Posted in Writing by robbiekarmel on June 4, 2011

Last week I briefly mentioned that I attempt to overload my brain while making work. To do this I use techniques such as blind drawing, drawing with both hands at the same time, drawing two different subjects simultaneously, drawing in three dimensional space and using mediums I am not familiar or comfortable with. I do this for a few reasons. Firstly, it serves to maintain a level of adversity in the work; as long as I am working against something it drives me to continue to create, so in setting up my own impossible tasks I can create an artificial imperative. Secondly, it is a means to press my brain into operating in new ways, performing tasks that it hasn’t previously performed. This, I feel, is where the shamanistic element of my practice comes to the forefront. I find that in repeatedly performing tasks that my brain is not familiar with, or even necessarily capable of doing, can effectively take up my entire concentration. I find prolonged intense concentration on the act of drawing can very occasionally result in a meditative state, but more frequently I succumb to wandering concentration and lack of focus. Another element of performing these impossible tasks over and over again is that after many attempts I find I can begin to achieve what I had previously intended to be unachievable. I learn how to draw with two hands, or I find myself considering more how to draw in three dimensions, or finding it much easier to blindly map three dimensions onto a two dimensional surface. Through applying myself I am able to teach my brain and hands complicated new tasks.

This deliberate challenging and training of my actions and thinking is what I consider to be the shamanistic aspect of my drawing practice. It expands both my experiences and thought processes and in doing so allows me to view the external world with new means of observation, which I can then apply to finding new ways to challenge myself and make work. I would consider this pursuit to be a contemporary parallel to traditional shamanism; rather than trying to communicate with the otherworldly I am trying to expose myself to new means of communication, thinking and observing.

The problem with this view of shamanistic practice is that traditionally, or at least, to my notion, shamans provide a service to their community. Something I feel I do not achieve. I feel so incredibly overwhelmed by the idea of trying to challenge or engage with contemporary culture that I retreat into introspectiveness or, more commonly, nothingness in my subjects. As much as I would like this atrophied expression to communicate through omission and allusion I do not believe it is capable of that level of sub-textual communication. I do not believe that in pointing out that I find myself unable to engage with certain subjects that I successfully communicate my reasons for not engaging with them. I feel that from here there are a few things that could happen; I can find a way to overcome this debilitation and begin to engage with new subjects and actively communicate with the audience; or, and I fear this is more likely, I can continue to retreat into making work that engages with nothingness for fear of failing in any other more meaningful pursuit. Thirdly, there is a possibility that I will be able to harness this means of expression, turn the act of communication, rather than the subject, into the active element of my work.

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