ON YOUR MARKS with LUCY O'DONNELL, Parfitt Gallery, London, 2023

Tim Etchells in Certain Fragments (1999) asserts ‘collaboration [is not] about perfect unity but about difference, collisions, incompatibilities’ (1999: 56). Since 2011, I have produced a body of practice-as-research that explores these ideas and examines the relationship between collaborative drawing (or more broadly ‘marking’) and self-relationality to ‘others’ and ‘place’. This work has been guided by a series of questions including: ‘What is understood as a ‘mark’ and ‘marking’? ‘How can marks convey or represent something? Is marking ‘embodied’?, What is ‘located’ in a mark?’, How are ‘marks’ understood as communication? ‘Can ‘marking’ be understood as dialogic and ‘How marks become indexical of their producer?’

Micro-Residency with Lucy O’Donnell at Parfitt Gallery, June 2011

From a shared interest in the location of the ‘Mark’, these above questions On your Marks at the Parfitt Gallery, London in June 2011 evaluated through a series of conversations between two artists (myself and Lucy O’Donnell) . Throughout the three-day micro-residency (Tuesday 28th ~ Thursday 30th June 2011), Lucy and I generated a whole range of different ‘marks’, which we vocabularised as sound utterances, visual marks on a surface and bodily gestures. During the five day residency, we transformed the traditional white cube into a stage to perform in, play in and have fun in by utilising its physicality. Audiences could watch myself and Lucy marking through the windows or enter the space as the door was open. We prepared the gallery with sketchbooks and coloured sticky post-it notes and suspended a roll of white paper along the length of the gallery, all to be to marked with charcoal, black biro pen, or lead pencil. As the performances took place, communication between me and Lucy alternated between using the various paper mediums which all became obliterated and eventually destroyed by the end of the project. Leftover objects from a previous exhibition including text left on the wall and plinths that had not yet been removed were utilised as props. Each mark we made was an invitation for the other person to respond or in other words, we use ‘marking’ as a process in which to generate dialogue. ‘Marking’ was described as a means for a person to ‘mark’ and accentuate one’s presence by using their body as well as a means to mark one’s own boundaries and to demarcate in various ways power relations. ‘On your marks’ denotes competition. We were asked by an audience member in a discussion at the end of the project ‘Who came out on top?’

The ‘performative’ is a key concern for many contemporary artists. The body can be considered not just in terms of how the marks made by myself and Lucy embody ideas of collaboration but the act of making those marks are often in a very physical, super bodily manner. Informing these ideas, are how Maurice Merleau-Ponty envisages the body with the ‘embodied’ act of painting (which me and Lucy extend to ‘marking’ more broadly)

The painter ‘takes his body with him’ says Valery. Indeed we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings. To understand these transubstantiations we must go back to the workingM actual body—not the body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement
(Merleau-Ponty writing in “Eye and Mind” Paris: Gallimard, 1964.)

It is tempting to look at paintings as static objects. Merleau-Ponty, however, reminds us of something we perhaps always knew, at some level at least; that painting (and by association, marking) and the body are intimately connected. This is interesting because, as he says, the body is itself not just one amongst other objects, or one chunk of space amongst others but is an ‘intertwining of vision and movement’. During On your Marks, Lucy and I examined the extent to which the residue (i.e. the drawings) of acts of drawing and marking can be viewed not as a collection of static objects but as records of the intertwining of vision and movement. Furthermore, how these records can be a source or component of a new type of ‘post-performative drawing/marking’.

During our residency, we constituted drawing and marking as performative and used the act of marking to remark on the phenomenological relationship we had with each other. Through an extended vocabulary of what constitutes ‘drawing’ by naming it as ‘marking’ with marks made require a response, we produced an energy which played itself out in the live physical moment that could be broken down into two simple considerations. Firstly, the moment where one of us were going to make a mark and how were we going to indicate this and secondly, the repercussions of having made such a mark. It was our intention to test friendly reciprocity, evaluate how physical presence and absence could be marked and begin to understand how marks become indexical of their producer as we began working in the gallery space treating it as a contingent testing ground; everything in constant flux. In this way, we interrogated how physical space could be punctuated with our bodies in a communicative and expressive way. Marks were signs of hospitality, reflective of the reciprocity between a host and a guest. The offering of a mark to the other person was an invitation. Accepting the mark displayed conviviality, rejecting it produced antagonism. This constant action of accepting and rejecting marks determined how the dialogue between myself and Lucy would proceed. The act of marking made visible the politics between us as we marked personal boundaries.

  • Runtime:
    59 minutes 7 seconds
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project: