Get Rid of the Edges

»I wanted to literally draw in the air, to pierce the page, to get rid of the edges.«Pauline de Chalendar

What does it mean to draw in virtual space? Can the resulting work still be called a drawing? How do we exhibit in virtual space?
Grenoble-based Pauline de Chalendar was educated as a visual artist. Wanting to experience drawing differently than the usual, limited two-dimensional page, she developed (with a team of researchers) a tool to draw in VR. The freshly discovered space opened up new possibilities of rethinking the relationship between drawing and space. But it also raised a many new questions.

Anna Ohlmann/Judith Engel: How do you understand the word »space?« Which denotations or connotations concerning »space« are important for you in your work?

Pauline de Chalendar: »Space,« in all its different meanings, is the most important word in my artistic research. I think that my work, as an art student then as a visual artist, was always related to this question whether in presenting drawings in space as in their subject itself: stories of proximity and distance in the relationships, symbolic landscapes and walks in the mountains as a pretext for drawing …

In my 3D drawing practice, the theme of space in even more present. I wanted to literally draw in the air, to pierce the page, to get rid of the edges. In this virtual space, my drawings are landscapes that you are supposed to cross. To understand them, you have to be inside, surrounded by them.

AO/JE: What do you explore when using the device, when being in this closed, digital, white »world« of virtual space behind the VR glasses? Is this virtual space in some way a metaphor for the space we are meanwhile inhabiting more than actual space as users of the recent digital era?

PdC: By shifting from real to digital, I move to an empty space where everything needs to be done. Actually, this sensation is not different from being in front of a blank page. What changes is this complete disconnection with reality that virtual reality imposes. It’s thus difficult not to make any link with the power of screens that catches us and makes us blind to the rest of things. But by using this particular device, I see two solutions to this problem: the first is to take breaks, to keep a balance between digital and craft. The second is that this device generates a creative process, an active one, not a passive attitude, as so often happens when we’re in front of screens. Here, unless I decide otherwise, nothing happens, nothing moves in space. The lines only appear if I draw them. I think this white, empty, virtual world is finally an answer to the too many visual pressures that screens put on us in everyday life. The spatial, temporal, and now collaborative possibilities of the virtual environment give me great freedom of creation to deliver, through drawing, an interpretation of the real world.


AO/JE: You draw lines in virtual space. By nature a line has two dimensions, but space, be it virtual or actual, is three-dimensional. How do you deal with this fact ? Are you interested in dissolving or transfering the lines in three dimensions ?

PdC: I don’t think that a line necessarily has two dimensions. In landscapes there is three-dimensional lines everywhere: track lines, mountain ridges, paths and roads, branches of a tree … I wanted that my drawn lines would be able to stay suspended in the air. Perhaps Calder or Picasso were looking for the same thing by sculpting iron wire or by painting with light sources. I remember my initial idea was to create an installation where the viewer would be surrounded and overwhelmed by drawings. At that moment it wasn’t about drawing in space yet: I was planning to draw on paper or on a computer then position my drawings in a 3D space by using an appropriate software. But I realized that the creative process was too different from the experience lived by the spectator. There is always a link between the creation step and the final result. I didn’t had a choice. To deliver a sincere message, I needed to be immersed in my own drawings. At least for the moment, virtual reality seems to be the best way to do it.

AO/JE: Can you imagine making the drawings in a real material – for example in metal – in a further step, and how do you think it would change the work?

PdC: Yes, I suppose that if gestures can become drawings, iron wire can, too! The interest would be for me to create bridges between the real and the virtual and to answer »what is drawing or not?« It’s a question often asked when you practice drawing in a way that is not in the classical frame.

So I can imagine translate my 3D drawings into reality even if it means the appearance of constraints as the properties of the material, including its weight, which generates the need to build structures or supports to make the drawing stand. This is the main problem in 3D printing, for example. Exhibiting voluminal drawings made of real material side by side with my virtual landscapes would be an interesting experience.

“There is always a link between the creation step and the final result. I didn’t had a choice. To deliver a sincere message, I needed to be immersed in my own drawings.”
Pauline de Chalendar

AO/JE: In which way did your practice in drawing with the device influence your analog drawing practice? How does it change your concepts of art or research?

PdC: Everything is very permeable. On paper, I try to simplify my drawings, to find the »good line« that provides the expressiveness I need. I think more in volume, trying to imagine the drawing from several points of view before choosing one.

Reciprocally, the visual arts influence my approach to digital arts a lot: the gesturality, the composition of an image, the temporality of a drawing that unveils in the 3D space come directly from my practice of drawing on paper and traditional animation. There is also the choice of a »favorite« framing: I turn the 3D drawing around; I add details for consistency, but I always come back to the same point of view. I think it’s a designer’s way of doing, a sculptor would certainly proceed differently. But I must say that I neither consider myself a very good designer nor an illustrator – the important thing for me is to convey an idea. Once done, I spend very little time on the aesthetics of the drawing.

Since the beginning of this project in 2015, my concepts of art and research (in its exploratory and scientific sense) have changed a lot. This device was born from a collaboration with two research teams in computer science (MINT and PIRVI of CRIStAL laboratory (University of Lille, CNRS, IRCICA and Inria) initiated when I was a student at Le Fresnoy – National Studio of Contemporary Arts. Being part of a multidisciplinary team, working with researchers taught me to get out of my comfort zone, to accept not to be totally autonomous in some aspects of my projects and to adopt an different temporality in my work. I also realized that, in my case, the use of technologies must remain simple, intuitive and not systematic. This is why I don’t define myself as a digital artist: I use a technological device when it seems to allow me to go further, to create sensitivity without exceeding the poetic and artistic sense.

