Outsider, Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow (23/08–27/09/2008)

Dear S,

I decided to write my press release in the form of this letter to you. Rather than writing in the third person, it seemed to make sense to try and explain with a more open voice what I’m thinking and why the work is needing to question and explore the use of a subjective voice too.

Working towards the Outsider exhibition in August, I’ve been thinking about my last show at Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow (‘Participant’, 2004) and asking what it can mean to exhibit work in the same, albeit extended, space four years later? Moving from Participant to Outsider, I wanted to react against that point in time and use the exhibition to respond not only as I have been doing to works from art history but more directly to my own practice. So the beckoning hand that invited an audience to ‘participate’ (or at least, entertain that notion) becomes a closed palm; an open platform is now a barrier. I am not interested in making life easier for an audience. Both the viewer and myself are essentially operating outside of the work. That doesn’t mean this exhibition can’t be an active or absolute experience. I’ve been thinking about the words of Albert Camus, when he claimed that “ in our society any man who does not cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to be condemned to death”. (1)

We’ve talked about it before, but I am aware that there is an increasingly prevalent personal voice in my own practice (despite, or perhaps because of the reliance on a historical context to work within or against). I’m interested in using ‘Outsider’ and the dialogue around it, to question the role and possibilities for self representation and the subjective voice today. Carolee Schneemann (2) has talked about turning the experiences behind the working processes into the work itself. Is that still a relevant need? How does my voice verbalise itself in relation to that idea?

For this exhibition, I’ve been working with reproductions of a series of images by the artist, Franz Gertsch (3). They were mostly made in the 1970s/80s and depict incidental moments with the candid eye of a camera, rendered in paint, pencil or through printmaking, employing great attention to detail on a monumental scale. Gertsch describes himself as a tool in relation to the model, expressing a desire to renounce responsibility for the things depicted and to liberate self from emotionalism. I’m attempting to challenge where my own making can situate itself in response to that idea. Why liberate self from emotionalism? A man who does not cry at his mother’s funeral is not lacking emotion. Surely there is more truth in a blockage than false tears. What do you think?

By spilling my own ‘everyday activities and detritus’ over Gertsch’s images, and investing them with a similar sense of labour and intensity of detail, I am both attempting to question and take a form of ownership over his images (and attitude), whilst opening myself to the same problems. I keep returning to a passage by Schneemann in which she challenges the paradox that we deal with images- painted, sculpted, performed - as ‘reality’.

“As if paint, plaster, celluloid, stone and paper exist to convince us of a life force as vital as our own flesh and blood… and subject to our own moralities! This is as child-like as spanking our dolls for making imaginary pee-pee; and shelters an unconscious, debased primitivism surrounding endowing inanimate objects with projections of our repressed vitality.” (4)

I hope the four drawings, one print and two objects I will be exhibiting, are as provocative of questioning as Schneemann suggests and can be interrogated through eyes, which demand as much above.

Be great to hear your thoughts.


  1. Quoted from the Afterword for The Outsider, Albert Camus, Penguin Books, 1983
  2. Born in 1923, America, Carolee Schneemann has been a germinal figure in 1960s performance and body art. Since the sixties her work has continued to challenge the possibilities of art making in relation to feminist thinking, questioning her own position as both subject, object and maker.
  3. Born in 1930, Switzerland, Franz Gertsch, is one of the most significant Photo- or Hyperrealist artists and has generated an oeuvre of monumental paintings, drawings and prints.
  4. Quoted from More than Meat Joy, Carolee Schnneemann, Documentext,1979, 1997

Born in New Zealand in 1977, Davis completed her BA Printmaking in 2000 and an MPhil in Art in Organisational Contexts in 2001 at Glasgow School of Art. Recent group exhibitions include De Appel, Amsterdam, Simon Lee, London, Tanya Bonakdar, New York and Wilkinson, London. In 2006 Davis had a solo show at the Kunsthalle, Basel and the following year was selected for Art Now, Tate, London. Recently she has exhibited at Galerie Kamm, Berlin and has been awarded a residency at Cove Park, in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. Davis is based in Glasgow and in September will start a three month residency at The Banff Arts Center, Canada.

Private View, Saturday 23rd August 2008, 7-9pm Until 27th September 2008 Gallery Hours, Tuesday-Saturday 11am-5pm and by appointment

Gallery Commissioned Text:

Insider: inventing drawing Sherman Sam, London, Summer 2008

To be honest, that’s what an artist must do.

What do I mean? I think that one has to be true to one’s heart, or at least try to follow it. But how to follow, or for that matter even hear one’s heart, can be an entire life’s endeavour.

