Lines Fiction: You explore your surroundings through drawing. You walk through the city, and you draw what catches your eye. How did you start this?
Alex Bodea: It had sprung up out of necessity. Upon my arrival in Berlin I had to temporarily abandon, due to logistic reasons, my studio work I was used to, while studying painting in Cluj (Romania), my home town. In search of a Berlin home I had to do a lot of travelling throughout the city. So in order to keep up my work, I first had this idea of gluing paper to my shoe soles, and to collect the dust of the streets that I walked in Berlin. I considered these stained papers to be drawings. I can’t remember why I didn’t do it in the end. But I started paying more attention to people and things I was seeing in the streets, and, most important, reflecting on what I was seeing.
Back then, I did not have any visual language for such a fine tuned take on life’s little impressions. Thinking of art, I was strictly thinking in terms of figurative realism (that includes the stained paper on soles). Only one year later I figured out how to do it, when I watched a woman listening to a lecture while taking notes on her e-pad, not only in writing, but also by drawing. She was doing something similar to what graphic facilitators do, and I was amazed by her fluency in that regard- she was drawing as if she was writing. From that moment on, I knew this is the language I had to explore. Drawing as writing. Drawing as notation.
I excluded from my drawing everything dispensable, focusing on just a few strokes, enough for the palpable moment, when I „pronounced“ it in just one or two words. My visual notes, as I call these drawings, form a perfect symbiosis with written lines (poetry), and they cannot be taken apart.
Lines Fiction: Your notes show a very specific visual language, concentrated on essential elements. You use special pens…
Alex Bodea: For the readiness that my observations require, the marker came very handy. I liked that it is so „all or nothing“. You can’t erase a marker’s trace, you can’t change it, and you can’t adorn it with superfluous gestures, otherwise the drawing turns unsightly. It had to be one perfect gesture, as if someone’s life depended on it. I tried out different markers and I set on one type that allowed me some slight variations in line thickness, not much though, just a bit, enough to avoid flatness and the cartoonish look.
Regarding the paper, it was important that it had a contemporary feel to it, and I decided for office paper. I found some standard sized little cards, thick enough for the marker, and made without the chemicals that usually turn the paper yellow. My visual notes can show a huge range of subject-matter, almost encyclopaedic, but the building blocks of their language are as minimalist as the binary code. For the human figure I use a stylized profile, devoid of facial features, just a round head, and the chest line. Sometimes I give hands to my little calligraphic figures, if needed, and in some occasions I draw the whole body line, just as stylized. For objects, I mostly use a simple, straight line looking like a hyphen. Sometimes I show them more representational, but I always keep it to a minimum. To my line, I sometimes add a stroke with a brush dipped in china ink, if I need to show the direction or velocity of a person or object. I also use ink strokes to give a hint of a certain mood or texture. When needed, I can improvise as well: I use dirt, punches in the paper, charcoal, heat, and other procedures that are justified in the case of a specific visual note.
Recently, I started to use more and more ink for the figures, instead of the marker, and to get the very precise lines I need, I use calligraphy pens. You see, my drawing is almost writing, and my language is almost programming. It’s about building a complex system out of limited and simplified resources. A system that is flexible and can work in almost any new direction intended.
Lines Fiction: Your specific visual code is perfect for a distribution via twitter, but also fit to be transformed into a complex narrative, as in your film: Nine Line Poems. You are interested in poetry, and you include spoken language and drawings in performance and site specific installations.
Do you see drawing as an universal language without limitation?
Alex Bodea: Yes, my visual notes are a contemporary creation. Similar to the snapshots shared on social media, they can be easily placed online. There are many ways of showing my visual notes. Being of small format, they fit into one’s hand and they can be handled like a post-it note. Or they can be placed into an open archive, and people can browse through it (as it usually happens when I present my work in galleries).
But my favourite way to show them is to place them in a cinematic performance, in front of a live audience. For this, I group my visual notes into short “volumes”, each volume dealing with a specific story (something I have witnessed at a theatre rehearsal, during the installing of a complex work or project in a gallery, at a talk, during a weeklong art fair or festival, something I had put together as the making-of a biennial or what I have experiencing while volunteering in a refugee shelter). Then I turn these “volumes” into digital slideshows completed by simple animations (body movements), and sounds. I compose a narration that I then perform live for an audience. If there is no audience involved, but maybe just one person whose collaboration my visual notes are about, I meet this person for a cup of tea, and show my results as a personal feedback. Occasionally, I converted my results into an artist’s book and I intend to expand this concept in the future.
I view my work as something beyond a traditional concept of art, as a way of experiencing life, of recollecting, of engaging in conversation, of spending time with individuals and collectives, of empathizing and participating in society. I think that there are more artists taking this path, more than in the past. Regardless of the medium they work with, they directly inquire and comment on life through their work, and more and more look for new ways to share their findings, while bringing their contribution in concert with the trajectories of people they meet.
In the future, I intend to host such artists in a project room I am about to launch, together with a partner, hopefully in Berlin.
On the whole, I consider this approach to the complexity of art as maybe one of the most interesting dealings with visual art at the moment. I think that drawing has an established place in it because it is such a fundamental visual language, and it so inherently human. Drawing is as vital for the arts and communication just as fundamental mathematics is for the entire science and technological progress.
The New Space: the fact finder