Trace Engines

Trace Engines: Residency and Exhibitions 2015 – 2020

Trace Engines – is a body of work produced over a five-year period, which drew directly from an extensive sketchbook-based archive of drawings made during that period.  This resulted from visits to cities in China and Japan, Korea, the UK, the Netherlands and India, engaging with the sketchbook as both repository and virtual studio.

The drawings responded to the notion of a global language and visual literacy concerning ideas around the understanding and acceptance of the human-made contemporary and historical culture we inhabit. The process was one of continual recording and redrawing, responding to both the observed and the remembered.

The research took place in various locations, the traditional museum or gallery setting, including national museums in China, the V&A and British Museum and others in more liminal spaces like lobbies and entrance halls and observation from cab windows.  Collecting from taxonomy as diverse as crafted objects – a Song Dynasty vase, a Delft 16th century charger, or my own Delft birth plate gifted in the 1960s, comparing and composing these with the throwaway discounted lines of Argos and B&Q, or the generic mass object recognition employed by the animators, Tex Avery or Hanna Barbara has been a key part of the work.  The sketchbook becoming a melting pot and imaginary production line for these products, constructs and collections.



Trace Engines: Residency and Exhibitions 2015 – 2020

Through the Trace Engines research, using the notion of a drawing as an engine, a device that moves something forward, both physically out of the sketchbook and conceptually, into a new realm of drawings. This new realm uses drawing itself as material and subject, engaging with the act of re-questioning the sculptural nature and positioning of drawing and the notion of once something has been drawn, does it have to be made?   The process transcribed and reconfigured images from the sketchbook, using a range of sculptural or architectural archetypes as proformas and scaffolding. These included plans, maps, elevations, the plinth, the vitrine and the portrait bust as both silhouette and perspectival frame in constructing initial collages. The collages were redrawn using different fountain pen ink collected through travels in China, Europe and the UK. The inks’ properties and qualities are infused with historical and cultural links to trade and commerce history. Such synergies have a direct relationship and response to the colours consistent with blue and white ceramics and textiles across Asia, Europe and Africa, and specifically China. The drawings include pattern and motif consistent with traditional Chinese ink painting subjects and floating world technique and composition.

Through the process of redrawing, collage and montage, the original drawings were revisited. Their orientation changed and repositioned akin to finding the appropriate stone in constructing a wall or piece in a puzzle with no key. Once each of the composite ink drawings was completed, it was placed face down on another surface, in the first instance paper and later on in the project, directly onto the gallery wall. The transfer was achieved through the simple action of dabbing using cloths and water, disrupting and destroying the paper fibres releasing the ink. The process creates an after image, a trace, residue, an act of celebration of the immediate and acceptance of chance in the process, directly referencing the Chinese aesthetic of appropriation of the natural and the found material as a vehicle to depict, mirror and celebrate nature. 

The drawings were produced as part of and in response to a ten-week residency at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art (GAFA) and the Redtory Art Zone (originally a 1920s canned food factory repurposed from 2005) centre for artists’ studios and galleries. Fifty of the 100 drawings produced were exhibited in the AIP Gallery in November 2015 – February 2016. During this period, there were several studio visits, public and institutional lectures to students and staff of GAFA, gallery visitors and at the Shenzhen Museum of Art; with a catalogue in Mandarin and English, with supporting essays by Dr Mary Lou Barratt and Mike Addison.

Thirty of the drawings were then shown at the Rochester Art Gallery, Kent, November 2016 – January 2017.   For the first time, the exhibition included a site-specific application of the drawings to the gallery walls, culminating in the first residue piece. There were several artists talks and workshops with the local community, schools and universities during the exhibition. The catalogue was reprinted to include a forward by the curator Alison Young.

Trace Engines was further exhibited in conjunction with a range of newer work at: 

Trace Engines, September – October 2017.  The Brewery Tap, UCA Project Space, alongside new work, as part of Folkestone Triennial, Folkestone, Kent. 

Port of Entry, (solo exhibition). August 2018 – September 2018, Sun Pier House, Chatham, Kent.

Speed of Thought, (Drawing Across Art, Science, Architecture, Design, Music).  October – November 2019.  Group show curated by Isabel Young and Alison Hand, Newington Gallery Art Academy, London.

Fictions, (two-person exhibition Isabel Young/Gary Clough). February 2020, The Cello Factory, London.

Trace Engines exhibition articles

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