AO/JE: An audience watching you drawing in a 3D space might see »only« a »translation« of what you create in the 3D space. Does this translation cause problems in perception? How do 2D drawings differ from 3D drawings?

PdC: Yes, it’s a real problem. How do we expose the virtual? To present 3D digital content is a challenge. During the past two years, I’ve shown my drawings through different mediums such as immersive vision or augmented reality. But it appears to me that there isn’t a perfect solution, each has its pros and cons.

At this moment, I try to pull out my drawings of virtual reality for two reasons. The first one is that I consider VR as a great creation tool but not an exhibition device. For me, an exhibition must be experienced both collectively and »naked,« that means without any equipment. The choice of VR as an exhibition device must take sense as in a »at-a-distance-performance« or as more confidential drawings. The second reason is the way VR is fascinating to the viewer, as a relatively new technology. I feel it like a constraint, because some people enjoy the experiment of VR more than they really look at my work.

For me, multiplying the devices would be a solution. One of them is a virtual gallery of 3D drawings which were made during workshop sessions near Grenoble, France. This platform will be released online in February and be visible on different media, such as a computer, a smartphone, or even to be retranscribed into VR. I’m also working at the moment to set up an immersive space composed of a double 3D video projection on curved screen. The viewer can navigate in the virtual space by using an interactive platform on the ground in front of the screen, like a giant joystick. Without being as immersive as virtual reality, this device has the advantage to be collective and being seen without having to wear a vision headset.

AO/JE: Drawing with the 3D device has a very performative aspect. Do you consider the performance of drawing or the drawing in 3D-space the artwork?

PdC: I come from the visual arts, so I’m more comfortable with the drawing as the artwork, but it’s true that the performative aspect is very strong with the device. Drawings are gestures, and it is tempting to let it go in the exploration of trace and movement. I try to find a balance between gestuality and figuration in my drawings, for instance by playing on the temporality of the lines’ appearance. A drawing that is revealed more or less quickly in the virtual space can make »feel« the presence of the designer and brings an interesting dramaturgical dimension: What does the viewer guess at this stage of the drawing? How to anticipate his reaction, his movement?

»[…] I try to pull out my drawings of virtual reality for two reasons. The first one is that I consider VR as a great creation tool but not an exhibition device.«Pauline de Chalendar

AO/JE: Are there artists or artworks that inspired your artistic work and your research?

PdC: In art, I think I’ve always liked immersive environments, with or without technology, with multiple nested narratives: a painting by Bosch or Bruegel, the installations of Kentridge or Fischli & Weiss, the blackboards by Tacita Dean, or more recently the drawings of Bianca Argimon or Jochen Gerner.
What influences my artistic research is related to everyday life and social interactions. Themes such as proximity and distance, crowd gathering, the need for solitude through a return to nature, the omnipresence of screens are recurrent in my drawings. I feed these reflections by reading sociological and anthropological works such as the writings of Erving Goffman, Edward T.Hall, or Tim Ingold.

AO/JE: What’s next?

PdC: My work explores the relationships between the intimate and the collective, the complexity of social relations. Drawing allows me to digest, understand, and interpret situations of interactions that concern me, whether close (my entourage) or distant (the human society?). Paradoxically, in the moment I mostly draw landscapes where the human figure is almost absent, perhaps in shyness, perhaps in the aim of working on spatial narratives. I call them »symbolic landscapes« because each element makes sense of a situation of social interaction. It’s very simple. For instance I draw a wall to symbolize an obstacle, a sea for crossing or instability, a bridge for the transition from one state/step to another, a mountain as a symbol of an aim, etc. Of course the interpretation is free: If the viewer wants to see a simple landscape, he will see a landscape. If he lingers, he will see details, evocations that can reshape his reading of the drawing.

These symbolic landscapes are the subject of my new project Mirages. It will be an interactive visual and sound installation in which the 3D drawing of a composite landscape is revealed in a perpetual refreshing. Borrowing from the imagination of nature, the symbolism of screens and images from news feeds, the project evokes the world’s fragility and the urgency of certain situations. The drawn plots that make up the Mirages landscape are organized around main lines and are like scenarios; contexts that the viewer-navigator can discover only by getting close enough. Thus, a serpentine line can also become a path, a river, or a wall, the rectangles are screens or placards carried high by the crowd. This project experiments with the new narrative possibilities of a time and based drawing. It will be presented in a first form to Experimenta, the Arts and Science Biennial in Grenoble in February 2018.

After that, I have a lot of ideas. First of all, to continue my participation in developing the drawing program. VAIrDraw developed by and with the PIRVI since 2015, especially working on the temporal mode that will allow, among other things, the creation of animated drawing in an immersive environment. I also would like to develop the performative aspect, with the idea, for instance, of a live drawing in collaborative mode: two artists drawing remotely and a third device in an exhibition place. Visitors could get inside a drawing in progress and maybe interact with it. On the other hand, in parallel with its very interesting educational side, I would like to make this project more open and collaborative by working with other visual artists but also dancers, sound artists, theoreticians. The next step may be the organization of a workshop with an artistic purpose, to allow those who want it to experiment with this tool and birth new ideas.

Screenshots of 3D Drawings made by participants during workshops in November 2017