Catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition Negotiated Postitions as part of the the Repeat Repeat Conference. Published by the centre for practice as research in the arts, University of Chester.
Thoughts on a Repetitive Process.
Getting started is the most difficult part.
Anything to put it off; empty the dishwasher, sweep the floor, put the washing in.
To delay, avoid, postpone, put on ‘hold’.
I start begrudgingly and with trepidation.
Like the beginning of a journey, a walk, or an adventure.
The anticipation of what is in store.
The anxiety of the unknown.
The excitement of the future.
The promise of success.
The not knowing.
A journey implies a destination,
So many miles to be consumed.
While a walk is its own measure,
Complete at every point along the way.1
Are my drawings a journey or a walk?
There is the destination.
So many miles of paper and ink to be consumed.
Interesting moments along the way.
Points to stop and consider.
Points to reflect.
But ultimately, points to move on from, until we reach the end of the road.
Despite my deliberating once I start I relax.
Quickly finding my own rhythm.
It’s like coming home.
It is familiar and I feel in control.
I don’t know why I put it off for so long,
I enjoy it (most of the time).
I set myself small goals along the way.2
There is the life of each pen (about 50 minutes).
There is the prospect of a new colour ink.
There’s the promise of a cup of tea.
I break the process down into manageable chunks.
Not so different to knitting a jumper I suppose.
You don’t take the whole thing on board straight away.
You tackle each section in turn; the arms, the front, the back.
Otherwise we would drown in the enormity of it all.
One thing after another.
Slow and steady.
Moving forward at a regular pace.
One step at a time.
Repetition seduces us.
The regularity and rhythm is addictive.
We strive for it in our quest for comfort and order.
Repetition repulses us.
The tedium, the monotony, the boredom.
On and on incessantly. Excessive and greedy.
Knowing that we need to do it, we want to do it, we must do it, we hate doing it.
We need to have our next ‘fix’.
If we die of repetition, we are also saved and healed by it.4
Eliminating the anxiety of the unknown.
We know and we repeat.
We are not thinking about the future.
Repetition is present tense.
It is our breathing and the beat of our heart while we are reading this text.5
As we run, as we knit, as we walk, as we draw.
Repetition is in the here and now.
Eradicating the fear of the unknown.
The certainty of execution.
The uncertainty of how it will turn out.
Control is central to my motivation (to making the work).
The one place where I know, I understand what is going on.
There is no need to worry.
About what has happened, what might happen, or what is going to happen.
It is out of my control now as I have handed over responsibility to the process and materials.
Ironically I have gained control by relinquishing control.
Repetition is a way of re-assuring ourselves that there is order in the world 6
Games and rules with which we order our lives.
Protect us from the uncertainties of the outside world.
Part of what makes us feel safe, at home, secure.
Patterns of order.
Then there is the physical challenge of the process.
Why do it? What have I got to prove? Is anybody interested anyway?
It’s like running a marathon.
A silly idea, without any utilitarian purpose or merit.7
The difficulty of starting, being motivated.
Finding your own rhythm, your own pace.
Breaking through the pain barrier.
Settling into it.
Feeling like you could go on and on and never stop.
One foot in front of the other, again and again and again.
Repetition to the point of absurdity.
Each step is exactly the same, yet unique and different.
They can’t stand alone. They need each other.
The sum is greater than the individual parts.
Each step marking the passing of time.
Pushing through the boredom. The utter relentlessness of it all.
Allowing the mind to wander, to drift, to contemplate.
Going that bit further each time – pushing yourself on and on and on.
We might stumble, we might fall, we might trip or slip.
These mistakes are part of the journey. They make it real.
Evidence of your presence.
Verification of the journey.
Getting closer to your goal.
The end is in sight now.
I’ve looked forward to this moment but it is approaching too quickly.
Like the end of a good book, trying hard to hold onto and savour the moment.
There is a sense of achievement, fulfillment, satisfaction.
Finishing at last.
Also (if I were honest) a bit of an anti-climax.
No round of applause. No medal. No pat on the back.
The realization that it is over.
Quarter’s end, day’s end, week’s end, country’s end, walk’s end.8
Pen’s end, paper’s end, drawing’s end.
(Until the next time.)
Lesley Halliwell 2007
1.Francis Alys, Seven Walks London 2004-5, Ed. James Lingwood (2005) Artangel Over the past 5 years, artist Francis Alÿs has been walking the streets of London: Hyde Park; the City of London; the National Portrait Gallery; the streets close to Regents Park. His walks involve a diverse range of collaborators from 64 Coldstream Guards to London commuters, as he delves into the everyday rituals and habits of the city.
2.Ffyona Campbell, On Foot through Africa (1994) Orion Between 2 April 1991 and 1 September 1993 Campbell walked every step from Cape Town to Tanger, a total distance of 16,088 kilometres as part of her TransWorld Walk crossing four continents and totaling 16,500 miles. When interviewed by Dr Anthony Clare (In the Psychiatrist’s Chair, Radio Four, 9/7/95) she spoke of the way she broke the walk down into sections and promised herself rewards on achieving certain goals, for example, a Coke at the end of a week’s trek.
3.Some words taken from a piece of work by Mel Bochner, Repetition: Portrait of Robert Smithson, (1966) in The Infinite Line, Briony Fer (2002) Yale University Press.
4.The French Philosopher, Giles Deleuze’s seminal book, Difference and Repetition, Columbia University Press, New York (1994) was first published in French in 1968.
5.Lucia Cattani, Repetition , Exhibition Catalogue, (1996) Southern Arts Touring Exhibition Service/Winchester Gallery/Nuova Icona, Venezia
6.David Willington, As Long as it Takes, Exhibition Catalogue, (2002) Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham. A Group show of artists who all, to a greater or lesser extent, make work to predetermined systems or self imposed regulations
7.Stuart Stevens, Night Train to Turkistan: Adventures along China’s Silk Road (1990) Paladin Books.