Language and Thinking

Posted in Uncategorized by robbiekarmel on February 20, 2017

The Body and its Objects

The following drawings are the ongoing continuation of my explorations in mapping out my body through proprioceptive, simulated, remembered and mimetic means.





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I have continued to produce self portraits through largely non-visual means, and I find the reflective and reiterative process continues to change over time. The two drawing above were done on different occasions without reference to one another, I am unsure which one was first, however they were both done in the same bodily position with the same spatial relationship between the drawing surface and my body. I find the similarities in these drawings done under the same conditions particularly compelling, not so much in their overall similarity, rather in the similarity of the constellations of description and the repeated use of points of reference— the corners of the nose and mouth, collarbones, the sternum, the brow. In the thinking act of mark making I have become less concerned with the pictorial content of the image and have directed my attention to the location of marks in relation to previously established landmarks. This can take several forms, in the most conventional form I may occasionally peek at the drawing to confirm that I am starting a line where I believe it should go in spatial relationship to the existing landmarks, say, up and to the right of the corner of my mouth. Alternatively if I am truly drawing blind I have my internally simulated expectation and memory of where the same point would be, and an embodied understanding of where that point is. Of course, this method is not necessarily accurate in a conventional pictorial sense. Finally, I can leave physical way points to return to using touch, so that I can find my way back to a point and continue drawing with a greater confidence that the marks I make correlate in a meaningful way to both the proprioceptive observations of my body and to to the information carrying marks already on the drawing surface. Doing this produces a drawing that begins to maintain pictorial consistency and readability as a map of the body while also moving away from the perspectival and visual trappings of image making. This is a point that has become a particularly interest in my current thinking, that is, how limited to the visual are pictorial means of image making, particularly with concern to line? It seems that the making of lines can serve as a meaningful tool for assessing and articulating perceptual information without necessarily being accessed through a visual framework.

Gestural Thinking


A further aspect of my research has led me to looking into concepts concerning the relationship between gesture, thought, and language. Through these concepts (outlined by David McNeal in Gesture and Thought, and Shaun Gallagher in How the Body Shapes the Mind) language can be thought of as far broader than verbal, and that the thinking processes that generate language are dynamic and reflective, in that our intended communications are not pre-formed in the brain and merely delivered orally or textually, rather, gestural processes help form thought and meaning. Furthermore, both verbal and textual communication can be considered a

So while drawing doesn’t necessarily have the same codefied structured conventions as written or spoken languages, it does form a language in the sense that it is an internal/external structuring and mapping of the world and a process of meaning making.

In the sense of depictions of the body and objects there is a certain extent to which a rudimentary language of representation can be said to exist, and certainly in my practice, as with many people, I have developed a particular language and style in representing the body. The capacity to use drawings of simulated events and objects is not simply recording an idea for a work, it is a means to think out the work, to articulate and consider what something might be. I have previously described such drawings as propositional, and in relation to my drawing practice they are often used as a “what if” device: what if I set up X conditions for a drawing? What would the experience of being in that scenario be? How would it appear to an audience? What would the resulting constellation of marks and objects look like? What meaning might be embedded in such an action?


An example: a plan for a drawing in which I make a barrel and corresponding deck, from within the barrel I could consider myself a different kind of perceptual being—a blind cylinder with a single limb. I would have the capacity to roll in either direction and map out my proprioceptive understanding my my body’s shape and position within the barrel. The capacity for this mapping of the event would be limited by how far I could reach, the roll of the barrel, fatigue, and so on.

Political Noise + The Anthropocene

Beyond the immediate conditions of the drawing there are also a great deal of other connotations and implications in the use of the barrel, many of which reveal themselves as the idea unfolds. Of particular note are the darker tones of the contemporary and historical use of confined spaces and sensory deprivation as a torture device. In parallel to this is the personal narrative of negotiating the current climate in which I am making art, under the current environmental, cultural and political conditions that are running at fever pitch and are seemingly impossible to process, let alone address. This has become an undeniable theme in the work, and I will continue to expand on it as the projects progress. In view of this it is also worth noting the impact that music has on my thinking, in this instance I cannot help but reiterate a line from  The Drones’ Sharkfin Blues: “I float away on a barrel of pain/it looks like nothing but the sea and sky remain”. I find The Drones’song writer Garreth Liddiard’s musings on the apocalyptic feeling of the current climate resonate particularly strongly with much of my thinking and I find I borrow many refrains in my work.