“I want/ everything I make/ to reflect my /whole life” is what the four drawings say albeit inverted and backwards. It is a quote taken from Yvonne Rainer, and in full this extract from an afternote reads:

“I can only reflect the reality of my own existence, which continues to be about loving, hating, acting stupid, ‘waking up’, trying to ‘sleep’, being in despair, being courageous, being terrified, getting excited, getting outraged, laughing. A story about a woman who is courageous is not enough for me…. I want everything I make to reflect my whole life. I think that is why those paragraphs floating fascinate me so: they have no time or space, they are pure events or states that the audience can very concretely apply to themselves, if they choose.” (Italics mine)

Kate Davis is certainly an artist with a well-tuned sense of history. In previous exhibitions her work has been responsive and attentive to works of art, their history and context. Here, these new pieces are in part a response to her own exhibition in the same space four years earlier. Look through her body of work and you’ll find that KD has been subtly inserting herself into Art’s history. Her image and body, even palm prints, have long been elements and measures in her growing visual language. Carl Andre, Kathe Kollowitz, Faith Wilding, Lucie Rie, Carolee Schneeman, and now Franz Gertsch have all provided voices in her various works, but it is obvious that Davis’ voice – or may be I should say hand - that overrides:

“I’ve been aware of an increasingly prevalent personal voice in my own practice (despite, or perhaps because of the reliance on a historical context to work within or against) and I’m interested in using ‘Outsider’ and the dialogue around it, to question the role and possibilities for self representation and the subjective voice today.”

But there is another voice that may shed light on this occasion of drawing:

“Here is a first hypothesis: the drawing is blind, if not the draughtsman or draughtswoman. As such, and in the moment proper to it, the operation of drawing would have something to do with blindness, would in some way regard blindness (aveuglement). In this abocular hypothesis (the word aveugle comes from ab oculis: not from or by but without the eyes), the following remains to be heard and understood: the blind man can be a seer, and he sometimes has the vocation of a visionary. Here is the second hypothesis then – an eye graft, the grafting of one point of view onto the others: a drawing of the blind is a drawing of the blind. Double genitive. There is no tautology here, only a destiny of the self-portrait…”

Of course I’m not proposing that KD is blind or speaking of blindness, though I am saying she is a draughtswoman. But like the grafting, then crafting together of these different view points, Rainer, Gertsch, Schneeman, Camus and of course, her own, a kind of portrait or image is slowly being constructed. She has already said that she has been “aware of an increasingly prevalent personal voice”. Those running shoes, the familiar hands, thighs, jeans are elements presented in each drawing. Is there already a destiny here towards self-portraiture? Is the representation of self a working towards “truth” in this case? Perhaps a move to finding one’s self or way…:

“Like Memoirs, the Self-Portrait always appears in the reverberation of several voices. And the voice of the other orders or commands, makes the portrait resound, calls without symmetry or consonance…If what is called a self-portrait depends on the fact that it is called ‘self-portrait,’ an act of naming should allow or entitle me to call just about anything a self-portrait, not only any drawing (‘portrait’ or not) but anything that happens to me, anything by which I can be affected or let myself be affected.”

However arriving at some “truth” in drawing may be more complicated than it seems. For JD, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida whose voice we read above, one cannot be putting pencil to paper and seeing at the same time, hence the constructed image is already an act of memory . Wait you say, but KD is not quite working directly from life, as each image is constructed through photography. In drawing she is actually translating a readymade image. Nonetheless the issue of drawing, and memory, is still very much the same. In that “un-realism” – that is the detachment one attains from working with photography rather than life - there is already a stepping back . Does KD work from her image of Gertsch or is she working from the one in a book?

For JD the condition of the self-portrait is equal that of the ruins. There is no mirror, just memory in the end, which leads to fragments and constructions. Likewise here we see only parts in each drawing; parts of KD, parts of other artists, parts of a sentence. And then each drawing is part of a greater whole.

If this is so how then is a blind draughtswoman to be honest?

“Every time a draftsman lets himself be fascinated by the blind, every time he makes the blind a theme of his drawing, he projects, dreams, or hallucinates a figure of a draftsman, or sometimes, more precisely, some draftswoman. Or more precisely still, he begins to represent a drawing potency (puissance) at work, the very act of drawing. He invents drawing.”

The origin of drawing, inventing drawing, un-drawing, originary drawing, these are all terms that JD deploys or seems to imply. As in his writing, he is pointing to possibilities beyond his text and the texts under examination: a fold or spacing, writing before writing, or in this case drawing before drawing. True drawing?

KD’s drawings may at first appearance not seem to be striving towards this, however they are not mere conceptual photorealisms. The white spacing – like Rainer’s floating paragraphs - in each automatically cancels the drawing’s realism and returns us to the texture of the paper, the feel of the graphite, the texture of the marks; that is real drawing – graphite working on paper. Nor are they “true” self-portraits.

These are drawings. And that is what KD achieves here. She is inventing drawing for herself. But is she loosing herself and finding drawing? That question is perhaps for another exhibition. So in offering that KD is drawing her self, I have also – via JD (my very own seeing ear dog) - offered that the self-portrait is already lost. What we have left is KD drawing herself drawing (to speak in JD’s tongue). Eventually, in time, even KD will drop away, and all we’ll have left is drawing.

“Let us recall that, in the case of the blind man, hearing goes farther than the hand, which goes farther than the eye. The hand has an ear for preventing the fall, that is, the casus, the accident; it thus commemorates the possibility of the accident, keeps it in memory. A hand is, here, the very memory of the accident. But for the one who sees, visual anticipation takes over for the hand in order to go even farther - indeed much farther. What does “farther” mean, and farther than the far-way itself?”

To listen to one’s heart, that is what I am trying to say here. It is difficult to hear sometimes, for all the noise.