- Participatory Drawing Project - 2007
Character was a drawing project made in collaboration with twenty West Coast artists between February and August 2007. I introduced the concept to my collaborators with a short email description of the process:
"Here's the basic idea of the project: I will make collaborative drawings with twenty artists and filmmakers. During the drawing session, we will choose a character from popular culture, past or present, of whom we both have memories. We will then attempt to draw the character on a single sheet of paper using only our memories, conversation, and drawings as references. The paper will record all of the mistakes and successes."
Etymology: Middle English caracter, from Latin character mark, distinctive quality
1: a conventionalized graphic device placed on an object as an indication of ownership, origin, or relationship
2: one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual
The drawings in Character illustrate not just well-known pop culture figures, but also the strengths and limitations of memory. The character in each drawing was chosen by discussing and deliberating at the time each collaborator and I met; no discussion took place prior to the drawing session. Through the collaborative process, each artist and I were often able to build on one another's memories, words, and sketches to get closer and closer to what we felt was an accurate representation. Ironically, we were just as likely to inadvertently convey false information to each other, convincing the other person to veer away from important details in a character's likeness. In each drawing session, an archetypal version of the character took shape on the page. These characters do resemble the originals, but often lack the specificity of the genuine article.
Why draw collaboratively from memory? A century of increasingly widespread mass media has created a vast pool of collective experiences through which people can connect to each other: all over the world people have cheered in front of a television or laughed while reading the same book. The characters and events depicted through these mediums have been embedded into our memories. We identify with some characters more than others, often because we see ourselves in them or aspire to be like them. Sometimes a character is memorable because of its design, and some transcend mere personal identification and become a part of the culture, with multigenerational appeal. A good example of this is Superman: known by my generation, our parents and grandparents, and indeed, around the world. The Character drawings provide evidence of these shared experiences. Most of the characters in these drawings continue to live both in the media and in our collective memory. The goal of this project was to tap into this collective memory, to define and make connections to my culture and community, and to explore how this intersects with my personal history. By drawing together, my collaborators and I were able to connect our accounts of how we came to know the characters, and by doing so expand our awareness of how we are shaped by cultural forces.
With the financial support of the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, I published a limited edition book (250 copies) as a document of the project. Copies are still available and you can contact me through the website if you are interested in purchasing one.
Samantha Wall, Edie Tsong, Craig Baldwin, Mack McFarland, Jo Jackson, Geoffrey Ellis, Bean Gilsdorf, Peter Burr, Edward C.H. King, David Eckard, Matt McCormick, Emily Ginsburg, Midori Hirose, Dan Gilsdorf, Jaclyn Campanaro, Adam Sorensen, Julia Stoops, Yoshihiro Kitai, Daniel Duford, Ryan Alexander-Tanner
Financial Support: The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC)
Book Design: Geoffrey Ellis
Photography: Geoffrey Ellis, Samantha Wall, Jaclyn Campanaro
Assistance and General Support: Jenene Nagy and Josh Smith at Tilt Gallery and Project Space