BODY AND IMPRINT

José Roca

 

In La mujer tortuga (The Turtle Woman, 2016), Ana María Devis used the inner surface of turtle shells for her drawings. It was a drawing without a preconceived image, which occupied the available surface until it bled onto the paper around it. This work had a public aspect in its execution: the drawings were made inside a vitrine -as part of FLORA’s Gabinete (Cabinet) program- conceived as a long-duration action twice a week. The space was extremely cramped so she had to devise a sliding table that would fit into the narrow space yet allow the drawing to occupy as large a surface as possible. Despite being visible from the street, separated from passersby only by a glass pane, the mirror effect inside the vitrine isolated her from what happened outside, providing an intimate space for developing her work. This resulted in extreme concentration and self-absorption as if induced by the repetition of a mantra. With her body confined in a narrow enclosure -like a turtle- Devis produced the series of drawings without a preestablished pattern of recognizable image; each one was patiently rendered from the accumulation of small markings. These essentially abstract works evoke nonetheless multiple images: microorganisms, geographies as seen from above, urban topographies, electronic circuits or organic tissues from a microscope are some that come to mind.

 

The cross between drawing and long duration that began in La mujer tortuga continues in Infinito (Infinite, 2016-present), also a drawing that grows organically, but in this case done with rubber stamps.  The process that brought about this work is long and full of crossings and bifurcations: originally interested in the patterns of the braided hairstyles of Afro-Colombian communities, Devis quickly went beyond ethnography and interpretation of local traditions in order to develop her own vocabulary of symbols. She made drawings and transferred them to rubber stamps, which render possible a potentially infinite combination of the patterns, or fragments thereof, through iteration and yuxtaposition. In this work/process, Devis has been marking sheets of paper using her body as an extension of the different stamps. A body/matrix that draws using gestures-imprints, which range from the subtle movement of the hand repeating a print to using stamps attached to her feet and the weight of her body as the press to mark the surface with violent jumps. This huge monotype has been growing sheet by sheet in a long period of uninterrupted work, nevertheless punctuated by significant changes in the workspace as well as in the artist’s own body. From the studio she occupied in FLORA, a standard-size space that allowed her to visualize the resulting work on floor and walls, she moved to another studio, larger in surface but with a much lower ceiling, where both her ways of working and of visualizing the results were primarily horizontal. At the beginning of 2018 Devis underwent hip surgery, which forced her to stay in bed for weeks, limiting her movement. This led her to change her way of working, resulting -as with La mujer tortuga- in a more intimate and intricate iconography. She worked on fragments of the drawing by sitting around them, even lying on top of the working table, until she recovered the ability to walk. All these moments can be discerned in Infinito as indicators of the fluctuating relationship of the artist’s body with the work.

 

In Contact Images, Georges Didi-Huberman looks at this close relationship between body and image. An imprint is an image done by direct contact; something was there which touched the surface of the support, so there is a relationship of contiguity with the matrix; my eyes caress the paper that was in contact with the stamp, which in turn was in contact with the body that manipulated it. Didi-Huberman proposes an eloquent repertoire that is worth repeating (reiterating, reprinting) here: “Images that touch something and then someone. Images that cut to the quick of a question: touching to see or, on the contrary, touching to no longer see; seeing to no longer touch or, on the contrary, seeing to touch. Images that are too close. Adherent images. Image- obstacles, but obstacles that make things appear. Images coupled to each other, indeed even to the things of which they are the image. Contiguous images, images backing each other. Weighty images. Or very light images that surface and skim, graze us and touch us again. Caressing images. Groping or already palpable images. Images sculpted by developer, modeled by shadow, molded by light, carved by exposure time. Images that catch up with us, that manipulate us, perhaps. Images that can ruffle or chafe us. Images that grasp us. Penetrating, devouring images. Images that move our hand.

 

 

 

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 1.  The turtle has mythical associations in many cultures. It is a symbol of slowness, hence of wisdom (the long duration is also the time of reflection); of longevity, which brings experience. Also of self-sufficiency, as the turtle carries its own “house”, and is capable of surviving for long periods without food or water. In some cultures, the shell of a turtle was considered akin to the celestial sphere and was used as an oracle; the turtle, like Atlas, sustains the world on its back.

2.  Devis was part of the group of performers that worked with María José Arjona in a collective action as part of Avistamiento, Arjona’s exhibition at FLORA (2015).

3.  “(…) what I did was to place some tables aside, readjusting their height and leaving space around them so I could stand (with the aid of a walker) on the borders and lean onto them with my open hands so as to reach as far as possible. Then I placed stools so I could sit near the edges of the drawing, and after a month I could finally climb on top of the tables”. Ana María Devis, in email conversation with the author, 2018.

 4. Georges Didi-Huberman, Contact Images (1997)

 

 

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