Edinburgh Showcase For LA Artist Ingrid Calame

The sublime art of tracing and pouncing with pencils and pigment

It’s rare that I make a visit to Edinburgh without popping into the Fruitmarket Gallery, an exhibition space which hits exactly the right note in a city strong on culture, modernity and sophistication. This festival, the gallery is showcasing the works of LA artist Ingrid Calame. 

Calame has a specific technique of tracing the marks she finds underneath her feet – stains and shapes on her studio floor, tarmac, dried up swimming pools and river beds. These are either transferred onto aluminium surfaces (the shapes coloured in with flat areas of oil or enamel paint), or redrawn with coloured pencils onto Mylar (large scale thick architectural tracing paper).  The Mylar is framed to intentionally hang slightly apart from the mounting card, causing the marks to cast a slight shadow on the card through the translucency of the tracing paper.

The Fruitmarket also presents two large and stunning installation pieces, a kind of wall hanging sspspss…UM biddle BOP (1997),  which combines the two techniques (enamel paint on Mylar), and then L.A. River at Clearwater Street (2006-8, 2011) a new showpiece Festival commission which involved taking an existing large scale tracing and using the technique of ‘pouncing’ – using coloured bags of pigment to apply a patchwork of colour through pricked holes in the Mylar, directly onto the gallery wall.

In fact Calame has built her entire oeuvre, extraordinarily, on just one technique, that of making tracings of ground surfaces. There’s a title of a dance piece by Merce Cunningham, famously called Ground Level Overlay, which might aptly be used to describe the entirety of the work in this exhibition. And actually in a strange kind of way, I did find myself in an environment which felt oddly philosophical in the vein of Cage, Cunningham, and so on – the taking of unremarkable movement, in this case the tracings of floor markings, and building them up into an elaborate and often repetitive language that makes you think beyond the representation of the ordinary and into an odd suspension of time.

So what are these elaborations? Some are formed from a single tracing, some layer imagery from several tracings (e.g. in a series of recent works featuring parking lot numbers), and some use several tracings to form a composite image (or a sky of ‘constellations’ to use Calarme’s terminology). She is indeed fascinated by lifting the ground to the wall, and perhaps conceptually onto the sky as well.  In the case of the new commission, L.A. River at Clearwater Street (2006-8, 2011), the tracing was made over a 2 year period, so new marks would keep appearing and the drawing would change. A palimpsest, or as Calame describes it  “grafitti on grafitti on grafitti”. This kind of 1:1 representation is described by the artist as a kind of stance against our globalising internet age which makes us feel ‘overwhelmed’.

I was a little dogged by feelings of tension while walking around this very beautiful exhibition, of being caught between feelings of permanence and impermanence. The relaxed feeling of balanced abstract composition set against the anxiety of the obvious thought of the ennuie of making endless tracings – all consistent in style. And yet the intricacy is mesmerising. Rather like lace making. The best example of this is wonderful #346 Drawing (Tracing from the Perry Street Projects Wading Pool, Buffalo, NY) 2011. Other works strayed into other happy languages – the small aluminium work …puEEp… (2001) stunning like a segment from an intense Bonnard mediterranean landscape thrown forward into pop art language, and two small scale Mylar drawings, of which thankfully no philosophical point can be made, so effortless are they in the choice of line and colour: #38 Working Drawing 1998,  & #115 Working Drawing, 2002, both of which I would have gladly taken back home with me. 

Words/Photo:  Dody Nash © 2011

The Exhibition runs from 5 August – 9 October 2011 –   Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh

Fruitmarket Gallery  45 Market Street, Edinburgh –  Mon-Sat 11am – 6pm, Sun 12-5pm

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