along these lines: A Fine Line: Drawing and the digital ground in the work of Tamarin Norwood

About this time last year, I commissioned British artist, writer, and doctoral researcher of lines Tamarin Norwood to produce ICA’s first web-based commission: A Fine Line (2014).

For the launch of Art Journal’s new online CONVERSATIONS series, Tamarin and I spoke about her work.

Our conversation looped around her interest in lines and surfaces, her views on the digital vs. analogue debate (specifically, questioning binary distinctions between “digital” and “analogue” materials, processes, and forms of communication), and why studio art counts as a legitimate form of research:

The Fine Line videos began with an interest in the form of the line as a representational device. The line can be a graphic element in a diagram or drawing or stretch of writing, in which case it exists as a material form on the page but apologetically so: really it means to be transparent, as though the page were a pane of clear glass looking onto whatever the image or text is meant to represent. Historically this aspiration toward transparency has provoked a great deal of play in representational drawing and writing. You can draw or write in such a way that the eye is forced to focus on the surface of the glass instead of looking through it, so that anything being represented is secondary to the virtuosity of the lines themselves—a sparkling metaphor or rhyme for instance, or a quavering mark that speaks more to the gesture that produced it than the object it was produced to represent, if it represents anything at all. Self-apparent literature, metafiction, and certain abstract and expressionist practices are examples of this kind of play, though I think it runs through all representation as a critical undercurrent.

The converse is also true. Thread, wire, a beam of light—these are all linear forms that exist as opaquely nonrepresentational material, but their opacity can provoke a similar play or agitation. They can be seen in terms of the material properties that determine their practical use, but those properties can also be read for what they might represent, like seeing pictures in clouds. I saw some wire drawings by Gego at the Henry Moore Institute (Leeds, UK) the other week. Very often what looks like a pencil drawing turns out to be a skein of manipulated wire hanging in the air against a white backdrop. A couple of these drawings were made from wires crimped and crinkled from some previous use, perhaps in electrical equipment, and in this context the originally incidental crinkles acquired a new aesthetic or pictorial value, without altogether forgetting their origin in the bare function of the material.

I see A Fine Line as part of this play or agitation of the line. Shot from a certain perspective and with particular lighting, the lead of the retractable pencil resembles a line even as it produces other lines. Working with the time-based medium of video and with digitally generated forms allowed me to develop this visual ambiguity further—incorporating the black line that marks a split screen for instance—and think more about the relation of the screen to the camera lens, to the sheet of paper, and even to the surface of the video while it’s being edited and is still pliant.

—Tamarin Norwood, Art Journal