Rowen Sexton (curator, writer)
What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
– T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding, 1942.
There is a cohesion that is central to the work in the exhibition DIC TAT which captures the dialogue between aural and visual disciplines. DIC TAT refers to the relationship between drawings and music, each art form ‘dictating to’, and influencing the other. In this exhibition, Marie Hanlon and Rhona Clarke correlate elements of sound and line, and at the nucleus of this association is the metronome. The metronome could be seen as a muse in DIC TAT; its pulsing mechanical sound underscoring the creation of Hanlon’s drawings; its rhythmical intonation permeating the artworks. In keeping with the uncomplicated simplicity of Hanlon’s drawings, Clarke draws inspiration from them; responding with musical compositions of a linear, electronic nature. The continuity from sound to the visual, back to sound again, loops and repeats, returning constantly to the pulsing mechanical sound of the metronome. This is the generative source of the project.
The struggle to reconcile opposing themes is a central motif in this exhibition. Notions of dichotomy are overwhelmingly present throughout the work, the processes of production and even the premise of the exhibition itself. Throughout the working process a number of diametrically opposed pairings come under close scrutiny, and heavily inform the basis of the artworks. Pairings such as formal/informal, chaos/order, loose/structured, freedom/resistance and intuitive/planned, suffuse the pieces, allowing for further consideration of the dual perspectives in the work. The tug between precision and risk-taking is carefully balanced in Marie Hanlon’s works, as she addresses the challenge of following her intuition. By allowing instinct to guide her artistic response, rather than conscious reasoning, Hanlon endeavors to counter the methods and working processes that she is accustomed to doing; an attempt almost, to compel spontaneity, and ‘unlearn’ previous habits.
“It is sometimes thought that in improvisation we can do just anything. But lack of a conscious plan does not mean that our work is random or arbitrary. Improvisation always has its rules, even if they are not a priori rules. When we are totally faithful to our own individuality, we are actually following a very intricate design. This kind of freedom is the opposite of “just anything.” We carry around the rules inherent in our organism. As living, patterned beings, we are incapable of producing anything random. […] As our playing, writing, speaking, drawing or dancing unfolds, the inner, unconscious logic of our being begins to show through and mold the material. This rich, deep patterning is the original nature that impresses itself like a seal upon everything we do or are.” 1
The innate tendencies described in the quote resonate clearly in Marie Hanlon’s approach to her most recent work. There is an inner tranquility that imbues her work, a contemplative quality that remains present despite her alternative system of production. In this body of work Hanlon has correlated sound and line directly. By physically drawing in time to the metronome beat, she relinquishes control and becomes less analytical within the now limited creative time span. The narrow margin of space for deliberation remains confined to the intervals between beats. These constricted conditions create a divide between instinct and logic, whereby creative control becomes intuitive rather than planned. This enables the formation of pieces guided by immediate impulse, choosing rhythmic line and expressive line rather than the more consciously realised descriptive line.
The locus of meaning in the metronome suite of drawings comes from a connotative dimension, so that rhythm is the all encompassing, primary source of activity. The process of transformation from a blank page through individual, gestural markings and lines begins to emerge, as visual traces are allied with sound through repetition of the beat. The metronomes hypnotic pulse lulls those in its environment into a meditative space. As the series of works develop, we see how the modulating tempo influences the drawings themselves. The energy is apparent, encapsulated by the greater sense of movement and the speed at which the pieces are produced. Transpersonal, spontaneous works manifest themselves from the pulsing fragments of metronomic sound that form the principal parameters of the pieces, permeating the visual compositions. The completed works highlight and consolidate both sonic structures and the subsequent subconscious inscriptions recorded on paper.
It was said of the celebrated jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, that he could take a nine foot Steinway and make it sound like an out-of-tune beat up old upright!2 Monk’s inventive music used repeated structures and devices in unorthodox, off-kilter compositions and improvisations. He favoured using few notes for maximum effect, and his arrangements were populated with idiosyncratic angular twists, rhythm changes and silence. Upon listening, there are occasions when there is almost a jarring of notes – a very deliberate device of Monk’s that was thoroughly considered, but sounds almost hesitant, accidental even.
Repetitive systems are also present in the work of Steve Reich, whose innovative musical concepts – such as looping and phasing notes and sound samples, have heavily influenced a wide range of art forms.
“Steve Reich’s music [also] relies heavily on repetition; but this is a ‘local’ device by which Reich realizes his concept of ‘music as a gradual process’ by which he means not the process of composition, but a piece of music that is literally a process. […] Two things are important: first, that the process should be able to be heard as it is happening – Reich is not interested in ‘secrets of structure that you can’t hear’ […] The second important aspect is that the process should happen very gradually and slowly, so that one’s attention is drawn to the process itself and to the inevitability of its gradualness.3
Reich’s ‘phasing’ process is one by which two or more lines of music repeating the same simple pattern are shifted against each other, moving in and out of phase.4 This process creates multiple layers of sound from a simple base sequence, and builds a complex sonic pattern, phasing the rhythm against itself – almost as if each individual musical note echoes another. A larger musical score could have an incredible variety of rhythmic possibilities.
In the suite of metronome drawings, which attempt to contain the line within a repetitive rhythmical sequence, Hanlon’s methods and processes of production reveal parallels with both Thelonious Monk and Steve Reich’s innovative approaches to, and execution of musical composition. Although stylistically different, both musicians still encapsulate the sound equivalent of Hanlon’s drawings through the equally rhythmically experimental, unconventional and repetitive methodologies that have informed their respective practices.
Hanlon’s accompanying works in DIC TAT highlight the essence of human presence through the minor shifts, wavering patterns and movements that evolve throughout each piece. These considered works have a meditative affinity; a contemplative quality that is reflected in the confined palette and the restrained aesthetic. Upon inspection small irregularities become apparent – the lightest of lines, the tiniest of overruns, junctures that are interestingly untidy – minor imperfections and almost imperceptible stray lines that reflect the immediacy and informal qualities that shape the work. These slight details and sensitively
handled overlays of marks relate to the nuances and details of human markings, as they benefit from a newly gained freedom that is now independent of sound and time constraints. Although there are vestiges of the experimental sound works contained in these pieces; a directness has been gained as a result of the preliminary creative process employed, and an underlying vitality is clearly articulated.
This selection of work is an exploration of liberty and release, renouncing a more formal construct and following a subconscious and intuitive framework throughout the process of production. Despite the novel approach, the hallmark characteristics of Hanlon’s practice, its subtlety, signifiers and minimalist qualities are still present. The new work however, harnesses spontaneity and energy, engendering a much greater freedom, whilst her aesthetic sensibilities remain intact.
By creating scenarios designed to push her beyond her comfort zone, in contrast to her usual timeframe for production and her approach to studio practice, Hanlon heralds a new departure in her work. There has been a shift – a deliberate decision to rely more heavily on one’s immediate reaction; letting go and following an instinctual path. This experimental process has heavily shaped the selected works, which are imbued with a sense of freedom, playfulness and rhythm. Paradoxically, these new compositions have an aesthetic affinity congruent with Hanlon’s established works. It is remarkable to examine and compare the overall similarities between pieces which came into being slowly, alongside rapidly made new works. Her methodologies differ, but the refined aesthetic is maintained throughout her oeuvre.
Text by Rowan Sexton
1Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (Los Angeles, J.P. Tarcher Inc., 1990).
2 Jim Miller, All About Jazz Interview, 2010.
3 Michael Nyman, Experimental Music, Cage and Beyond (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
4 Paul Griffiths, Modern Music: A Concise History (Thames and Hudson, 1996).