The Other Orebody, graphite on paper on foil, 24 drawings, 503 x 191cm, each 47 x 83 cm, photo Hein van Liempd.
THE OTHER OREBODY
During the research year I explored how drawing can work within larger issues concerning landscape, extraction industries and the aesthetics of the climate crisis. Drawing and mining are both rooted in the activity of mark-making, the one speculative and creative, the other literal and destructive. The aim of my research is, through site visits to areas of open-pit mining, to collect materials and explore alternative ways of drawing these damaged landscapes. The lavish amount of time spent on many of the drawings is in high contrast to the speed at which the mining areas have been excavated. I propose the slowness of the artistic mark as an alternative to the so-called economically efficient accelerated mark.
Another Orebody, 2020, graphite on paper on foil, 70 cm x 124 cm, 15 drawings: 9 are 20 x 33 cm, the other 6, various sizes.
Another Orebody, detail.
Drawing of all media is most closely associated with touch, the mark made on a surface with the hand. Through touch, things become interconnected. Drawing suggests at the very least, that when we touch we are also being touched, or even the possibility that materials look back at us. When making a drawing, I use graphite to cover the paper with marks. I often end up being covered with marks myself, the graphite is slippery and gets into the pores of my skin and deep into the grooves and ridges of my fingerprints. I am slowly becoming my material, my body merging with my surroundings.
MINING AND DRAWING
Graphite is pure carbon and an allotrope of both coal and diamond. This means the humble pencil, coal and costly diamonds are chemically identical. Asking myself about the origins of graphite led me to consider the connection between mining and drawing. Not only is graphite a mined material, but excavation, especially open-pit mines, are themselves massive mark-making enterprises. Site visits to open-pit excavations for me are an artistic and emotional encounter with landscape, not a scientific or geological one. The open-pit site visit is the observation of loss. A huge swath of earth is missing, gone, burnt (in the case of the coal mine) or displaced. Attending to damage is a way to witness, and to try and absorb some of the complexities and entanglements involved in ecological thinking and experience. It is also the reason I know the value of a site visit is incalculable – being there, the scale of the site has a bodily impact that is impossible to foresee or to experience virtually. Conversations happen that lead to unexpected discoveries, changing insights, rubbing out assumptions. In person things are less straightforward – miners need jobs, local residents may be proud of the mine and the work they do. The revenue brings political conflicts and opportunities. The landscape changes, is dug up, sometimes (often) poisons the surroundings, is covered up and overgrown again. There are contradictions and gray areas everywhere.
Sketch, 2021, digital print on foil, 24 x 13 cm
Sketch, 2020, digital print, paper and graphite on foil, 34 x 40 cm
A drawing vocabulary started to emerge from encounters with these sites. Abstract forms, the grids, lines and blocks, are visible as elements of machinery. And the traces left on the earth as cuts, folds, slashes and tracks relate to industrial machinery. The forms arising from the earth are the result of erosion and weathering processes: wrinkles, creases, cracks and furrows. Other shapes belong to the landscape itself: pits, holes, terraces, dugouts, pools, humps and ridges. Marks made in the landscape vary from very precise to rough and gestural; the gestural erasure of the digging scoop as opposed to the delicate fissures of drying and eroded earth. In the drawings, slow and meticulous marks are expressive of care, and alternatively faster, jagged teeth-like marks and imposed folds reference the rapid pace of economic efficiency. By repeated mark-making, almost a kind of polishing, the graphite in the drawing becomes very shiny and starts to resemble something akin to a precious metal. The graphite drawings start to form what look like seams, and can be compared to a vein of coal, or ore, with the undrawn part of the paper also resembling a seam. Layers form another element of visual vocabulary, not only the cross-sectional view of an excavated hillside, but the layer upon layer of sediment built up over millennia, being unearthed at a voracious speed.
Black Diamond, 2021, graphite on paper on foil, 42 x 34 x 6 cm
Both sculptural and flat, folded and rolled, seen from above and in cross section, standing and slumping, the drawings may be both object and image. They describe a space in-between, forming propositions on the experience of uncertainty and contradiction, an exploration of multiple and simultaneous points of view. Fusions with other media, namely photography, may also take place. This in-between state is an artistic speculation on new forms of hybridity, possible mergers and co-habitation between different points of view and states of unbalance and precariousness. They are an invitation to the viewer to become both more familiar with and less comfortable in their own skin, and more attuned to an the experience of being destabilized.
Unsatisfied, 2021, graphite on paper on foil, 100 x 74 x 10 cm
This urgency to feel the ecological crisis on an emotional and experiential level is a shift in vision, attitude and imagination. The disruption of the human-centered viewpoint is a disturbing proposition, but one that humans (mainly those in hitherto relatively insulated consumer societies) will ultimately have to get used to. Can deceleration help us to prepare for this transformation? What might it mean artistically to embrace the slowness and diversion of drawing time as opposed to the speed of economic time? In a form of reverse alchemy, the humble graphite mark may become precious, and the damaged landscapes underlying the extraction of costly minerals are given valuable attention. My drawings take ages to make; slowing down time, the humble implement puts value into caring and spending time with something damaged. Underlying this process is the question of how to open a space for dialogue on the relationship between humans and non-humans and how perception may impact the values that have such a destructive impact on our surroundings, towards a much slower pace of production and consumption that draws a different kind of future.
Sketch Horizon, 2021, graphite, paper, foil, 56 x 24 x 4 cm
This film shows the very time-consuming process of making the drawing series "the nature and importance of indirect response to physical change". I'm copying out Chapter 3 on the Polar Regions, from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Special Report on the Oceans and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. Even making allowances for the dry scientific language, it makes for some very unsettling reading. The chapter is 118 pages long, and this is from page 27, so still some way to go…
the nature and importance of indirect response to physical change, 2021, pencil on paper, 83 x 59 cm, first drawing in the series, pages 1 – 32 from Chapter 3 of the IPCC Special Report on the Oceans and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, 2019, https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/.
Rachel Bacon is a visual artist and arts educator originally from New York City and currently based in The Hague (NL) and Brussels (BE). She received an MA in Drawing from the University of the Arts London in 2016.
In her work she explores how drawing can work within larger issues concerning landscape, extraction industries and the aesthetics of the climate emergency. Slumping, sometimes standing, always damaged in some way, the drawings have a physicality that invites viewers to experience the fragility and vulnerability of the material world, towards an identification with their own bodies.
Into semi-sculptural drawings Bacon also incorporates elements from her research into open-pit coal and diamond mining. Underlying this process is the question of how we might re-imagine landscape in a time of ecological crisis. With this work she hopes to open a space for dialogue on the relationship between humans and non-humans and the way perception may influence the values that can have such a destructive impact on our surroundings.
She often participates in artist residencies: in 2022 at the Frans Masereel Centrum; and previously at Studios at MASS MoCA (2018), the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada (2017), as part of an award for the Arts and the Environment Residency from University of the Arts London; and the LMCC in New York City in 2010. Her work has been widely exhibited, most recently in Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam (2020); Na Peschanoy Gallery in Moscow (2020); Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh (2020), Ireland, and De Cacaofabriek in Helmond, NL (2018).
Bacon has also presented her research at the Drawing Research Forum in 2019, at the Drawing Room, London. Bacon's work is supported by grants form the Mondriaan Fund and Stroom Den Haag.