Drawing, language and thinking

Ana Mendes is a writer and visual artist, creating projects in which she uses photography, video, drawing, text and installation to address issues of memory, language and identity. She has been the recipient of several awards for her works in performance, video, photography and literature, including the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017, second prize winner, London, UK. Her research project, ‘On Drawing’, aims at establishing a connection between drawing and thinking in the realms of arts and science.

Ana Mendes: On Drawing. 2016. HD, 09:53, colour, stereo, exhibition view Jerwood Drawing Prize, Jerwood Space, London, UK (c) photo Anna Arca.

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Ana Mendes: I am a writer and visual artist based in London. I started to work as a writer and gradually evolved to visual arts.  I have quite a diverse background, working across text, performance, video, photography, drawing and installation. Overall, what drives me is the concept/idea. Everything flows from that. As for subjects, my work deals with issues of identity, memory and language.

RB: Have there been any particular inspirations/influences to your art practice?

AM: I have a very abstract mind. So, quite often I draw inspiration from real events – particularly people around me – or historical facts, but I abstract them to a more universal level.  I also play a lot with accidents or unexpected events that may happen during the development of the work. This means that sometimes I spend a lot of time researching about a specific subject, doing some experiments, planning everything in detail, but when I start to work, something unexpected happens that makes me change my mind, and I end up by creating something completely different, or even developing several works.

Mina Pegourie: Untitled, 2014. pencil on paper, 148 x 210 mm (c) photo Ana Mendes

For instance, in the case of the video On Drawing, I was working with Mina Pegourie in photography. Mina is the cleaner of an artist in residence that I attended in France. After having created the work in photography, she came to my studio and said that she wanted to show me something, which was her address book. I then became so fascinated with her story and the address book that I could not sleep on that night, I imagined that video straight away. Everything was very fast, as my residence was ending that week. So, she came on the following day and we filmed the video. Thus, in the end of the residence, I created the planed work in photography, plus the video, which generated many other works.

Ana Mendes: Exercise Drawing. 2016. HD, 11:53, colour, stereo, video still (c) still Ana Mendes

RB: What is the underlying focus and vocabulary of your work?

AM: I would say language and thinking. I understand that everything that I do relates with thinking, I am interested in art as a process, rather than as an outcome. Although I do show projects and works, which can be developed in video, photography, installation, text, etc., I think that what it is being displayed is a process, a way of thinking, or perceiving and abstracting events. In my view, language includes both writing and drawing, and connects with mathematics and philosophy.  Ludwig Wittgenstein is my favourite thinker because of the manner in which he connects philosophy, language and mathematics, as a unit, a block.

RB: There are many definitions of what drawing is, but one I am particularly interested in is that of ‘drawing as the trace of a line of thought’. How does this definition resonate with your work?

AM: Yes, indeed, it resonates. That is what I love about drawing. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and felt that it has positive effect on my brain, stimulating lateral thinking. Another of my favourite writers, Thomas Bernard, speaks on his novella walking on the effects of this activity on the brain. It is a bit obsessive, which is fascinating.

In my case, I also felt that that, a part from walking, drawing is a form of thinking. Whenever I would draw something, I could gather new ideas straight away, have a better understanding of events, it was like a new gate to the mind. I was a bit shy with my drawings and would never show them; even at school I was always drawing the environment around me.

Ana Mendes, Self-portrait, performance, 28 min, photo (c) Jean-Baptiste Beranger, performance at IASPIS – the Swedish International Arts Grants Commitee for Visual and Applied Arts, 2017

RB: How are drawing and performance/video related in your work? Can you say something about how they inform one another in your working process?

AM: If we consider that question in very objective terms, I would say that I really like to draw on the paper – my notebooks are precious for me, as I carry them everywhere I go. I really like to draw and to think through them. I also prefer pencil to pen in my everyday life. Nevertheless, I do believe that we do not stop drawing when we lift the pencil from the paper. In this sense, we are always drawing – or at least those who like to draw – because we are always thinking. So, once we initiate a practice, it does not stop when we introduce a gap to walk, dream or eat food. It is a bit like with dance – when does the dancer stops dancing? When she or he goes to bed? When the rehearsal ends? They are always dancing – the way that they walk on the street, position the feet, lift the head, etc. I would say that with drawing it’s the same. Also, when you write, you also draw – you draw the letters. For children, drawing is writing, as they don’t have yet that skill. Thus, I guess that I’m a bit traditional when it comes to drawing.

I created a video about drawing because it was the best form of showing a process, and the life story of Mina Pegourie, the woman with whom I created the work. When it comes to performance, it’s a bit different, because I think that all my works have a very performative quality, even if they are not formally a performance.  Two years ago, I initiated a project entitled On Drawing, which is based on the video with the same name that I filmed with Mina Pegourie. In this project, I research how different people use drawing as a thinking tool, in the realms of arts and science. As a consequence of undertaking this research, I was able to develop different projects in which I use drawing in different terms – for instance, I set up a blog, curated an exhibition, developed different works on paper, etc. I also created some performance works. One of them is the performance series Drawing, Drawing I and Drawing II, in which I draw first with my right hand, and afterwards with the left one, one circle non-stop, until the graphite pencil ends. This durational performance was based on the fact that I was researching about neuroscience, particularly the lateralization of the brain – the right and left hemispheres.

Ana Mendes: Drawing I. 2017. Performance/durational, video still, exhibition view La Egal, Berlin, Germany (c) still Nina Berg

RB: Can you say something about your project On Drawing?


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One Response to “Drawing, language and thinking”

  1. Avatar
    Sonya Rademeyer
    April 25, 2018 at 9:07 am #

    An incredibly insightful article in understanding Ana Mendes’ approach to process. I particularly appreciate the idea that ‘ …we are always drawing … because we are always thinking.’And because we are always drawing, no other interaction halts or stops the drawing: ‘So, once we initiate a practice, it does not stop when we introduce a gap to walk, dream or eat food. It is a bit like with dance – when does the dancer stops dancing?’

    By looking at the practice of drawing in this way, my body becomes the choreographer in space -time and I am left wondering: ‘What do these drawings look like?’

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