Between The Lines

Between The Lines, Verge Gallery (USYD), Sydney
Sara Morawetz, Stella Rosa McDonald, Harriet Body, Julie Fragar, Jonathan McBurnie and Brooke Leigh Carlson
curated by Brooke Leigh Carlson

From its function as an ordering system in the mechanisms of language, to its means as a vehicle for the rational and irrational, Between The Lines investigates multiple perspectives and interpretations of ‘written’ language, provoking a relation upon the use of speech and text as tools for communication within the context of contemporary art. Through interdisciplinary mediums, the exhibition examines relationships between looking, listening, reading, drawing and writing, and how these are transformed at the intersections of science, literature, the human body and psychology.


exhibition catalogue essay

Johanna Drucker defines graphesis as ‘the field of knowledge production embodied in visual expressions’. This – as she points out – is a field roomy enough to include an enormous variety of modes and practices. Knowledge production implies not merely the representation or transmission of a concept, but the construction of novel concepts. Embodiment implies not merely concepts with a certain kind of materiality, but concepts that emerge through or as materialisation. Visuality implies a range of phenomena that includes the barely-perceptible, the vague, the fleeting, the gestural and the obscure.Roomy as it is, for Drucker graphesis is specific in an important sense. It refers to the constructive, inscriptive practices that score a surface. Textuality, in its broadest meaning, is here understood as the complex of surface effects that comprise visual expression– writing, drawing, mapping, diagramming, charting (and the list goes on). Critical understandings of visual expression (and this is Drucker’s central thesis) are needed in order to engage with the ever-intensifying diversity of graphic practices in the context of hypermediation. In particular, a transdisciplinary approach is needed, for which relations, resonances and divergences between modes of expression are taken as the constructive materials of diverse knowledge production; this is in contrast with a disciplinary approach, by which modes of expression are understood in terms of familial groupings and genetic lineages.A transdisciplinary approach to contemporary visual culture is less interested in the ontological difference between a word and an image or between writing and drawing, and more interested in the social practices that constitute philosophical and aesthetic engagement. For the artist today, this engagement is inextricable from questions of transliterative and transmediated approaches to making and thinking. The manifold textualities that emerge from/as contemporary work is always in excess of any single material or method: ghosting the art object is the code, patch, geotag, watermark, invoice, job talk, grant app, correspondence, collaboration, datapack, caption – soft paratexts of a world more or less tuned up as a language machine.

In the mid-twentieth-century, the notion of the art object as a minimal unit of information occasioned a new kind of sublimity. Now, the informational sublime is well-settled. What’s possible for or as work today happens for the most part in small pockets of attention: the glitch, the difference of repetition, the shift of a signifier.

When we read between the lines, we read alongside what is presented as fact in order to perceive a different, more nuanced meaning.

Reading between the lines can mean being attuned to the polite fictions of social intercourse, or it can mean by being overly paranoid about the intention of an other. Reading between the lines can refer to a kind of diagnostic mode by which all expression is understood as an inversion of true desire. Or else, it can refer to the pleasure in apprehending a coded reality. To read between the lines it to think like a conspiracy theorist – to perceive, whether correctly or not, a set of connections made avaliable despite all appearances otherwise. But there’s another way to imagine this idiom, too; reading between the lines can refer to a mode of transdisciplinarity that understands the activity of reading as necessarily occurring between, or alongside, or perhaps even against, habituated or naturalised text-forms. If we imagine ‘lines’ as an index of what is expected – logical or rational content coherent in ordered progression – reading between becomes a way of engaging with the extralogical, non-rational and ambient content coherent in odd forms. To read between the lines in this manner proposes something like Drucker’s notion of the expanded field of graphesis: making and thinking new languages of embodied inscription. This exhibition gathers artists and works that differently explore contemporary graphesis: the body, its memory, the torrents of consciousness or memory, the autonomy of desire, the thickness of time, the two-part machine of a pun, the performance of labour, the labour of the archive, the intense crypto-knowledge of the trope or refrain, the body-doubling of recording and documenting and the erotics of composition. Working between, as per the lines, offers a space for imagining experiments for a future made possible by new modes of social and material practice. Here in this space, a collection of experiments in transdiciplinarity act as a series of propositions: how reading is done when the reading is always on-the-run.

Dr Astrid Lorange is a writer, editor and teacher from Sydney. She lectures at UNSW Art & Design. How Reading is Written: A Brief Index to Gertrude Stein is now out from Wesleyan University Press.

press release

Sara Morawetz  is a PhD candidate at Sydney College of the Arts. Her practice is an exploration of the processes that underpin scientific action and how these concepts are leveraged through artistic inquiry. Interested in the ’Scientific Method’ and its philosophical implications, her work is devised to test and expose the internal processes of methodological labour – employing systems, actions and processes to reveal the exhaustive, the obsessive, the poetic and the absurd — all that is inherent within scientific endeavour.

Through diverse discursive modes including commissioned criticism, installation, printmaking, essay and video, Stella Rosa McDonald‘s work examines the poetics and politics of interior experience within the frame of contemporary art.

Sydney based artist, Harriet Body‘s practice explores an interplay between the visual and verbal through her time based drawings and voice recordings. Through repetitive mark making, Body’s recent work visually records the thought process of counting each line whilst the sound of her speech is simultaneously recorded. By using both forms of documentation, Body examines the dialogue between the audible and symbolic language.

The practice of Brisbane based artist, Julie Fragar explores the materiality of painting, reflecting upon human relationships and the interrelated experience of artist-subject-viewer. Her text works are comprised of arrangements of disjointed capitalised letters running continuously across the canvas. Disrupting the visual formality of text, Fragar draws a focus to the form and literal interpretation of words.

Jonathan McBurnie takes great joy in inserting text into his drawings, stringing together irreverent puns, smug attacks on trends, and punchy one-liners. In the recent series McBurnie has called, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, My Family Hates Me, he reintegrates the bombastic, capitalised block letters of comic book covers, offering a kind of satirical commentary upon his own works, and the incomplete narratives occurring within them.

Brooke Leigh Carlson is a Master of Fine Arts candidate at Sydney College of the Arts. Her current practice investigates Surrealist methodology of automatic writing and drawing in the attempt to retrieve unconscious and repressed memories. As the production of text forms the unraveling of knowledge, Carlson explores the process of the work itself as a way to regain control and form an understanding of questions and anxieties concerned of the self.

self-published exhibition catalogue