Drawing as Process and the Process as Drawing - Works by Mette Høyen Andersenback
Mag.art. and M.A. Helle Bach Rungø
The drawings by Mette Høyen Andersen are about the process of drawing and the unfolding of the line; about letting the materials and the colours speak with poetical and lyrical voices creating rhythm and musical resonance through forms, either driven out of the darkness of the coloured paper with a rubber, or through the self-enclosed line which becomes spacious in its whirling dance over the paper. The works are at one and the same time light and delicate, weighty and deep, using an abstract vocabulary, where the simple, often organic, shape or independent line stretch the space of the paper in a dynamic yet controlled way so that it is neither broken nor overloaded. Figure and ground stand in a relationship of balance, and each element is recorded with precision and intensity, so that every work is in constant flux between tension and relaxation, rest and unrest. Thus a musical dimension is indicated, culminating when a shape or line is repeated with a set interval which is suddenly broken, causing the pause or the arresting of movement to function as a preliminary note.
The rhythmical is not only a characteristic of the single work, but of the whole oeuvre of Mette Høyen Andersen, which is dominated by series, where the individual shape – i.e. the spiral – or the colour, the material – i.e. red ink – is explored in its endless possibilities, emphasizing the experimental in the working process. The experimental element is a crucial starting point for the unfolding of the drawing, both in fully developed works and when the drawing is kept within the more loose and open structure of the sketch. Thus it is often a very bodily process which is at work in the drawings of Mette Høyen Andersen, where the movement of the hand is registered as a material trace, either completely self-referring as an index or as the marker of a difference by which a limit or a border is articulated, whereby something is indicated besides the trace itself, a certain representational relationship. The sculptural starting point for Mette Høyen Andersen, where it is the hand that feels, registers and forms, is thus ever present. But in contrary to the heavy materiality of the clay it is in the quick and light medium of the drawing that Mette Høyen Andersen over the last few years has let her hand ‘see’ and shape. The work process borders on ‘automatism’ where consciousness and intention lets go and the deep concentration with its natural bodily registration of the line and the internal dynamism of the work takes over. In the process of creation a phenomenological dialectical relationship is thus at play where Mette Høyen Andersen so to speak ‘lends her body to the work’ – transferring the movement and materiality of her body, making the drawing a direct extension of her gesture. Put in other words: it is the hand that ‘sees’ and ‘thinks’; it is the hand and the sensitivity of the fingertips that register the movement and dynamism of the line. Paul Klee has in his Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch lection no. 1 very fittingly described the independent force of the line, its momentum as: “An active line on a walk, moving freely without a purpose. A walk simply for the sake of walking. The agent of mobility is a point that shifts its position forward.” This linear momentum does not abide by any rules – the route of the line is open, and it is exactly in this openness that Mette Høyen Andersen articulates an expressive potential.
In the last few years this tendency has presented itself in two radically different yet complementary methods of working with the drawing. One is classic, where a graphic trace in form of a line or a figure is rendered on white paper. The other method is more painterly and challenges the usual conception of drawing, as a graphic, line based rendering on a surface, in that it is no longer always the line that encloses the figure with its contour, but a process where the figure appears through the modulation of the colour. This extension of the vocabulary of drawing is particularly clear when Mette Høyen Andersen colours different kinds of paper with dry pastel chalk or coal in multiple layers, which is then rubbed and worked over with rags and fingertips, leaving the surface appearing material and tactile, then using the negative process of erasing to rub out forms and figures from the background. This process and tactile effect is used e.g. in a series of 6 drawings measuring 100x70 cm, which were exhibited in the Cobra-room at Sophienholm in May 2001. Different kinds of paper were here explored for their specific tactile qualities, accentuated through a row of circles rubbed out of the tactile materiality of the support. In this way Mette Høyen Andersen created an ambivalent game of planes, where the shapes seemingly shifted over the surface making the circles simultaneously pull back and forwards, alternating between a spherical appearance and the appearance of wholes or recesses.
In many of the works with a more classic drawing method, where different and seemingly abstract forms are indicated by the limiting and contour creating potential of the line, we often see a working process, where the original starting point is to be found in a figurative object inspired by the near and homely things around us, like a leg on a chair or a toilet role holder. Or an experience of a straight row of electrical masts on a trip to Norway may end up as an abstract pattern of lines, dividing the paper into sections in calm shifts. In other words it is a process of focusing and simplifying leading from the figurative to the abstract. It is an ability to see patterns and shapes in the world that surrounds us, in order to set these patterns free and provide them with a meaning independent of their original referential obligations – an adaptation of a trace remembered, of a shape that pursues.
