Drawing Together

Cheng-Chu Weng is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art, undertaking studio-based research concerned with shadows, the body and space. In this post she recounts her undertaking of an outdoor participatory drawing event, Drawing Together, which was part of 10 Days 2015 CHALK, Winchester’s biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival.

Drawing Together was devised as a participatory outdoor drawing event. Co-orangised by Cheng-Chu Weng and Sunil Manghani, the event was held on Saturday 17 October 2015, 11am – 1pm at the Discovery Centre, in Winchester. The event was part of the wider programming for 10 Days, Winchester’s  biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival. The event was advertised as follows:

Through the medium of chalk and shadows Drawing Together brings people together in a shared act of drawing. Visitors to the Discovery Centre are invited to draw together as a means to draw ourselves together if only fleetingly, just as our shadows are mere fleeting images of ourselves. This act of drawing upon the ground of the city in which we live and work is intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community.

The theme of the biennale was ‘chalk’. Thus, Drawing Together sought to make explicit use of chalk as its medium, along with shadows. The drawing of shadows, which are fleeting, ephemeral phenomena also relate to the ethereal mists of Winchester, borne of its chalk geology.

As an artist living in Winchester city, my aim was to engage with local people, beyond my studio at the School. My fine art practice begins in painting, but has now developed through installation works. I explore phenomenological readings of vision as embodied space: How people look, feel, and experience not just things, but emotions and memories. The phenomenon of the shadow is central to my practice, as it evokes questions about how we define the boundaries of our bodies and identities. What, for example, do we claim to be inside and outside of an outline? In Drawing Together, my aim was to  invite, demonstrate and direct people to mark out their shadows with chalk. This act of drawing upon the ‘ground’ of the city itself in which we live was intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community. (The plan was hold the event on the paved area immediately in front of the Centre’s entrance, but the weather was in fact quite poor, particularly the light levels on the day, which hampered the aim to draw shadows from natural light. We managed a short period outside, but in the main we had to move inside the Discovery Centre and work with artificial lighting).

Photograph: Ruby Chan

The process of engaging with local people through using chalks, lights and shadows prompted the action of tracing shadows. The following rubric was provided:

  1. Use chalk provided to trace the outline of the shadows of people around you as they form on the paved area outside of the Discovery Centre. Feel free to trace as many shadows as you like and do not worry about lines overlapping.
  2. Provide your name and address to the event organizers if you wish to receive a postcard of the finished work.
  3. Please feel free to post your own photos and videos of the drawing as it develops. Use hashtag #chalkshadows for Twitter and Instagram and/or post comments to the Facebook

Projects and artworks with a social dimension at their core have become increasingly common. However, any social artwork reveals not just collaborative efforts, but also what it means to be individual within a group. Drawing Together similarly played with the boundary between individual and collective. However, as a convenor of the project, what was particularly revealing was how the process of persuading visitors to draw shadow and make marks is not an easy job. It requires a good deal of skill in communication. This was a challenge for me. I am used to producing works individually, working in the studio environment which is tailored to making. In this environment there is a form of internal dialogue. It is a matter of experiencing objects as a form of non-verbal communication. Thus, aside from the event happening on the day, the underlying challenge to running a social community-orientated project – even one that on the surface seems very simple – is the lengthy process of organising and communicating with collaborators and the festival organisers. As a maker, I realise this is equally a part of making the ‘work’. However, it is really the participants on the day who bring the work into being. Once people have been invited to act, the situation changes; everyone can become an artist, as befits Joseph Beuys’ concept of Social sculpture. In this case, it was interesting to note, when comparing the two drawing surfaces, the pavement (outside of the Discovery Centre) and the boards (inside of the Discovery Centre), people found it much easier to be persuaded to draw on the pavement. There is a practical reason perhaps, since they do not need to take off shoes and need not worry about making a mess. To mark a person’s shadow on the pavement is more straightforward, and may even draw upon the participant’s memories of playing on the pavement, such as marking out hopscotch in a school playground etc.

The use of social media was suggested to participants, to allow the project to engage not just materially but also virtually. Images circulated on the day, and the final collaborative ‘drawing’ from the day was photographed and printed in a limited set of postcards (and sent out to all those who participated). However, the relationship between the participants, object (chalk) and surface or support (the ground, drawing boards) was the real ‘event’ of the project. Here we might think of Martin Heidegger’s concept of intentionality, the idea of the object within the subject intention, as Joel Smith explains: ‘Equipment is ready-to-hand, and this means that it is ready to use, handy, or available. The readiness-to-hand of equipment is its manipulability in our dealings with it’ (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Drawing Together, in the end, was about the experience of the body – and indeed bodies – in using chalk as a means to trace our shadows. Ultimately this is an impossible task, but one we feel is nonetheless ‘ready to hand’. It was heartening to see people spent time to engage with the project. I am grateful to my collaborator, Sunil Manghani, and the Biennale organisers, Sophie and Jane, for helping to make Drawing Together happen. A big thanks also to Elham, Sarvenaz, Ruby and James for helping out on the day.

See also Re: Making