Fields, Charts, Soundings

Ana Balona de Oliveira

Any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order.

A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

In ‘Fields, Charts, Soundings’ Emma McNally investigates possibilities of semiotic connections and disconnections through a visually and conceptually dense use of pencil on paper. Her large and small-scale drawings (placed both vertically on walls and horizontally on glass-covered tables as relational objects non-hierarchically occupying a layered space) offer themselves to the viewer as surfaces or sites for rhythmic relations of graphite marks disruptively connected in gatherings, collisions, swirls and dispersals that are both geometric and chaotic. There seems to be a permanent flux of disquietingly pulsing energy achieved through these conflicting highly organised and extremely fleeting forces. To use Hal Foster’s words while describing the model of the rhizome, McNally’s graphite-marking appears ‘to ramify like a weed or a rhizome ... through mutations of connection and disconnection’. The fact that McNally is able to attain such an effect through drawing is undoubtedly a constant source of bewilderment and reflection f Only in appearance categorising her works as ‘fields’, ‘charts’ and ‘soundings’ – for a chart could also be seen as a field or sounding and vice-versa – the artist ironically plays with the notion of stable definition through the use of dictionary entry and explaining footnote (in this case for ‘carbon’) in the accompanying text of the exhibition. At the same time, and by these same means, she presents multiple and open possibilities of meaning for ‘field’, ‘chart’ and ‘sounding’ and shows the multi-layered relevance of carbon in her work. In fact, besides being one of McNally’s major working materials, carbon also offers, as a chemical element, a possible analogy for the multiple ‘mutations of connection and disconnection’ played out in her drawings. The artist has herself explained this relevance:

‘Carbon is very important to me for many reasons related to all of this – the rhythms of formation played out infinitely because of its unique ability to bond with other atoms, its relation to energy, its physical nature (made of layers that have weak bonds between them but strong bonds between the atoms on a particular layer: when I use graphite it sheds these layers, they can also be erased and leave a smudge or trace of matter that is then part of what results from the process). Carbon allotropes also cover the spectrum from softest – graphite – to one of the hardest - diamond. It can be an excellent conductor of heat and electricity in one form and an insulator in the other. I love the models that describe its forms, the fullerenes chains etc. I would like to do drawings where the weave incorporates these many rhythms of carbon as well as a constant disintegration and shaking that continually prevents the weave from closing and defining.’

However, as McNally acknowledges, this is just one possible analogy amongst many others given not only by herself but also by the viewers of her layered works, such as those of aerial views, battlefield maps, geological formations, oceanic charts, disease transmissions, animal migratory routes, molecule structures, black holes, etc. As in the similarity between the processes of the radically differing micro-cosmos of the atom and macro-cosmos of the star formation, that which above all interests the artist is the idea of flow within difference and the recognition of the impossibility of stable and totally definable boundaries. It is precisely here that McNally’s work becomes philosophically political, for through it she is claiming for an increased awareness of the delusional establishment of identities and certainties. By means of exploring the dynamic of formation through rhythm and taking into account diverse processes of graphic deconstruction (which, in a Derridian sense, does not mean destruction but rather de-layering or exposing of the layers, as in a geological excavation that attains no foundations or a Nietzschian genealogical investigation that finds no original beginning, no essentialist origin, order, arque), McNally disrupts unity and incorporates alterity, friction and conflict.

In this exhibition the artist has developed her relational and layered graphic strategies, for now she has not only drawn with graphite, but also by bending the paper itself and including the traces of this gesture into the drawing process. In some of the works she has superimposed two layers of paper into one single drawing, thereby creating tension between the overlaid, slightly translucent surfaces, whose marks simultaneously combine and counter each other. Also, McNally dismantles the opposition of the white surface and black mark by exploring their reversal. Other examples of works show the tension between the movement depicted and the fixation procured by several pins holding the sheets of paper together. The sometimes quasi violent graphite-marking that perforates the paper, the use of the pins per se, as well as the third- dimensional residues of the action of folding/unfolding generally contribute to the tactile strength of the work, thus pushed beyond the flatness of the surfaces and pure abstraction, and enriched with new semiotic-political openness.

Ana Balona de Oliveira (January 2008) or the viewer.