Shared Vocabulary

Our first drawing workshop together was truly open, in that none of us had any confidence about what we should draw. We had set up a glass table in a studio to allow us to film the process of drawing through the underside of the tracing paper. The veiled drafter's hand as it moved back and forth across the paper was a salient presence in the initial experiments. It seemed as if the hand and the pen drawing a space could stand in for the emerging and dissolving awareness of the person apprehending that space. The act of drawing could mimic apprehension itself. Could the collation of many hands simultaneously drawing, amending and erasing across the whole floor create a sense of multiple presences constructing fragmentary realities?

Our problems began with the manner of drawing technique. We tried various forms of conventional architectural representation: plan, section, part-elevation, planimetric. It was clear that the drawing failed as soon as it became a view or a picture, but it wasn't enough if it was merely a plan. We reminded ourselves that we were constructing a sequence that unfolds in time, not a finished artifact.

Activity Profile of a Spatial Neuron. Image © Jeffery Lab at University College London

We were keen to find a way to embody the system of place cells, grid cells, vector cells and boundary cells that form part of the brain's deep apprehension of space. We tried various ways of marking these loci with paint, but it was too explicit and too painterly. We attempted to emulate the episodic, broken and scribbled quality of Cy Twombly's paintings but our efforts collapsed quickly into mannerism. We worked through the morning, following one another on the drawing table. We tried to inherit each other's successes. In truth, there were far more failures than successes. By the end of the morning we knew what we shouldn't do and we had some inklings of the techniques that might form the beginning of a shared vocabulary.

We felt that if we had six months of working like this together we would be able to build patiently towards something really special – but we only had a couple of days before we had to introduce the process to our sixteen drafters.