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Drawing on drawing: Powerhouse exhibition ‘A Line, A Web, A World’ opens

This latest exhibition begins 1 July at the Powerhouse Ultimo. Focused on drawing in the widest sense — in fact, challenging the idea of what drawing is in the first place — it’s an exhibition that will be especially interesting to designers and creatives.

Drawing on drawing: Powerhouse exhibition ‘A Line, A Web, A World’ opens

We’re all familiar with the standard art gallery experience — series of framed paintings adorning the walls of a white box, each image with its accompanying caption. By bringing together an exhibition on drawing, however, the Powerhouse is doing something very different. Over and above the 230 drawings on show, it invites visitors to fundamentally question what the act of drawing involves, what it means and what it can do.

The works on show range widely, from technical diagrams produced by engineers and scientists to artist sketches and architectural plans. There is colour, pencil and mixed media including video, as well as a playful variation in framing choices.

Powerhouse Ultimo - A Line, A Web, A World
Installation based on an astronomer’s direct drawing on to astrographic plate illustrating a solar corona, maker unknown, used at Sydney Observatory, 1900-1950, photograph by Hamish McIntosh.

“Looking through the collection, what I could see was this incredibly multifaceted approach to drawing that crosses so many disciplines,” says Katie Dyer, senior curator at Powerhouse. “What became apparent, and what I already instinctively knew, is that drawing is understandable both as something technical, proficient and observational, and something immediate and rough.”

“I think there’s a kind of passion or urgency to drawing, a sense of immediacy,” she adds.

Underpinning this picture is a concept of drawing as communication and A Line, A Web, A World aims to show this in a non-hierarchical way. In Dyer’s words, it’s about presenting drawing as an expansive practice.

Related: Fantastic Forms exhibition at Bundanon Art Museum

Powerhouse Ultimo - A Line, A Web, A World
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum minahassae) botanical drawing by Filumena Mary Anne Lisle Phillipps at Government House, Singapore, for The Reverend Julian Tenison-Woods, c. 1880-1887.

Expansive is certainly one way to describe the remarkable work that (pardon the pun) draws the visitor into the exhibition space. A 39-metre hand-drawn navigational chart of the Darling River dating from 1870 to 1890 is displayed in a custom-made cabinet that connects the entry space with the main room. Displaying a mixture of navigational practicality, expressive intuition and cartographic accuracy in the one drawing, it’s an excellent introductory piece that sets the scene for the whole exhibition.

“We knew that we wanted to display this object in full,” explains senior exhibition designer Hugh O’Connor. “It’s important to have an uninterrupted engagement with the work and it sets the tone for the exhibition in terms of how it asks your body to relate to it. We used it as the main line to shoot the visitor into the gallery.”

Part of the cabinet displaying the 39-metre map.

Architects and designers will of course be well aware of the importance of drawing to the creative process. The hand-drawing in particular remains a flashpoint in a world of digital and AI design tools, with many advocates keen to emphasise the fundamentally communicative and generative character of connecting ideas in the mind with movements of the hand. While there will always be a place for a practice of highly technical and proficient drawing, what this exhibition really drives home is the multifaceted nature of drawing — how it can mean so many different things in different contexts.

Another work on display that expresses some of the thought-provoking questions in play is a drawing of the winning Powerhouse Parramatta design by architect Hiroko Kusunoki. Presented as an animation, the image nevertheless communicates a quality of playfulness and imagination; despite the modern media, it’s a drawing that seems fundamentally human.

“We all understand that architects draw, but I found it particularly compelling because it’s so lively and it draws you in emotionally,” says Dyer. “I think it’s a really clever way to connect us with the idea that an architect has to imagine something that doesn’t actually exist in the world. That’s only in their mind and they’re trying to share and explain it through a drawing, trying to bring you along.”

On a more personal level, Dion Beasley’s Untitled (Lake Nash) expresses memory and place through a distinctive and individual visual language. An Alywarr man with connections to Owairtilla and Alpurrurulam country in the Northern Territory, Beasley is deaf and has muscular dystrophy; through drawing, he has created a way of communicating with other.

Silk batik textile by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, 1988.

Accompanying the drawings in the gallery space is a series of 95 texts which make up the title of the exhibition. The overt presence of the written word is an important move and raises further questions about where drawing begins and ends. Visitors are certain to leave with these and other fascinating questions in mind and in pencil-holding hand. 

A Line, A Web, A World runs at Powerhouse Ultimo from 1 July, 2023. As part of Powerhouse Late, the venue will also host Drawing Clubs, a series of free drop-in sessions led by leading practitioners where visitors can try their hand at different drawing techniques; the first event takes place on 3 August and on 17 August, visual artist Lucas Ihlein will lead a session as part of Sydney Science Festival.


Powerhouse Photography

Powerhouse Ultimo - A Line, A Web, A World
Powerhouse Ultimo - A Line, A Web, A World
Childhood drawing by Lawrence Hargrave, 1857-1858.
Powerhouse Ultimo - A Line, A Web, A World
School Strike 4 Climate protest sign by Isabella Tole, 2019.
Sharpies Golfhouse by Noel McKenna, 1985.

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