So close to the thing itself, and not

Linda Marie Walker

domus 1, Jonathan Dady, Construction Drawings (detail)

domus 1, Jonathan Dady, Construction Drawings (detail)

domus 1, Jonathan Dady, Construction Drawings (detail)

How one walks through the world, the endless small adjustments of balance, is affected by the shifting weights of beautiful things.
Elaine Scarry, On Beauty And Being Just,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999

What is a drawing? I’ve been itching to write that down for ages. Because, I can’t draw. And yet I do, at home, at my kitchen table, and I use coloured pencils…and then I call the ‘drawings’ other names (they’re so bad, yet they make me happy), because I dare not say ‘drawing.’ There’s something very sensual about making marks on paper—whether writing or drawing. There’s a particular sensuality about ‘working-drawings’ and ‘working-writings’—those drawings and writings which contain the feeling of thinking as it tries to make itself appear, still vibrating as it comes, doubtful and tense, onto the paper. What I have no love for however is auto-CAD produced ‘drawings’, they seem executed, like a problem (except in exceptional cases). An architecture student’s response to Jonathan Dady’s Construction Drawings at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) was that the clamps and bolts holding the scaffolding together detracted from the ‘overall effect.’ But that’s what scaffolding (drawing/writing) is—bits of stuff/steel held by other bits of stuff/steel; it’s not a smooth process or result. Architecture is a poetry of joining, an awkward, difficult, demanding, beautiful engagement. It’s messy when you build something. And what is an ‘overall effect’? Can there be such an effect, overall, after? Is there ever a single unified thingness about ‘the thing’? Overall.

A CAD drawing of (the possibility of expanding) CACSA is realised by Dady in one-to-one steel outline. That is, you see schematically what expansion (an elbowing even) means in terms of real space. Space takes up space. You take away space to create other space. Is it worth it? You can see this drawing on the cover of Broadsheet, Volume 29, no 4. It was made by Steven Mitchell, from the company SPUD (Special Projects Under Development), based on a working-drawing by Dady. And it’s pretty much how it really looks, glowing in bright luminous colours—as if the gallery/house strides out, eager, to meet you; it ‘draws’ you in and then keeps you from its ‘real’ inside. The 3D realisation though is not faithful, it’s a move sideways, not least because the sleekness of CAD is impossible. Actual turns and seams must be really made. The scaffold performs at these moments, producing the stride, a looming, loping, quality. (You think it’s going to reach out and kiss you. True.)

At the opening, which was big, and bigger because of the taking-up of space, we were crammed along the driveway, all of us outside and to one side, as there was no element of the exhibition inside the gallery. There we were, crushed along a narrowed path—which had been, until ‘drawn’ over, a generous paved driveway—trying to get to the wine and the barbecue, and to the project space where 3 more artists (James Dodd, Josh Trenwith, and Simon Burt) were showing (strangely compelling and difficult work), and rubbing against bodies, apologising, talking over the guest speaker: banned from setting foot inside the ‘drawing.’ This policing mimicked the drawing. You have to look at it; there it is; you can (must) not cross into it, into the inside of drawing.

I resist the work’s advances—but not the work—just as I resist the CAD process. I resist its appearance, yet I love this realisation, the beyond of the drawing; it’s like the drawing at the kitchen table, it has the bumps, the bald joins, the gushing colours. It plays with what it is to draw. And while it shows the coldness of computer design, in a considered way, in a conservative way too, it argues with that in translations.

Translation is an integral and complex issue here—like memory. The drawing, made sculpture, does not function as ‘addition’, even while it expands the building. It’s more like a rippling from within, from the past (and the future) of the house—the bricked-in windows, the fireplace—from deep restless memory. It’s dressed up and danced out, swirled, and suddenly, just as it ‘fell’ back into place, as echo, it’s been frozen (recall that old warning: if the wind changes you’ll stay like that). And we, visitors, can see (imagine) a diagram-of-knowing, a map, ordered and excessive; an externalising face/facing of an already internalised longing. One beat of the house’s heart, one exhalation. The Dady thought, measured, translates as sketch/drawing, an initial analogue. The CAD drawing translates this drawing plus the existing structure into an outline outside the structure. The scaffolding translates this into hard cold material in real time and real space, as temporary taken-space for no programmed use, blocking contact with the gallery/house’s own materiality. Useless space. Tempting space. Space for contrary contemplation. Busy reckless dangerous space (like each potentially last heart beat is). The scaffold (usually aiding, abetting, the practice of building) translates as sculpture, as art. And in so doing translates/dematerialises the house ‘behind’ it into questions of duration and endurance. From the empty repleteness of the sculpture one is aware of the compact solidity of the gallery—even of its smallness. The sculpture shrinks the building. Maybe when the sculpture is removed the gallery will remain as after-effect (as if it too has gone forever), itself a lasting translation or transformation, small, dark, and bleak as it seems now.

Is drawing an after-effect in its own right? Does a drawing make its subject (overall) a completely different thing(?)—a thinking thought-of thing, a point of transition, from which it desires to be the effect of ‘afterwards’; after-the-fact of presence comes another presence (over and over) from which the thing cannot recover, it’s there ‘anew’, however slight the change might be—perhaps changed only by acts of thought.

Dady has, in a poetic-relational-sense, brought drawing to the party, made it ‘leap’ off the page, as they say (or threaten), made its language enter the matter of our space. His drawing takes up the world. Yet the taking-up has no meaning, and is available for meaning. And for that reason my resisting both the advance and the appearance is pointless, it’s like resisting what has arrived.

Dady is such a fine, considered, reflective artist that one (collectively) is quiet about his work, as if it’s (he’s) a secret held close, like a favourite book. And this is telling because ‘writing/drawing’ pervades all his work. In a sense Dady wrote the building; instead of showing ‘work’ he exhibited a stilled moment of the building’s tightly kept (now busted) pleasure.

For an overview of Jonathan Dady’s work see Chris Reid’s feature in the latest Broadsheet, Volume 30, Number 1, 2001. In this text Dady’s connection with architecture is clearly made, particularly through his collaborations with architect Simone Vinall.

Jonathan Dady, Construction Drawings, the first of 3 exhibitions in the Domus project curated by Alan Cruickshank, director of the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide, February 16 – March 25

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 34

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to

1 April 2001