BEHIND THE SCENES:
November 27th 2020
NOVEMBER 2020, LINDA KARSHAN
The Covid Conversation, A New Film
Film Producer and Director: Ishmael Fiifi Annobil
Associate Producer: Jill Silverman van Coenegrachts
Sometimes projects emerge from days and weeks of discussions and emails with an artist. Working with Karshan at a distance since our last in-person studio visit last December in New York has been a lesson in weekly talking. A collaboration started May 2019 at DRAW ART FAIR, I invited LK to make daily walked drawings in Saatchi Gallery, London, up the historic staircase across the mezzanine and down the other side. This she achieved each day at four o’clock precisely with tap shoes amplified with microphones.
This work “Blackbird Song” filmed artfully by Ghanaian filmmaker and poet Ishmael Fiifi Annobil. They have worked together for years, see his thoughtful radical films on the LK website. A retrospective of works on paper hung in Redfern Gallery’s stand in quiet elegance; the minimalist open fair spaces designed by London based architect Miska Miller-Lovegrove with Paris designer Mathilde Bretillot; the third part of this team was Fernando Gutiérrez whose obvious genius sang from the signage and catalogue, to his graphics visible in the Underground and along streets of Knightsbridge. His splendid blue danced from walls, visibly along the staircase Karshan articulated daily.
Eight months later in a Manhattan studio before New Years, looking at decades of drawings I said, “Lets have a quantum leap in the practice. Now is your time.”
Then we reach March, I am caught in London by the virus. Distraught in stillness I have a feeling this is going to be two years at least. I say to LK in New York, “think about this period as something that will have a beginning, a middle and an end.” Breathe. Body as tuning fork, you sense, you see what is happening. Channel it. I did not know anything at that moment of her personal history. On a train she once suggested she was inspired by her father. He was heroic. Charitable. They set up a human rights award in his name.
Dread mounted as I became overly sensitive to ambulances speeding and helicopters swooping into in Bayswater on their way to St. Mary’s hospital; I imagined sounds of breathing machines. Alone I relived of my late husband’s last weeks with a breathing tube intensive care, 2012; my father’s labored death from lung cancer, 1995 breathing slowed to nothing.
LK one day mentioned her father’s polio, a beginning of recollections. Drawings came one after the next, in New York, in Connecticut. “Standing upright, good conduct, I walk and turn because I can”, she said. Paper on the table, feet moving in their repetitive steps as her pencil marked the grids, the circles, the intersections, turning the paper, turn and turn again.
Weeks pass, one month to another, discussions, emails, discursive texts, jottings. She calls herself a common reader, but the thinking is lucid beyond any pandemic. I exile to Paris in July. LK arrives in London. The first group of Covid works finished, I suggest she shift outdoors, parks and gardens for walking, Ishmael thinks how to chronicle this. Together they talk and look and she finds a jotting dating back in 2004 where she writes of her father’s polio. He films her reading this on the steps of her London studio. We wait to see what the middle period of Covid walked drawings will reveal. Just midstream now. We call the drawings “In Pursuit of Knowledge & Grace.”
March 20, 2020/LK JOTTING/NYC
“Just before lockdown. I found myself at MoMA, then fled, keen to get home and produce drawings with life. In silverpoint – a new technique for me. I was just getting the hang of it, by virtue of the squeaky sound produced by silver on clay and by its similarity to etching.” It took several trials to create the good-enough matrix; I also needed to find a way to re-use that grid-like form.
Then Eva Hesse’s small drawings of disc-like circles came to mind, held in perfect balance with her grid. Hesse used the grid as both a prison and safeguard against letting an obsessive process or excessive sensitivity run away with her. Thus outwardly rational work can be saturated with a poetic and condensed intensity that eventually amounts to the utmost in irrationality. Repetition and repetition of moveable units in particular, leads to fragmentation, the disintegration of one order in favor of a new one.“
I found my way. With a faint, silver grid as my ‘safeguard’, I carved half, or three quarter circles with speed: up and down the grid, across and back, always with rhythm and speed. THIS way, the circles added up/knit together. Sometimes they were just the result of an ‘S’ form, drawn fast/fast, with purposiveness. They reminded me of the ‘S’ forms on a Greek geometric-period vase.”
April 2, 2020/LK JOTTING/ CONN. STUDIO
“Day one in the new studio one drawing, clean and clear. I have written a brief jotting addressing art in the time of Covid 19, from my point of view, taking into account my personal experience of the polio epidemic of 1951.
It is unsentimental, but to the point: the sound of my graphite on paper, on a new drawing table—a wooden door—sounded to me like a ‘breathing machine.’ This I noted in an August 2004 jotting.
I had in mind an iron lung; I did not say so then. But as breathing, or its loss, is at the heart of the current pandemic, the point can be made now.
I send you the new jotted thoughts. Dated yesterday, it is a spare picture of where I find myself now, and how I intend to move forward, upright and alert.”
April 5, 2020/ LK JOTTING
“This jotting for its relevance to my thinking in today’s linear, profane time. I find myself overwhelmed by sadness and buoyed with courage, thinking of him now.
Science beat polio in 1955. The victor was Jonas Salk, then 39, who had undertaken the challenge to find a cure seven years earlier, an effort sponsored by the March of Dimes.
How well I remember. My father Roger Joseph had been stricken with polio in the epidemic that raged throughout the US in 1951. After two years in an iron lung my father was now by side at home, in his rocking bed. Together we watched telethons to raise money for the March of Dimes, an initiative conceived by FDR.
Our posture mattered greatly to him; he could not stand. I am one of three girls. What mattered to him above all was that we conduct our lives with moral uprightness, of which he was an exceptional model.
Today I remain as upright and alert as possible. I can stand and I can walk. I do so for the sake of my art, but also to redeem my father’s illness, which he bore with resilience and courage, as he had done during the Second World War, commanding an iron tank division called the Thundering Herd.”
Watch here “Linda Karshan: Covid Conversation” or click on the image