Furthering Drawing

A response to ‘Representation and Landscape’ by James Corner

Jacques Abelman, Amsterdam Academy of Architecture

jacques.abelman [at] gmail dot com

“On the one hand, the drawing can be an impotent imposter, an impossible analog, dangerously reductive and misused; whereas, on the other hand, drawing holds the possibility of forming a field of revelation, prompting one to figure previously unforeseen landscapes of a richer and more meaningful dimension…”

After delving into a detailed exploration of the traditional representational modes available to designers – projection, notation, and representation, Corner arrives at a polarized dynamic he refers to as “the misuse of drawing”. The first misuse is the drawing as purely artistic endeavor and artistic artifact, ineffectual to the actual production of landscape. The second misuse is the opposite; drawing as overly technical and rational, devoid of the richness of real landscape.

Is it possible to find a median mode of representation useful in understanding, analyzing, and constructing landscape from a design point of view? In his final passages Corner offers some clues: drawing remains “an extraordinarily powerful medium in relation to the production of landscape.” He believes that drawing can become a place where the two seemingly incompatible modes of visual representation can be reconciled, where metaphor meets measure, where the symbolic can potentially meet the instrumental. The key is formulating new strategies that deal with what is behind the picture plane in the abstract space of our conceptualization of the image. Strategies of appropriation, collage, and imaginative projection can initially liberate us to discover “new ground” and find structures more relevant to constructing landscapes. New information can be layered into a drawing which also refers to its own developmental process. Corner refers to this process as deictic drawing. In this way we can refer to experience, to emotion and the senses, and to the complexity of what we are grappling with as well as physical and spatial form. This is not meant to replace blueprints but rather act as a territory for a specific kind of work. He summarizes this approach in the complex yet succinct phrase “The representation of space is not separated from the space of representation, just as the function of representation is not separated from the representation of function.”

Notation also plays a role in advancing drawing. Abstract symbols, diagrams and schema can function intertextually to layer in other meanings to drawing. Corner alludes to notation in music and dance as a way to potentially include references to physical and temporal processes of real landscape. Although this approach is extremely promising, it has yet to be fully manifested in landscape drawing. Notational drawing also refers to a much older tradition where informational signs are layered into an image. For example, medieval images of cities and farmland sometimes contain astrological references to the seasons and the passage of time. Still older images such as aboriginal paintings contain entire worldviews woven into the pictorial field, in a sense much richer than our own western tradition.

Corner finds inspiration in the work of artists such as Duchamp who incorporate specific strategies into their work, as mentioned above. Some of the most powerful images of landscapes I have seen are by artists, specifically Anselm Keifer. Keifers’ work not only weaves together painting and photography and sculpture, it incorporates natural materials like clay and wood to stunning effect. Stunning is perhaps not the correct word, because the work is heavy, somber, and laden with the devastating history of the Second World War. Textual inscriptions through the visual surface refer to poetry, religion, and history. The environments created by his paintings engulf the viewer in a synesthetic wave replete with space, form, material, and meaning. Kiefer is looking backward in time to interpret; designers must project forward in time to manifest what does not yet exist. Perhaps through the strategies that Corner outlines, as well as borrowing from the visual worlds of our most inspiring visual artists, we will infuse landscape representation with new life.