The recent exhibition Drawn from Photography, on view at The Drawing Center from February 18 to March 31, showcased the work of thirteen artists who painstakingly reconstructed and reinterpreted scenes of social turmoil using photography as a mediator between subject and rendering. The transitional nature of the exhibition’s themes, focusing on episodes of war, civil unrest and urban development, mirror the passage of its imagery from photography to the drawn composition.
Counteracting the hectic immediacy of wartime conditions and the emotional impact of its documentation, hand-drawn reproductions of widely available printed material compress and personalize their messages within the framework of individual experience. Varying editorial choices by artists result in either heightened or muted viewer experience with the work. Karl Haendel’s Untitled (Birthday Drawing), consisting of an immaculately transcribed Russian newspaper page dating to the artist’s date of birth, transforms a banal public document into a signifier of identity through the personal associations of the artist. Likewise, ongoing reproductions of isolated news headlines and detailed renderings of deceased American soldiers by Emily Prince remove potentially powerful individual information from the deluge of (often passively received) media coverage to confront the viewer directly and in a timely manner. The progressive nature of these pieces’ installation, which was updated periodically as international events unfolded, removes the space between the static art object and the subject it depicts.
Taking a more veiled approach, artists Ewan Gibbs and Andrea Bowers disguise their expressive hand by emulating elements of the print process, producing illusionary drawings that take on the austerity of social documentation. Andrea Bowers’s Non Violent Protest Training series relates the poignancy of its imagery by retaining the medial distance between subject and rendering. Here, the brutal emotive potency of civil unrest is supplanted by sterile, haunting scenes with which the viewer cannot entirely connect. The slow, detailed process of reproduction employed by the artists in this exhibition culminates in a drastic interplay between time, distance and presence, affecting artist and viewer alike. That the pieces were not created in the physical face of turmoil creates space between artist and subject, though personal modes of representation and compositional/stylistic choices bring human experience even closer to the event than the photograph that initially captured it. Presentation of war photography, newspaper materials, posters and other printed media out of context and reformulated in the creative mind omits the overwhelming transmission of mass media and speaks to the growing emotional and mental disconnect currently plaguing the public reception of wartime events.