On “Drawn Together/ Drawn Apart”
San Francisco’s City Hall, 2001
One of the key means by which the varied works in Jan Wurm’s show of drawings, “Drawn Together/Drawn Apart,” impart their meaning is the progression between drawings within thematic groups. The host/esses group, the babies group, the admirer group, the tv group, the shadowy figure group, and the basketball group all feature drawings whose power is increased by the interaction with the other drawings within the group. What could be described as the three “posture” drawings, of the Trainer, Guard, and Cigarette, can also be looked at together in the same way, as they are linked by a theme, just as all those other enumerated groupings are linked most importantly by theme rather than by subject matter or presentation, which are merely formal. I will consider some of the dynamic between the two television drawings and between The Admirer and The Accomplice, these being smaller groups. The larger groups like the host/esses can be looked at in the same way.
If we had before us only TV 1, we could already read what it is about. We see three children sitting immovably upon a sofa at the center of the drawing. We imagine immediately that the subject is either the education or play of children, and that stillness suggests that it is their education, since children at play would generally not be still. What they are actually doing, watching tv, is entertainment, but we see this entertainment holding them in one place. This is a new kind of play, then, because in this important way, it shares a property of education, and indeed, this stillness is there to point towards the kind of educating which the tv also accomplishes for the children. Also we are strongly aware of the absence of the parents, because that the siblings are together and indoors evokes domesticity and the family.
So from only the one drawing, we can see that the drawing is about how the television is taking on multiple roles in the lives of children, the role of entertainment, education, as well as several other aspects of the parents’ situation (friendship, authority, wisdom…), but when we see the second drawing too, we see more of what the artist thinks about this new television role. One critical alteration from the first to second drawings is the background to the children. In the first one, they seem very clearly to be on a sofa in a room, but in the second picture, suddenly they are enclosed in this very boxlike shape. They are framed inside what looks like a television. The television itself in the bottom corner has meanwhile lost its clearness of form. It is harder to discern that it is a television; the changes to its shape could be summarized as an increased abstraction. The television is increasingly being seen as an abstract thing: the images in the television become more important than the reality which they purport to represent, just as the symbol of the television is more important than its actual shape. The disintegration of the reality of the representation of the television is a mirror of what the television itself is doing to a much more general reality in society. At the same time, the children are more and more concretely shaped by that very thing which is so divorced from reality. They are within a very clear form while the television itself loses its form. In the end the only thing solid about the television is the hold which it has on us, from our earliest childhood, as its form is only maintained in the drawing where it surrounds the children.
The relation between The Admirer and The Accomplice is perhaps even more crucial because they are related across time as well as across theme—a kind of mini-narrative is constructed by them. Both drawings are about some part of the way that men and women relate to each other; in either case, the woman is at the centre of the drawing, because she is the sort of immovable, central object. Despite that, the man seems at least as important, because it is he who seems evidently capable of action; there is motion implied in the lines which make him. But this very common interpretation of male-female relations which one gets at a glance from either of these drawings is complicated by the interaction between them. Looking at the man who has moved between the two drawings, we see that his appearance has altered drastically as well. In the first instance, he has an air of refinement to him, in the closed eyes with their raised eyebrows, and in the fine moustache. The connotations of the title word, “admirer” agree with this image of refinement. He admires her in the style of a connoisseur admiring a work of art. In the second drawing, his moustache has disappeared, clearly not an accident, but a sign of a change which has come over him. The now open eyes with their straight and harsh eyebrows show the cruelty which has succeeded the original appreciation of the admirer.
So we see a narrative of a man, somehow overcome and thus transformed from an admirer to a destroyer; there is however more, for the female figure has also moved from the first to second pictures. Her eyes were already averted in the first picture, but in the second one, a slight tilt of her head has rendered them more downcast. What is signified by this change? One needs look no further than the title of the piece, where she is proclaimed accomplice to the act of violence of her admirer. The downcast eyes then are downcast because of the guilt of knowing her role in the violence which is being perpetrated on her. This guilt on her part even brings up the unresolved question of whether the admirer’s transformation was the natural progression for a man, or whether she had some active role in transforming him. The naming of the drawings is so key, because by emphasizing one of the characters, it tells us about who is the actor, who is making the scene, and while it is standard to see the admiring male in the first picture as the actor, in the second picture, he seems to have an even more active role, and it is there that suddenly the focus is shifted to the part played by the woman. These two drawings say so much in this way about the nature of male-female relations, while also leaving much to the viewer to decide for themselves, because after all, there can not be posited any single archetype of the male-female relationship.
This show can be viewed at the San Francisco City Hall through March 11th as well as online.