Drawing in its crisp definition is ‘the art or technique of representing an object or outlining a figure, plan, or sketch by means of lines.’ The term is applied to works that vary greatly in technique. It is in fact an arrangement of lines or tonal gradation which determine a form. However, despite having been understood in different ways at different times it still wanders to seek a concrete meaning. An ongoing debate in the drawing community is that of the nature of drawing’s ‘language’ – its systems and its methods. Does it necessarily have to be on paper or a surface? Does it have to be two dimensional? And does it require a tracing medium to materialize?
For Yasser Vayani this discourse serves as a stimulus that he showcases through an array of sculptural drawings in his first solo exhibition, ‘Linear (im)possibilities’. The exhibition – part of the parent project ‘Drawing Documents’ – was held at the IVS gallery and is the third from the series. It triggers one to question the term which in reality transcends one’s imaginable blur and cannot possibly be condensed to a distinct definition. Presented as an architectural blueprint, the show questions the accepted norms of viewing art and seemingly disputes gallery aesthetics as well as the politics of display.
Vayani claims his work is site specific. Having no predetermined ideas of what to produce, he was only aware of the process once he absorbed the gallery space in person. The drawings emerge in the absence of any antecedent provocation, instead are initiated in the hope of manifesting that which could not have been conceived for on the outset nor planned for in advance. What struck him the most about the space was the lurid tiled flooring which he felt distracted one from the blank walls. Hence he made the deft decision of reconfiguring the floor as his natural canvas and consciously chose to keep the gallery walls bare. In doing so Vayani maximizes the utilization of his space and amplifies an incoherent feature.
In ‘Palindrome’ ivy-like iron rods camouflaged in the gallery floor creep the ground and shadow the running bonds of the cemented tiles. The veins sporadically climb upwards from their roots and wrestle to remain aligned to the set pattern, ineluctably deviating into their organic form. Vayani further uses miniscule tiles to connect this visual to a patchwork of wooden flooring titled ‘Everything in its right place.’ An allusion to termite infestations the tiles seek refuge around the wooden floor by travelling in a mechanical form; occasionally branching out towards distant spaces. Vayani converges the three materials most commonly used for flooring and explains the piece tracks its inspiration in the gallery floor. A surface which exists for much longer has to compromise in sharing its space with a new floor that is forcefully placed on top. The consequential conversation between the two is strenuous and awkward which is intentionally left exposed as a spectacle for the audience to enjoy.
From cologne bottles, deodorants, sticky notepads to even blister packs of capsules, Vayani gathers a gamut of items and places them in an overbearing tandem named ‘Unity and division within formation’. He compartmentalizes those according to shape, size as well as their chemical makeup. The objects – finished products of an amalgam of raw materials – are taken under the same procedure by the artist where they once again become raw materials that fuse into a finished product. His calculated approach lets the objects decide for themselves who or what they want to be placed next to. This grants viewers to understand the items as a separate entity and yet experience the collected organism as a whole. Similar to a phalanx of soldiers, the objects remain aligned in a grid. Their insignificant size stirringly contrasts the autocratic power they achieve by forming a barrier for viewers who must now walk around the path created in the sectioned space. Furthermore, Vayani interprets the visitors as a series of dots who trace their own footsteps into an invisible map – an ephemeral yet permanent mark of drawing.
Vayani’s evidently cites the 1960’s movement “Arte Povera” which literally translates to “poor art.” The movement witnessed a radical stance by artists who attacked the values of established institutions of industry and culture. They perceived the everyday as the meaningful and explored the notions of language and space. Much like the artists from the period, Vayani focuses on the simple messages as to him the meanings behind complex and symbolic signs crescively erode. He addresses the corporate mentality and the system with an art that uses unconventional materials and style – free of contract, the power of structure, and the market field.
Incorporating impoverished materials is a key feature of the movement and Vayani too relies primarily on found objects for his oeuvres – discarded articles that document nature and its physical as well as chemical composition.
Vayani maintains these objects for him are real and alive and confesses that he talks to his pieces once they start taking a discernible shape. In fact, he also writes to and about them as journal entries which may be descriptions of their physical characteristics – the number of orientations it can have or the parts it can be dismantled to – or be in the form of fictionalized anecdotes featuring those items. This exercise not only aids the artist to grasp the involute dynamics of the objects but also allows the objects to gradually gain power; enough to respond to Vayani’s raillery. An elevated state of endless banter is eventually attained; a dialogue which Vayani hopes the audience patiently engages enough to achieve.
There is a prevalent misconception between what are considered to be found objects and those which are sought. As Vayani points out, to distinct the nebulous pellicle between the two is to ask one to step into a grey area. Artists have increasingly started using sought objects in their practice which they often mislabel as found. He elaborates that even if an object chooses the artist instead of him/her seeking a particular object, to relocate it into an existing artwork in progress would inevitably shift the found element to that which is sought. As by doing so the artist enforces the context on to the object rather than allowing the item to navigate its identity and dictate its own narrative. He acknowledges the ambiguous contrast tests the artist’s threshold: the extent to which the artist presses the object to make it what he wants it to become versus the object’s reaction of an equal force in efforts to retain its original meaning. Vayani explains how he comes across certain items which he is coerced into collecting. He is always alert for this purpose when anchored in the public sphere. However, to even be wary that one may find an appropriate article worth utilizing in their creation is to suggest an intended wakefulness – a subconscious hunt for those objects which re-stimulates the debate whether it was found, or sought?
Vayani is cautious of not adding his own context to his found objects, rather he assiduously toys with the content they agree to share with him. Ultimately the drawings release the objects to mutate into their self-chosen forms and provide a podium where they become agents of their own voice. His work becomes a documentation in and of itself, preserving the abstract history and meaning ingrained on the surface and within.
Yasser Vayani has trained himself to observe objects as nature’s drawings. His focus on objects as drawings further treats those as vectors for dialogue across disciplines – the material artefacts are enabled to be abstracted or circumvented. He highlights the idea of repetition in the replicated or multiple objects and the abjection in what is formless and degraded. Vayani also confronts artistic positions that are anti-object and uses the articles to set the premise through which to reread a drawing and to better understand its anatomical structures. He captures the moments when these materials become wilful actors within the artistic process and uses ways in which the assorted pieces obstruct, disrupt, or interfere with accepted social etiquettes. They emerge as impure and unstable formations that survey their relationships with human experiences. Vayani creates his own dots, lines and planes in an unorthodox fashion. His drawing draws rather than is drawn and lays stress of the object’s transition from inert mass to a drawing tool. Remarkably and peculiarly potent, Vayani’s drawings are nothing short of a challenge to the circulating canons within the prism of contemporary art.