Art

Drawing on Urban Life with the Body

The chalk drawings on the floor of the Drawing Center's main gallery for Susan Hefuna and Luca Veggetti's "NOTATIONOTATIONS" (2013) (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)
The chalk drawings on the floor of the Drawing Center’s main gallery before the beginning of Susan Hefuna and Luca Veggetti’s “NOTATIONOTATIONS” (2013) performance, while a projection of a Manhattan intersection in the background. (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)

I’ve always been fascinated with the ancient Western story of the origin of art, which is recounted by the Greek historian Pliny. Art was born, he wrote, when a Corinthian maiden traced the outline of her lover’s shadow on a wall before he departed for war. That image of love and remembrance as the origin of art immediately came to mind at the performance of Susan Hefuna and Luca Veggetti’s “NOTATIONOTATIONS” (2013) at the Drawing Center.

Joseph-Benoît Suvée's "The Invention of Drawing" (c.1791) is an 18th C. depiction of the ancient myth. (image via the Getty)
Joseph-Benoît Suvée’s “The Invention of Drawing” (c.1791) is an 18th C. imagining of the ancient myth. (image via the Getty)

In the main gallery, white chalk drawings covered the floors as video of Manhattan intersections was projected on opposite walls — each night’s performance opened and closed with a new video installation of a busy, downtown Manhattan intersection. The large white lines of the intersections echo the more chaotic but still seemingly ordered drawn lines in the space. The creation of this interior floor drawing, by Hefuna, is captured on video and is projected in the space while three dancers (Gabrielle Lamb, PeiJu Chien-Pott, and Olivia Ancona) move through the space and erase the lines at every turn.

Whirling through the audience, each dancer’s movements, which were choreographed by Veggetti, don’t perfectly echo the hand of the artist but appear to interpret the movement in the forms. The result is an experience two times removed from the original source but remarkably familiar, like the lingering emotional remnants of something long departed and drawing a stark, if unintentional, similarity to the Ancient myth.

Dancers erasing the chalk lines as they dance.
Dancers erasing the chalk lines as they dance.

The angularity of each dancers’ movements had a decidedly urban feel of being forced into a handmade geometry that is at once part of the environment but remarkably removed from its organic logic. The dancers didn’t make eye contact with the audience, but instead rushed through the space or balled up on the floor and often moving across, almost colliding with bystanders in the process.

One of the drawings in Susan Hefuna's "Untitled" (2011) series, graphite and ink on paper and tracing paper. Courtesy the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago.
One of the drawings in Susan Hefuna’s “Untitled” (2011) series, graphite and ink on paper and tracing paper. Courtesy the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago.

In an adjacent room, drawings by Hefuna explore a spatial geometry similar to the floor drawing. While the graphite drawings often felt thin and undeveloped, the more substantial drawings that integrate ink convey a sense of solidity and depth as the weight of each line easily differentiates itself from the other.

Hefuna and Veggetti’s collaboration interprets the city through the gesture of drawing. For their inspiration they appear to home in on the city’s many busy intersections — few spaces can capsulize the intensity of contemporary life like an urban intersection as throngs of strangers converge for a few moments in a rhythm that we see so often that it almost disappears.

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In Hefuna and Veggetti’s reflection of New York, it is easy to recognize the familiar spatial collage of urban experience, with its multiple perspectives and mercurial energy. During the 30-minute performance, audience members wandered the stage as dancers moved around them — but then the performance jarringly stopped, with no indication of as to why. After a brief burst of applause and some bows the crowd continued on their way and all we were left with was a nebulous mood, some memories, and a desire to piece together the disparate elements we were a part of — if that isn’t contemporary life, I don’t know what is.

Susan Hefuna and Luca Veggetti’s “NOTATIONOTATIONS” (2013) took place at the Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street, Soho, Manhattan) from September 16–18.

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