“I have drawn away, I have not left my place” 1
Brigid McLeer
In the work Isola:Incontro made while on residency at San Servolo island in Venice, the artist/figure engages in a durational task; painstakingly tracing in charcoal the shadow cast by the sun of what was once the entrance gate to San Servolo psychiatric hospital. As the sun moves across the sky and begins to set, the artist and her shadow trace the rapidly changing lines of the gate. She works for 5 long hours in the hot Italian sun, on her knees getting blacker and blacker from the dust of the charcoal. In the end there is a vast ‘carpet’ of repeated marks; a drawing 7.5m long and 4m wide. In the videowork that accompanies the drawing, the recorded scene is turned upside-down and the artist/figure is doubled – her shadow, a presence from another time, meets her in this site of work, of memorialising and of drawing. Together, another site rises out of the lengthening and paling shadows; a space and a place entangled between the imagined and the real, where what is absent lingers and what is immaterial engrains itself. Somewhere derived out of intention and action, but lost to contemplation. It is the place itself, carceral yet beautiful, and yet somehow it is also every place. 

Having a continual interest in process, translation and multiplicity, my work is a staging of contingent subjectivity; of equivocal and complicated presence, knotted up in different registers of the real. Often performative, and involving extended solitary durational activities, the work is nonetheless a dialogue with pre-existing sources (sites, texts, images) that become intensely extruded and inhabited as a result of this engagement.
Throughout, space, place and the architectural (particularly as it is played out in drawing) serve to situate and tease-out these contingencies, operating as context, environment, structure, stricture, code and history.
What interests me is the degree to which the subject experience (subjectivity) makes space complex; makes of space a question. Georges Perec maintains that ‘space is a doubt’, it has to constantly be marked. 2 But space is always already marked, as are we, enmeshed and entangled in that which we are also producing.

In the Habitat series, the artist/figure photographs herself responding to a set of books in the white box of a photographic studio. We see her smudged and implacable figure reading, writing, drawing, assembling, in a space that seems to collapse together something of the ‘studio’ and the ‘study’. The images recall and reappropriate famous iconic photographs of artists at work: Pollock, Serra, De Kooning. Whiteness is the background to these images; site of originary gesture; mythic tabula rasa; the untouched and the unknown. Habitat is a rebuff to that whiteness, to such an impossible space conceived by the hubris of men and waiting to be tagged with discovery. Habitat discovers nothing, and instead revisits, producing scenes and spaces of duration and negotiation.

As Henri Lefebvre reminds us, to produce space is to find ourselves caught up in various psychic, economic and semiotic frameworks. 3 Space is not simply there, waiting to be filled, or even to be occupied, or overcome, or read. It is a collision of external and internal forces, which include language, bodies, materials, time and desire.  For me, this idea is a liberation, because it turns space into place, and place into negotiation. The subject then finds herself more agent than addressee, and always in the midst of flux.

The production of spaces that stage engagement is a central aspect of my practice, often achieved by making performative situations in a gallery or other site that are then recorded in some way. The records become works themselves, and in doing so purposely confuse one’s sense of where the work resides. Vexations, for instance, uses Eric Satie’s engimatic 1893 musical composition of the same title, as the site and catalyst for a work in which the artist tries to relearn how to play piano. While doing so, the slow development of a massive drawing that reflects that experience of relearning, is photographed continuously throughout the 15 day process. In the end 840 images are produced, becoming a vast new score, visualising and spatialising Satie’s suggestion (written on the original manuscript) that the short composition be played 840 times.

In all my work, scale plays an important part in determining the nature of my engagement with a particular source, or site, or task. In Vexations, and other works, the over-sized scale of the drawing forces it to operate spatially as well as visually. It becomes therefore, not only an activity to spend time with, but also a place to spend time in.
In this sense confronting the score in Vexations as language, drawing and space ran parallel to confronting the experience of 15 days alone in a gallery relearning piano. The scale of both the task and the drawing was purposely too big for comfort and the final installed images reflect this, themselves becoming an environment, impossible to take-in entirely.

In Architecture and the Burdens of Linearity, Catherine Ingraham describes architecture as a lament for building, in that architecture is so often a practice of drawing rather than of building. 4 Prior to architecture dwellings were built, but not conceived of, or at least, not projected in the orthographic and coded forms now common to the architectural drawing. Of course architecture is more than this, but her idea has always attracted me, because it opens up the space of the drawing itself  - its conceptual, propositional and inscriptive properties - as somewhere to reoccupy.
In my own work this accords with how I think of the spaces of writing, drawing and other code forms, such as musical notation. All inherently spatial, these sites of visual or written language not only perhaps lament the referents or objects they cannot entirely figure, but also exceed from one into another, in a slippery crossdisciplinarity that has as its common ground the space and the subject through which the sign becomes troubled.

To make trouble in these representational or symbolic realms is, I feel, vital to understanding our place in them, and by turn, in the world. This fundamental interconnectedness is what challenges me to make art, as it is at the heart of what it means to have subjectivity. But also, the work is concerned to test this out in real places, and real sites; to find in these sites their meta-spatial aspects, and to compose with them another, maybe a new, complexity.


1. Henri Michaux, The Girl From Budapest, in Selected Writings, Henri Michaux. Translated by Richard Ellmann. New Directions, 1968
2. Georges Perec, Species of Spaces And Other Pieces, English Translation by John Sturrock, 1997 (1974))
3. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Blackwell 1991
4. Catherine Ingraham,  Architecture and the Burdens of Linearity, Yale University Press 1998