Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Scroll

So I'm getting ready for bed this past Friday night, and I'm describing to my wife a piece of art I had seen earlier that day. I began by telling her how this guy has been working on this drawing for seven years, and she immediately quips "so it speaks to you", followed by a bit of laughter as she rolled over. She's absolutely right of course; it totally does. Consider this less of a review and more of an open love letter to Randall McCabe's scroll.

Randall McCabe, untitled, ink on paper with spindles, 6.5" x 1800" (840" visible), 2005-2012 (ongoing)

The piece (officially untitled) is currently on display at Lawndale Art Center in the Project Space, the easily overlooked exhibition space tucked between the residency studios and the administration offices on the third floor. I had gone to Lawndale to check out The Photographic Mirror, a group show curated by my friend Chuy Benitez, and also take in Emily Peacock's and Linda Post & Jim Nolan's exhibitions (which Robert Boyd has already written about here and here, respectively). Yet it was McCabe's work that completely blindsided me in the best possible way.

Randall McCabe, untitled, ink on paper with spindles, 6.5" x 1800" (840" visible), 2005-2012 (ongoing)

The primary work of the exhibition – the scroll itself – wraps around approximately three quarters of the total wall space in the gallery. Thus, we're confronted with approximately 70 continuous feet of a singular drawing. Granted, the drawing is only 6 1/2 inches tall, but that thin strip wrapping around the room is commanding nonetheless. In reading the accompanying text, it is revealed that the drawing is actually 150 feet in length, yet we are only privy to this one portion. The remainder of the drawing is rolled up and concealed on two mounted spindles at either end.

The mark-making on the scroll, which is comprised mostly of short hatching lines in limited directions, immediately made me think of the work of both Sol LeWitt and Man Bartlett. I thought of LeWitt and his wall pieces because McCabe seems to be following some prescribed set of mark-making rules for this piece. Although the composition of the scroll changes as it transitions from one end of the room to the other, the underlying marks remain consistent over that span, where horizontal, vertical, and 45ยบ diagonal lines are arranged into roughly half-inch square modules. Moreover, there's a simplicity and looseness in the appearance of the line work, which suggests that these are marks that could be made by almost anyone (trained draftsman or not).

Randall McCabe, untitled (detail), ink on paper with spindles, 6.5" x 1800" (840" visible), 2005-2012 (ongoing)

Given its full length of 150 feet, the drawing has clearly taken a long time and has required immense dedication. Those qualities, paired with the use of small, repetitive marks, makes me think of Bartlett's circle drawings and point pieces. [Full disclosure: Bartlett has exhibited his point pieces and other works at Skydive Art Space, where I am a co-director. His work remains fresh in my mind.] Yet while Bartlett's drawings are more clinical and precise in execution, McCabe's scroll features a variety of tones, shapes, and blemishes. Another significant distinction is that both Bartlett's and LeWitt's pieces have an endgame; that is, they reach a point of completion. This drawing, however, is ongoing. It's 150 feet...and counting.

Started in 2005, McCabe has been working on the scroll for the past seven years. The section presented in the gallery accounts for (approximately) the year between late 2008 to late 2009. I can guess this because McCabe occasionally writes a date along the bottom of the drawing, and I assume these dates are related to when that section was worked on or completed. The time-stamps begin to suggest that this scroll is more than a durational drawing; it is a record, a document. It gets even more personal in a couple of spots where the numeric date is accompanied by an event in the artist's life, as shown below.

Randall McCabe, untitled (detail), ink on paper with spindles, 6.5" x 1800" (840" visible), 2005-2012 (ongoing)

I wonder how often these personal notes are included over the entire length, and why. Has the scroll become something more than the train-of-thought exercise described in the McCabe's statement? Do such noted life events correspond or inform the drawing's composition, or are they just simply notes, detached from the surrounding marks?

The composition does shift across the room, ranging from cloud-like white spaces in the earliest segment, to completely shaded areas over the middle, and finally to landscape-esque contours towards the end. Around the time of the home burglary in 2009, the "landscape" tightens, and the white space of the drawing begins to be pinched by dark forms above and below it. A thin scratch of white leads us into the concluding spindle, where the last couple of years of the drawing reside, hidden safely away.

Randall McCabe, untitled (detail), ink on paper with spindles, 6.5" x 1800" (840" visible), 2005-2012 (ongoing)

So of course, I now really want to see what I can't. How greedy is that? The artist himself says he has never seen more than 7 continuous feet of the drawing at any one time. Here he's giving us 70, but I'd love for a peek at all 150. The thickness of the rolled up portions on either end are evidence to the large amount of drawing left unrevealed. This only prompts more delicious questions: Why was this segment specifically chosen? Was it random? What do the most recent sections look like? The earlier ones? What other life events are recorded here? Is there any engineering feat possible that could allow a viewer to – for lack of a better word – scroll through the entire composition? But I digress. (The installation of the piece as it is, by the way, is quite nice, particularly in bending the drawing around the corners of the room.)

So, yes, my wife was indeed correct. The scroll speaks to me, and it continues to bounce around my head in the days since I saw it. I am happy that McCabe decided to share his drawing – and its great unveiling – with the rest of us.


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