Most everything leaves some visible trace of its activity on something else; wind leaves ripples on the water and bends the trees, and makes our hair flap around; floors record movement in their peculiar way, noting where we walk the most, what sort of furniture we put on it; fences turn grey from sun and water, wood swells, sidewalks crack…All of these amplify obscure patterns of movement, about which we mostly speculate, if we think about it at all.
But amplifying the mark of the invisible might be well enough, but it turns out that nature makes more or less aesthetically captivating marks. Some ripples are lovely, others boring. Some weathering is considered beautiful, some a nuisance. The non-art-bound marks of the world, I would suggest, are more or less interesting to us according to the degree to which intentionality can be attributed to them. They are recovered through the language of association, as significant gestures, or utterly pointless, irreducible, inexorable beauty, if any of that is possible.
Dave Ford’s work is characterized by parasitic mechanisms that take advantage of conditional movement, like the swing of a door, kids on swings, or the bouncing and jiggling of a moving truck. He might attach a sawblade to the top of a door that over time makes a mark on the ceiling; build a drum set for swinging kids to run into; set up a complex system of pencils weighted with bottles of water that make marks on a sheet of paper laid out in the back of a Penske rental truck. And it turns out that the mechanism and set up of the pencils is aesthetically important. Not any pencil in any old place can make an interesting mark. Ford works carefully to compose the marks, such that the accidental is curated and the marks are collaborative. His hand is present in the mechanism, and in his knowledge of what sort of mark is produced under given circumstances.
Maybe a fundamental underlying question implicit to the act of looking, at art and other things, is, ‘why should we care?’ Why do we care how a truck would draw, given the tools and occasion for doing so? Of what use is this surplus of energy and motion? What does this sort of tracking tell us about ourselves, and about the world? Must every gesture be harnessed and “appreciated” to have value?
In the long history of debate over authorship, the intentionality of mark-making, the location of value in an object, Ford’s truck drawings join a history of dialogue about traces, and semi-accidental composition that inquires into the location of talent, the origins of beauty, the transference of intention and emotion between the subject and the hand, and of the accepted forms of representation. Maybe it even stretches Joseph Beuys’s inclusionist mantra, from “everyone is an artists” to ‘everything is an artist?’ Even a dumb truck? With a little help from his human friends? Most people would record their journey with their iphone or video camera. Why not record a journey by the marks the movement of a truck can make? Dave Ford could compose a small picture book called, “travels with Dave,” made up of the drawings the trucks made. Would the drawings tell us something about the trip from El Paso to Chicago that is somehow more or less representative than a snapshot from the cab? What exactly is this activity recording?
In the history of mark-making, a human hand on a receptive surface has lost the battle of necessity, and now a truck’s mark is as good as any, and better for its novelty. This is to be celebrated for the simple reason that if a truck can draw, so can you. But can a truck draw a nude? Maybe a nude truck? I am led to question into the truck’s choice of subject matter. Can it expand its vocabulary of imagery? Could the truck be driven in such a way as to compose a sunset landscape? Or a famous battle, or traffic accident in this case? Why should it be confined to lighter or darker jiggly marks? Why not explore its inner being more deeply, its raison d’etre? What is driving the truck? aside from Dave? This may be a dead end investigation, but it illustrates what it might mean to evolve within the genre.
I find the most value in this work within the way it relies on conditions not of its choosing. It relies on motion and energy, pre-dating the intention of making a drawing. It has a kind of necessity that a portrait in oils does not, within which is the tacit investigation of what finally has necessity, and how much work does it take to make it visible?
To take part in the joy of naming, I have come up with a few names for Ford’s practice;
insert your own____________
Review by John Preus
Opening Saturday, Oct. 22, 5-9 p.m. at Southside Hub of Production (SHoP), 5638 S. Woodlawn Ave., free, open to the public.