Rebecca Fortnum

Writing can be drawing, perhaps?

I feel my hand move, turn, join, dive and lift….delete or expand a line, taking the space right up to the margin, thus constructing from the apparently functional lines of the letter a space that is quite simply that of a work of art.

Roland Barthes

I think art is one of the real things to me…..It is something I can exchange my life for. And it allows me to share experiences.

Richard Prince

Writing can be drawing, perhaps? As Barthes describes, it unfolds over the white page, or now the blank screen. On it/in it a train of thought, sometimes an argument, sometimes an image. Writing and drawing share an etymological root; they are graphic arts. As Pavel Buchler has written,
“[writing and making] both traditionally enjoy the very same principle of a trace being left by an action of the human hand, usually equipped with a tool”. (1)
And with drawing it can even be the same tool. Although for an audience writing and making may remain discrete disciplines, employing different sets for rules for comprehension, for the maker at least there is a similarity of process. Buchler again,
“….now, when the tools have changed and linearity has all but vanished from writing as a result of the cut and paste word processing technology, the process of writing is moving ever closer to the non-linear processes of making such as…drawing”(2)

In some contemporary art practices these activities have indeed merged. In an essay in Parkett, Ingrid Schaffner identifies what she terms “the cursive” which “ comes out of the interstice between writing and drawing” and “focuses on writing as a graphic practice”(3). For Schaffner legibility is not the key to intelligibility, communication operates at the level of an enactment of the desire to make. It is this which is its voice, consequently the cursive is “wilfully expressive and forcefully inchoate, in order to communicate some otherwise unspeakable impulse”(4). What better site to witness the cursive at work than in artists’ notebooks and sketchpads, where words and images tumble about together recording, considering, forming an inventory of our lives.

For the writer/artist this making is a way of bringing into the world that which was previously absent. A way of mark making and making a mark, this is an inscription of self. There is a therapeutic element here then; we write, we draw ourselves and learn of ourselves from that articulation. However, these selves are not closed entities, passively reflected in our art works. This is a dynamic relationship; in the making, in the self inscription, we make ourselves too. We make what we make because of who we are and we are who we are because of what we make, in this sense we are performing our identities, however provisional. Indeed in a recent paper Louise Parsons has called for an examination of the “self reflexive relationship between intellectual activities, making strategies and our sense of self” which she places in contrast to “that only too familiar art school adage that too much thinking inhibits creativity”(5. This inspection is crucial because, it seems to me, that it is only through knowing ourselves that we come to comprehend and connect with the world.


Vauxhall (pleasure) gardens

I tried to go up the hot air balloon in Vauxhall but it was too windy and it was grounded. I parked and watched a man piss up against the long curved wall of the boules park. He was in the middle of the wall and the wet patch was getting larger and forming a pool at his feet. He turned round in this large, impromptu auditorium and, by way of a bow, did his trousers up. It felt odd watching in broad daylight and then I realised I was only part of his audience. An elderly couple sat at the opposite side of the park, intently watching his performance. He slowly strolled over and joined them. Earlier, when I parked my car, I was at the ticket machine and a man was getting something out of the big white van parked behind me. He stood close, talking on his mobile, about his motor, about some deal, about some thing that was sweet as a nut. He said he was at the Queen Anne, having a pint. The pub was on the corner – no windows, just boards up and two doors so as you couldn’t see in. I remembered the name, this is the famous strip pub – people had talked about it, I’d even read about it – but I never knew quite where it was. Lots of stories like ‘ticket nights’ where the women did all kinds of things on the pool tables and the punters joined in. Here it was. I wondered what it was like inside. Three artists walked by, you can tell them – paint splattered clothing and soft middle-class tones. The tourists and pisser left. I returned to the car, sat in it and started writing. Two guys were leaving the pub. I tried to see inside as they opened the door by looking in the rear view window, but the double doors prevented it. They wore suits and broad smiles. As they walked past the car the taller one looked in at me “Are you writing a story about me?” he asked. It was an interesting thought, but flawed, “How can I, I don’t know you?”. “Well” he replied, “let’s have a glass of wine and I’ll tell you about myself”. The stripper had obviously done her business. Too much sex in the afternoon I thought, he wanted another encounter. “No thanks”, I laughed at his cheek. From where I am sitting I can watch the guys go in without them see me looking. Perfect. I’m curious about this place. There is a car parked behind the pub, in front of the balloon. A man sits in the driver’s seat and rocks his head back and forth rhythmically. For a moment I think, but no, he’s holding a phone. But he’s not talking, he‘s just sitting there rocking, maybe he is waiting for someone. A skate boarder flies by, a young boy-girl with long blonde curls and a woolly hat. The bloke with the white van is leaving with his mate in the black land rover, I guess the show’s over. One has a long ponytail, the other’s sporting a Grant Mitchell crew cut. What are they? brickies, plumbers, plasterers, on some deal. I keep on watching, the man keeps rocking. Four boys walk past; nike, addidas, reebok and puma. I realise I am facing the new bar/restaurant that I went to a few weeks ago – the Lavender – I remember the name from my bank statement this morning. More money I shouldn’t have spent. A young policeman scurries by with a bundle of papers. Rocking man has driven away. By himself. I should go to. Thinking how much I enjoyed the arrogance of that man makes me smile to myself. How outrageous to think I was writing about him! How wonderful to be at the earth’s pivot! But you know, the thing is, he was right.

Rebecca Fortnum