Marian Drew

Sun, 23/06/2013 - 13:58 -- damien
interviewed by Alexandria McClintock

Alexandria McClintock Your work gives a sense of the many material and immaterial elements of the world being in a state of dynamic flux. The individual figure often appears in your work, but becomes one element among many, rather than a centring principle. Would you say that your work tends to devolve the centrality of the individual?

Marian Drew Yes and no. I'm interested in the universal yet I can find the universal more easily through the study of the individual.

Alexandria McClintock I also see the figures in your images as being more or less defined by elements/contexts/environments acting upon them. Your figures appear to be pushed into or out of positions or forms by any number of external forces, and thus appear to be individuals defined from without. In the same way, I see paintings on newspaper on the studio wall here in which you have defined human forms by painting the area around them, thus leaving the individual figures as newspaper negatives.

Marian Drew I've created the positive by painting the negative. Yes, it's true you can often find something by working on its opposite. Obviously by creating one side you have created its balance because that is what's left.

Alexandria McClintock You clearly use a range of materials and techniques beyond the medium of photography. I understand your process involves drawing, painting, making and collecting objects and images around a certain idea. You then choreograph an interaction of all these elements with light and movement in a darkened space in front of the open shutter of a camera. How far do you control what the final image might look like?

Marian Drew I have a general idea of what I might want, but once I've assembled everything the process is largely intuitive.

Alexandria McClintock Do you take many shots within one environment?

Marian Drew Usually only one—two at the most—because I find I lose the energy for that piece, and the elements generally disseminate into the studio. The process follows a spontaneous flow of assembling, interaction and dispersal.

Alexandria McClintock Your way of working uses the receptivity of the photographic process to maximum effect. You use it for its responsiveness to light and movement rather than using the camera as an intrusive or aggressive agent.

Marian Drew That's right. Talk about photography being aggressive, of the photographer being the hunter, the stalker, capturing the image, taking a slice of time and involving sexual aggression in terms of the subject and the holder of the camera; that's not relevant to my work at all. For me the camera is a stupid recorder, predictable, open.

Alexandria McClintock That makes it sound rather negative, but surely its receptivity is a positive quality.

Marian Drew I don't see it as necessarily negative or positive, it's just a machine. It's useful and has certain characteristics that I can use. I've reduced photography to some of its basic properties in that I use it essentially as a means of recording light. It's a simplification of its characteristics that allows enormous flexibility.

Alexandria McClintock What do you like about photography as a process and as a medium?

Marian Drew For me photography records a series of events, a context, and a period of time. It enables me to work in an ephemeral way with materials and to use a wide variety of mediums. A photograph combines a whole work process that starts with either a few doodles on a piece of paper or slides I've taken on travels, and can go on to include painting with light, movement, whatever. Coming from a process which includes so many elements, the photograph serves to record and to concrete, it unites a whole way of working onto one new plane. Then at the end of the process photography gives me something back which is a completely new object.

Alexandria McClintock So it serves a function of uniting experience that has happened over time both in the broader scale and in the time that you leave the shutter open. There's also the idea of transformation in there.

Marian Drew Yes that's right, photography transforms that information into a product by responding through mechanical and photochemical processes. It also translates my work into a form that brings with it a lot of sociological notions about documentary truth, a record of existence and validation. The photograph, in terms of its history, brings all these ideas to the work, as well as being a personal investigation and statement.

Alexandria McClintock There are moments of stillness in the riotous activity of your images, but few apparent boundaries. You go against the conventions of photography and design by often leaving the edges of images open, and not cleanly cropped to exclude untidy bits of the studio or perhaps the leftovers from lunch.

Marian Drew Edges are very important in showing what everything is made of, in showing depth and context and scale. Edges reveal that one part of the image is painted picture, and that another part isn't. All these things concern the truth of the installation, and the more truth that you can convey, the more layers, the more interesting it is.

Alexandria McClintock You also add extra layers of reference by including small dislocated still lives in your images. An orange or a child's ball will sit innocently in its own little pool of light reminding us of the presence and influence of other truths or layers of reality beyond the picture or the image and its main activity.

Marian Drew Those things happen during the making: objects change when you're in the dark and inside the process. In the final image those small details of information can change the context of the picture, and at the same time the rest of the picture can change the meaning of the object.

Alexandria McClintock In addition to painting, sculpture and assemblage, your work involves installation and performance. Have you always performed and created your installations purely for the camera?

Marian Drew I did public installations in Germany. Apart from that they have always been private. I worked outside in the bush around Canberra, but even then it was always for the new image that was going to come from it, not for an audience. My work has never been as theatre or performance in that sense. It's always been a way to explore the interaction of objects and images and light. My process has always been a working towards that final united image, that's what I'm interested in, not the theatre of it and certainly not sharing that theatre.

Alexandria McClintock Returning to the figure in you work, I notice that you often blur or lose altogether the defining features of the body and particularly the face.

Marian Drew That's because it would be irrelevant to see a particular person or character, it would dominate the work too much. Also identifying characteristics like haircut, even a certain confidence in the face would date a picture to a particular period. I'm using the figures in a much more universal way, and concentrating more on gestures; this enables people to put themselves into the picture. Using figures in this way leaves the images open and allows any number of readings depending on the experience that the viewer brings to the work.

