed in front of an audience. It was an open performance with an audience.

In the performance selected for this analysis, Kim Jung Gi draw a board at the Sturges Center, in an event organised by the Art Institute of California Inland Empire on the 2nd of August 2014. It was published on the internet on the 29th of August 2014, on the YouTube Inland Arts channel and it had up to the present a number of 63.598 views

Neville Page, designer and television and cinema art director famous for his contributions to large Hollywood productions, was the host of the drawing session and his intervention was part of the entire performance. He had the role of introducing the audience to the notions of visual communication and then of introducing the artist. Once on stage, the latter performed his magic trick in drawing and ended with a session in which he explained his technique. Thus, the performance was complete. Page’s words described the similarities between a new-born learning how to speak and the language of drawing. In both cases, once you learn how to communicate, the act of communication is no longer important, it matters more what you say, the message one communicates. Page considered Kim Jung Gi a phenomenon of visual communication, due to his extraordinary capacity of performing everything from memory. As his drawings are figurative, his achievement is all the more commendable. During the first part of the demonstration, the artist only spoke through his drawing. Once he came up with his drawing tool, a sort of a pen similar to Eastern calligraphy tool, he communicated through his drawing board. Once he outlined part of this communication, the artist changed the register and continued with oral communication in which he analysed his drawing style and explained what was happening in his mind while he was drawing. After making a demonstration of actual drawing, he stopped to reveal another tier of his creating, that of his mental space. Each stage of the creative process was revealed to the audience. Instead of looking a sheet of paper with a drawing on it, the audience had the chance to contemplate a creation process and to understand what is behind creation.

The space of this performance is that of a classical conference: an audience hall and a stage on which is placed a lectern for the speakers / interpreters. The action begins in a traditional manner, with a discourse of a pseudo-star. Page is dressed, behaves and speaks in the most predictable way, in accordance to the space where he is. He acts as a master of ceremony. He addresses a number of questions to the audience and then later gives a live demonstration of what he just said. It turns out to be conference hosting a drawing demonstration – the entire act is a lesson, but a lesson different from the classical ones we all have seen in school. Page starts by speaking about visual communication, while Kim actually communicates visually and later explains how he manages to do so, revealing in his words the inner process of creating the drawing.

 

Conclusions

The three events analysed are regarded as performances in the general sense. They cannot be subsumed to performance art, as they have insufficient conceptual fuel. The three performances have no propaganda value and do not coagulate as artistic manifestoes. They seem to speak of the pleasure of drawing in itself, of decomposing oneself implicitly (in layer tennis and in the gallery drawing) and explicitly (as is the case of Kim Jung Gi).

The three drawing demonstrations bring this practice to the front stage, as it happens today: on the street, online or, classically, on paper. The novelty is brought rather by this staging, which is more related to the unpredictability of the action. We are used to admire drawing at exhibitions, in art books but to take part to their creation.

Returning to the questions addressed in the introduction of this study, we may conclude that the three performances are rather reflexive, they convey a message firstly on themselves, and they communicate themselves. This message speaks first of all on the practice of drawing, it contemplates it as it is today.

Out of the three performances analysed, the audience has a voice and supports the artist only in the online form – as it has a space dedicated to communication: the artist’s personal page, where the audience may also vote, while in the other cases it passively assists to the creation of the work.

 

 

Bibliography

Cultural Studies,Volume 1, Number 2, 1987, London, Methuen & Co

ARTAUD, Antonin, 1997, Teatrul și dublul său [The Theatre and Its Double], Cluj-Napoca,

Echinox

AUSLANDER, Philip, 1997, From Acting to Performance. Essays in Modernism and Postmodernism, London, Routledge

CAZACU, Sorin, 2001, “Performance as Text in Samuel Beckett’s Plays”, Annals of the University of Craiova, Series: Philology, English. Year II, No. 1, Craiova

GOLDBERG, RoseLee, 2011, Performance Art. From Futurism to the Present, New York, Thames

and Hudson

JONES, Amelia, STEPHENSON, Andrew, 1999, Performing the Body / Performing the Text, London, Routledge

PINTILIE, Ileana, 2000, Acționismul în România în timpul comunismului [Actionism in Romania During the Communist Era], Cluj, Idea Design & Print

SCHECHNER, Richard, 2009, Performance. Introducere și teorie [Performance Studies: An Introduction], București, Unitext

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Duke University

TURNER, Victor, 1988, The Anthropology Of Performance, New York, Paj Publications


Appendix

Interview with Noper (Radu Pop) on Layer Tennis (by Sînziana Șerbănescu, Bucharest, December, 2011)

What does Layer Tennis represent for you? In what category of events would you place it as an illustrator?

Layer Tennis is a competition sponsored by Adobe and organised by some really cool designers in Chicago. It is a great opportunity to make your name heard in the US, where this competition is very popular in the industry.

 

How were you selected in the competition? Who invited you to participate and how?

The competition has two levels, one for the stars, where the competitors are invited personally and one for less known artists, who play against each other on an invisible mode. I wasn’t invited by anyone, I entered at the lowest level and slowly made my way up to the finals.

 

Is there a script for the action?

Yeah. There are 10 serves and the first serve of each competitor takes 40 minutes, so that designers hit their stride and then the duration is reduced to 15 minutes per serve, while everything takes place live. They also have a sort of commentator selected from among the famous bloggers in Chicago who makes comments on the works.

 

What do you have to do exactly, as a competitor?

The first to begin has a slight advantage because he gives the tone of the game and the second needs to create something fresh in his own style on the theme proposed by the first competitor and so on.

 

Are the drawings a dialogue to each other or with the audience as well?

You have total freedom as long as, visually, your serve uses one element from the other guy’s serve.

 

Are the messages in the layouts composed for the competition or are they set before?

No, no. Everything is instantaneous, nothing is planned. The most you can say is “hey, let’s use more typo” or something like this, but apart from this… it’s spontaneous inspiration.

 

What is the involvement of the audience before, during and after the performance?

Americans are crazy about Twitter, everything happens on Twitter, it’s where they make live comments about the match, where they vote the winner afterwards.

 

What do the results of the event mean to you, to Adobe, to the audience?

Hm, I didn’t get any job after taking part in the competition, but I am more popular, with overall more traffic on noper.ro and it was fantastic during the competition. The audience shares in the same type of adrenaline and polarisation as in a box match, for example, only that here it is more theoretical.