A further example of similar process is seen below, I have been thinking about constructing structures for a while now, with an interest in the role spaces have in the conditions of making drawings, but also more broadly. I am particularly interested in the Australian vernacular of timber slab huts and tin sheds, and the way these structures come from particular environmental, cultural, and political conditions, operating variously as a locus for colonialism, the westernized and localized personal work shed or industrial wool shed, and as a communal entertainment venue.

The drawings below were done shortly after a large storm in Sydney that coincided with a heatwave, the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency, and the continued insistence of the Australian government that the continued burning of coal is a good idea.   At the time of this storm I was in the workshop shed at my residence in Belmore, the sound of the rain on the corrugated sheet roof was the same deafening roar as I occasionally experienced growing up. I have always enjoyed big storms and find them to be very exciting. The noise of the rain allowed me to make as much noise as I wanted late at night without disturbing the neighbours, I became excited at the idea of hearing a band play in such a space. The heavy rain also always has the effect of putting the song Tupelo by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in my head, itself an apocalyptic account of an endless storm that wipes away a town.

The coalescence of these events coupled with my anxiety and defeatism led me to consider the ideal space to sit and watch the apocalyptic environmental/political tropical fuckstorm roll in (Tropical Fuckstorm Records was founded by the Drones in 2015). Key to the structure would be the iconic corrugated iron roof, that amplifies heavy rain to a deafening thunder, so I imagined the space as part observation deck, part instrument resonator box, like an acoustic guitar or steel drum.


Back To The Workshop


In the workshop I have been thinking about the wrangling and anthropomorphizing of furniture objects as I continue to work on them. One of the drawings at the beginning of this post was done after starting to shave down the legs of this stool, a slow process of removing material. In woodworking terms this is an unconventional approach, however I find the way it forces me to rearrange my body around the stool to brace it and work it particularly interesting, working this way can take various forms, from slow and considered to focused and vigorous, or exhausting and frustrating. This process is still in a formative stage, I intend to expand it through new pieces that have particular impacts on the relational positions between the bodies at play.


While in Melbourne recently I picked up a piece of plantation paulownia timber to experiment with as a structural and sculptural material and a drawing surface. My intention is that a cheap, light, and consistent source of wood that can function in the role of studio furniture drawing surface. With this I can draw on the wood and then plane it back to reveal a fresh surface, I also have the hope that with practice, patience, and very careful work it might be possible to take of consistent and regular shavings that retain the drawn marks and can be pieced back together to recreate the image.

Paulownia timber has an interesting history in Australia and globally, I intend to expand upon this soon.


A language of offcuts. I have been collecting all of my offcuts and an array of discarded timber, firewood, and bits of felled local urban trees. I find there there is a particular taxonomy of the bits and pieces I am collecting, some I find uses for, others I grow attached to and cannot commit to working. I have plans to begin to make object assemblages out of the various pieces that continue to explore the relationship between drawing, object, body, and furniture.

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I have also altered the surfboard, after its first outing I discovered it was to narrow to be stable, although it worked incredibly well as a body board, which was a lot of fun. I ripped the board in half and inserted a piece of what I believe to be meranti timber, and inserted some butterfly keys to fix a crack that had appeared and to hold the structure together. I took it out again last week and was still unable to stand up, however I am confident that this is starting to be more a matter of my lack of skill and trepidation than the proportions of the board. I will hopefully be able to find someone to work with in the water who might be able to give me some direction as well as bring their own experience to the board. I will also be making another board our of the above mentioned paulownia, which is supposedly an ideal timber for alaia boards.

Kim’s Dirt


Finally, I have become more mindful of the waste that I produce in working, although I recognize that at this scale it has negligible environmental impact it serves as a further consideration point of my practice and agency in the world.  I have begun to compost the shavings and other waste I produce when working, and have become strangely invested in and excited about the dirt I am producing. I have also found gardening to be a particularly relaxing foil to the more intense labour of the workshop and writing desk. While making dirt is easy it takes a long time, and is largely a matter of allowing natural elements to do their thing. Making dirt is an ongoing project, and should I have to relocate anytime soon due to the instability of Sydney housing (yet another anxiety of the Australian psyche) I intend to take my dirt with me.


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