Ingrid Calame is an American artist for whom the collection and translation of information into drawing and painting forms the physical base and the conceptual framework for her practice and her desire to observe and understand the world and to represent it in some small way. Her work both creates something new and explores ideas of loss, disappearance and mortality through its recording of traces left behind.
Calame painstakingly traces the incidental marks left on the ground at a site on large sheets of transparent mylar – these tracings are then used as the source material for her paintings.
Ingrid Calame (2005) Working Drawing #182 (detail).[Colour pencil on trace mylar 223.5 x 223.5 cm]. Private collection.
Calame calls these gatherings and layerings of visual information ‘constellations’ giving the viewer an insight into the importance of site or place; real location as well as systems and stories in her work. Brian Dillon explains Calame’s choice of the word as being apt:
For a constellation is always in part an imagined order, a creative gathering of disparate (in time as well as space) points of light into something we like to think of as a coherent whole. To ‘constellate’ is to bring such points together in an act at once of documentation and intuition, realism and fantasy (Dillon 2011, p.41)
Secular Response (2002) was a project made in three parts, “making constellations of marks traced outside in one place, inside another, in order to be shown in a third. (Bradley 2011, p.21). Places included Calame’s hometown church, Wall street, Las Vegas, The New York Stock Exchange, the L.A. River and the Lowell Observatory.
The buildings in which Calame made the constellations… exemplify religion, finance and science – systems by which we order and make sense of the world. By appropriating these systems… Calame hijacked our conventional understanding of how people and ideas may be organised through space, diverting the flow of information for her own ends (Bradley, p.21).
Ingrid Calame. (2004) Secular Response 2 A.H. [Enamel paint on mylar, 381 x 3063.24 cm] Van Nuys, CA.
Calame herself describes the process of tracing as being similar to handwriting, “a way of tracing information through your hand into your mind” (Calame, Roberts, Bradley & Mclean p.61) and I would argue that the reverse process is also true – like writing drawing can take information from the mind and record it into a more stable representational readable format. It fixes information in time, more than that it encompasses time as the process of drawing is not immediate, but has in itself the time of its own creation.
John Berger writes of drawing as assembling evidence and consisting of multiple evidences seen together (Berger as cited by Cordon 2014). The multiple evidence of Calame’s preliminary tracings into constellations, links the spaces together, links ideas of site, human movement and debris, as well as time together into an inseparable, seemingly incoherent map of information.
The inconsequential debris of marks left behind by people passing through a space are combined with the structures of the site itself – a visual reminder of the bodily history of the site: A recording of past movements, accidents, spillages and infrastructure, it compresses past times into one present moment – a flattening of time and space into an abstract/real representation of that space and time.
Abstract because like a map without a key the information codes itself, becomes a text of confusion, of overlapping edges and flattening layers, the viewer is at once able to look through the mesh of information into an imagined deep space and constantly brought back to the surface as line intersects line. Real because the information gathered is 1:1 scale, faithfully rendered from life, a true recording of data, as close as is possible with the implied imperfections of using a body as a tool to inscribe data.
Colour here plays a role too in Calame’s work to distinguish between site layer in the working drawings and also later in the process when they are painted. Colour further flattens and deepens spaces, bringing some marks to the surface and sending others deeper. Colour here to can be nearly arbitrary – the colours for Vu-eyp? Vu-eyp? Vu-eyp?(2002) were taken from the artists pet parrot, these are colours taken from elsewhere in the world, colours seen in life and applied to the ever thickening layers of observations in the work. This work creates fictional relationships, conceptual connections, stories to read between the layers, between the lines. It is at once capturing things lost, moments passed and a creation of new things.
Ingrid Calame (2002) Vu-eyp? Vu-eyp? Vu-eyp? [Enamel paint on aluminium 61 x 61 cm]. Private collection.