Alexandria McClintock In what way do you see gestures as speaking or important7

Marian Drew I like gestures because they communicate without words, pictures do the same thing. What I try to do in my work is avoid any recognisable gestures. The dismemberment I achieve through the process of lighting piece by piece enables an impossible gesture or an impossible body position to occur. My gestures could never be, and so they avoid contrivance or any sort of clichéd associations. They're more like gestures that come from dreams, gestures that could only exist in imagination. It's an effect of twisting or distortion, an impossibility that hopefully creates access to a deeper level of consciousness.

Alexandria McClintock In the photograph called Fishing for Turtle you have eliminated all of the figure except for the arms which appear to be either reaching or tipping out of the boat towards the turtle.

Marian Drew I try to leave in only what's important. I eliminate faces and even torsos if the limbs can describe the gesture or position. The reason I painted in only the arms, is because it is the pulling or the heaving which is central to the picture.

Alexandria McClintock Fishing for Turtle is a recent work, produced in 1991. Where have the ideas for this work come from?

Marian Drew They've come about through an interest in the early settlement of Brisbane and through reading the records that have been kept from that time-about how the landscape appeared, the people who lived here, how they lived and how they operated in the landscape. Also their myths and stories and how rich a life they had. It's the stories and ideas that I've gathered through this research that are emerging now in my work.

Alexandria McClintock Human interaction with the environment is an enduring theme which you explore in your work, also the idea of our culture's loss in that regard.

Marian Drew That's right. It's good to go to New York and make work about more global things or about New York, but I think it's important for me to work on something that is more personally relevant, spiritually relevant, historically relevant. There's a lot of fascinating material to be found in a local area and in its history. I don't think we always have to make art about the great cities of the world. Being one big world as we are now means that there is very little emphasis placed on what's local.

Alexandria McClintock Fishing for Turtle calls on records of how local Aborigines hunted for turtle in Moreton Bay. In what way are you using the stories of Aboriginal life?

Marian Drew I'm not trying to illustrate the stories, I'm taking the imagery that is thrown up from reading the stories. Images of people jumping out of boats and catching turtles, of bodies and skinning and the eating of flesh. We learnt nothing of the Aboriginal way of life at school, but it was a complete life, a much more spiritual life than we provide for ourselves. What I'm doing is calling on the imagery of the Aboriginal stories to create pictures and say something about a magic and ritual and its importance to contemporary life. I'm trying to see ourselves in these stories, see ourselves fishing for turtle, see ourselves in that position in order to understand it a little more easily.

Alexandria McClintock You've used images of animals in other work, for example the dogs which appeared in the New York series. What is the significance of the animal in your work?

Marian Drew I've always been interested in the interaction between humans and other animals. The way I use animals in my pictures is more in terms of the animal personifying something human, as an alter ego, or part of ourselves that we have lost through building an environment and a society in the way that we have. Through the encouragement of rational thinking and motivation through economics we have forgotten or denied the spiritual or animal in us. In many ways I use the animal as a sign of spiritual loss.

Alexandria McClintock Our culture has constructed the human/animal relationship as a dichotomy, an appositional configuration, whereas Aboriginal society fostered a different approach to that interaction. In their dances, the Aborigines seem to take on or to go inside the spirit of the animal. On the other hand they also kill and eat the animal. Fishing for Turtle invokes both of these interactions. Perhaps the Aborigines' acting out of both the animal and the hunter in their corroborees served to help them maintain a deep respect for the power of the animal both outside and within themselves.

Marian Drew A balance was maintained in many ways, the rules were always clear. That is very different to our society in that each individual has to make up his or her own rules, which is very confusing, especially as there is more information available to us than ever before.

Alexandria McClintock Balance and interaction are concepts which keep recurring in this discussion of your work, and of course balance and interaction imply the operation of elements with differing qualities or opposing tendencies. Your images however, don't use polar opposites such as dark and light, movement and stillness, matter and energy in a clichéd way. You present us not with static oppositions but with dynamic polarities which energise and enrich each other.

Marian Drew I find it interesting to use those sorts of techniques to trick myself or catch myself unawares, so that I 'm not working in a self-conscious or contrived way. I try to involve processes that enable me to avoid the obvious. It's the process which creates the picture so I concentrate on the process and not on the product.

Alexandria McClintock Through movement one comes to understand stillness. Your ways of working relate to spiritual concepts of change and opposition.

Marian Drew That may be true but I don't aim for spirituality, that's not what I'm trying to say. All I'm trying to do is work, make pictures, study hard, look. If you do those things then perhaps the other is a consequence.

Alexandria McClintock Do you think art has a role to play in terms of our culture regaining some sense of the spiritual?

Marian Drew I've always seen art making as serving to satisfy that non-rational aspect of ourselves. Historically, art making and religion have gone hand in hand. They are connected in that they both tap into an intuitive way of thinking for their understanding and development. Explaining the world to ourselves in a rational way, has meant that we no longer see the importance or the value of the spiritual, but we nevertheless feel an emptiness or hollowness in its absence. Trying to explain the spiritual through language goes against the whole idea of it, and I find pictures and images talk about it much more easily than words do.

Marian Drew is a Brisbane-based artist and lecturer who works predominantly in photography.

Alexandria McClintock is a Brisbane-based artist and writer.