Drawing the Affiliative Look
Both John Berger and Jacques Derrida – the first comfortable with the language of drawing, the second at odds with his lack of draughtsmanship – write of their compulsion to draw their parent at the time of death. How is it that the act of drawing offers itself within such a charged moment? Perhaps at such a time, drawing becomes a site for intimacy as a place that allows for “touching” the subject when actual touch is at once desired and confronting. It is not only the likeness, nor the “last sighting” that Berger and Derrida were documenting, but also and possibly more so, that moment of “touch.” This paper looks at what Marianne Hirsch terms, “the affiliative look,” and extends it to the drawn portrait. The affiliative look is not a gaze that is restricted to “knowledge” of, or about, the subject, but one in which identification is aligned with the particular intimacy of a familial look. In such a viewing, the portrait relinquishes its status as an iconic object that represents the uniqueness or essence of the person outside the portrait. Rather, it becomes a site of mediation, negotiation, and engagement; a site of relationality. The portraiture work of my practice, in which drawing is central to its meaning both as an act and as imagery, sources the personal – family photographs, traces of tactile imprints, the reactive gesture – to explore possibilites beyond the familial, of portrayal as a particular way of mutual looking. Additionally, my use of the familial relationship of my subjects involving the photograph, the photocopy, and drawing, proposes a construction not only of a singular familial subjectivity, but of a relational portrait that is simultaneously self and other. The affiliative gaze can be said to parallel the engagement with drawing’s materiality and the narratives of that materiality. It can, therefore, become a site of collective presence in subject, material production and viewing. This paper looks at how the materiality of drawing “thinks” with the use of the (photo)copy, that moves between the photograph and drawing to mediate between past, present, and future.
Drawing Out 2010 Conference,
7–9 April, RMIT University, Melbourne.