In her work Mette Høyen Anders ranges even wider. On a conceptual level she has played with and explored the discourse of the line and made it three dimensional by letting it leave the paper as support in order to bend it in wire forming ‘lines in the air’. Or the line may have a referential resonance by pointing to images from a female universe. In this case the line becomes concrete and physical as a clothes-line with small drawings on tracing paper hanging from its pegs. The line thus shifts its semantic meaning from an engraved trace to an installation in the air, which because of its materiality casts a shadow on the wall creating yet another spatial dimension. The first row of association may thus recede and the line breaks with the clothes-line and creates its own field of meaning and tension: the empty pegs become pauses, sighs, exclamation marks. They embody possible appendages and indicate a future space in the middle of the presentness of the work.
The state of the drawing itself, its constancy, its ground or support is also subjected to a displacement in the hands of Mette Høyen Andersen. In many works several layers can be counted – ordinary paper alternating with tracing paper, creating a unique visual game that challenges the perception and understanding of every viewer in terms of what is in front and what is behind, of what is shadow and what is a stroke of the pen. As in the academic tradition the shadow here contributes to bring fullness to the line extending its visibility and effect of depth, but contrary to the classic use of cast shadow the local visibility is not diminished – rather the transparency and sensitivity to light is enhanced. Shapes and lines are indicated in a game of doublings, where some parts are veiled, others revealed. This tension filled act has its roots in the icons of the Middle Ages, where the most holy were veiled and kept hidden behind a cloth, only to be revealed for the penitent on special occasions. But for Mette Høyen Andersen this use of veiling and unveiling is not primary about any theatrical effect, but rather an exploration of the possibilities of the visible. In extension of this vein of thought the Phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty operates with what he calls the ‘lived perspective’, which ultimately does not distinguish between the visible and the invisible. In the discourse of Merleau-Ponty these opposites rather become two sides of the same coin, completely interlinked: “The invisible is not the opposite of the visible: the visible has an invisible inner framework, and the in-visible is the secret counterpart of the visible”. When the shape or line casts, or is applied with, a shadow its fleeting quality in the world is furthermore anchored and the representational embodiment of ‘death’ or absence is negated in favour of a seemingly physical presence of the otherwise abstract trace or self-enclosed form.
The predominant colours in the work of Mette Høyen Andersen ranges from light and ethereal pastel colours to more saturated earth colours, which are accentuated by the non-colours black, white and grey. This colour scale may be broken with works that takes as their starting point the pure ground of the paper, onto which bright primary colours are applied with gouache in a quick and precise movement developing patterns with a new expressive force. Here the blue, the yellow and the red step into character and become independent units of meaning although to a certain extend still dependent on the boundary created by the line. In 2002 a series of works that abandoned the grey-black tone of the pencil in favour of red ink were exhibited at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. Here it was the ink itself and the quality of the line that became object for a sensitive investigation, exploring the connotations of the red colour which stretch from a romantic love association to a reading of blood as a direct trace of man and the pulse of life through the body, indicating both fertility and vulnerability. The materialisation of the line as a thread in one of these drawings further emphasises the potential of the colour to generate meaning. This investigation into colour was further developed the following year, 2003, resulting in yet an invitation to exhibit a series of drawings at Charlottenborg. A selection of the latest works of Mette Høyen Andersen could be seen in the spring of 2004 at the two-man exhibition “Mind the Motion”. The exploration of colour has here been taken a step further by making movement an integral part of the work blurring the boundary between drawing and painting. On grand supports of tracing paper, measuring no less than 250 x 90 cm, brightly coloured ink has been left to glide down in a mixture of accident and control providing a unique twist on the action painting of the 1950’s. The ink reacts to the tracing paper in ways reminiscent of liquid in a microscope – some of it runs fast, other parts move slowly, and some comes to a complete halt almost echoing brightly coloured oil ripples on a transparent sea of water. Thus the final works become traces of movement and thus of time, yet in their frozen state pointing to the opposite effect of calm and stillness.
Mette Høyen Andersen has – in both a bodily, process oriented and perceptually challenging way – reinvigorated a classic artistic discipline such as the drawing. It is the abstract line and shape, which through the precision of its placement and its effect of trace and indexical mark transform the surface into a spatial and dynamic entity. But this trace is not only rendered with pen and ink. The varied visual language and understanding of the expressive possibilities of drawing is furthermore reflected in the ability of Mette Høyen Andersen to ‘draw’ with a brush, a rubber, wire and thread making the drawing become process and the process drawing.