Review: Frazer Ward on Christina McPhee / Carbon Song Cycle and La Conchita mon amour

video still, Carbon A Drawing, song, in Carbon Song Cycle, premiere, Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, University of California-Berkeley, 2013


by Frazer Ward

(Excerpted from an essay in the forthcoming Dossier: Christina McPhee, Eileen Joy, editor, for Punctum Books, New York 2016.)

Live performance drawing is brought into the time-images. These performances involve burning pomegranates from our garden to make charcoal; then using the charcoal to make drawings for animation in the film…distilling liquid carbon from axle grease and pouring it onto translucent muslin stretched canvas, to emulate oil spills as painting…raku-firing ceramic urns in garbage cans filled with newspaper.*

During performances, McPhee draws over the projected images with the light of her cell phone.

To the extent that McPhee’s practice is undergirded by drawing, her home-made charcoal for drawing and distilled carbon for pouring suggest a relation between pressure and release that is important in her work and expressed in the scribble and swoop of her line. Look at the drawings among the montage works in La Conchita mon amour, or the Teorema drawings, where fleet lines occasionally seem to escape from agitated, dense passages. If the video components of Carbon Song Cycle document the production of drawing’s materials, McPhee’s drawings themselves register the duration of their own performance intensely, which provides them with much of their drama.

McPhee’s practice holds together drawing with home-made charcoal and with a cell phone; in fact, it seems to insist that they are on a continuum, from carbon to petrochemical derivatives, for her work articulates the tactility of drawing with the visualization of various kinds of data sets, especially ones related to economic globalization and environmental degradation (examples include climate change data, maps of carbon concentrations, geomorphological data following from earthquakes, research tracking the effects on biodiversity of the BP oil spill, or 16th century bank documents that speak to the deep history of globalization). In the context that McPhee provides, every line—charcoal, musical notes, cell phone light—embodies the expenditure of resources and energy necessary for the forms of capture and condensation that representation requires. As though metaphor were to be measured in kilojoules.




Frazer Ward is the author  of  No Innocent Bystanders: Performance Art and Audiences (Interfaces: Studies in Visual Culture), Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2012.

review essay forthcoming, Punctum Books 2016
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