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  • The Continuous Line in Space and Time
  • Bruno Le Bail

The beginning of a line sets up a certain level or a linear mode, a certain way for the line to be and to become line.

—Merleau-Ponty, L'oeil et l'esprit

We, and everything around us, are constantly and continuously in movement. We are a mixture of lines and colors. That is what I try to paint. But how can this linear movement be represented?

After almost 20 years studying the figurative continuous line, I have succeeded in developing a "line" that takes my own movement into consideration. I have arrived at a scheme for transforming the drawing that responds to my own displacement.

In contrast to classical drawing technique, in which the artist's eye continually moves from the drawing surface to the model and back, drawing a continuous line demands that the eye fix only on the subject and not on the supporting tools. Thus there is no longer a "vision gap." Also, significantly, it is not possible to correct the drawing while working because one cannot glance at the work.

I realized quickly that I could push the elasticity of the figurative line further to include both the model's movement and my own. I thus began experimenting with a mobile pane of glass (see Fig. 1) until I was able to capture this double movement simultaneously. As in any research, I subjected myself to precise constraints. I could not carry out just any movements; I had to define them formally so that I could analyze their respective results. Once the line was perfected, I projected it onto a frame (consisting of either canvas, wood or Plexiglas). I then applied color, following and enhancing the line.

I conceived this mobile-pane-of-glass machine with the intention of exploring the continuous line in both space and time. The machine is constructed of wood and glass; I sit on it, with the glass before me. The machine moves back and forth and laterally on wheels, so that when I am drawing, I can move without interrupting either the line or the movement.

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Fig. 1.

Bruno Le Bail, Mobile Machine. (Photo © Christine Bauer) The user draws on a mobile-pane-of-glass machine and moves in loops before the model.

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My movement before the model is in the form of loops. I start, for example, very close to the subject on the right; then I move back to the left; then I continue forward and finally move to the right, which brings me back to my starting point. When drawing, I use transparent paper fixed on a pane of glass (like a screen). With no interruption in the drawing of the line, the slightest variation is registered. This also means that the time it takes to make the work is constrained. Every change of direction is planned. My drawing has to start and end as a function of the anticipated loop.

This linear path makes it possible to register the slightest variation of my movement, like a cardiogram. The resulting process casts doubt on the fixed logic of the body and space. I came to understand that this inconsistency is not an aberration: this essential transformation is the logical result of my movement. What is "seen" is what is, what is "unseen" is what is not.

The line's path has to anticipate and destabilize visual perception. The looping movement defines the problem of the relationship between close and distant, lateral and transverse. How do you visually signify, for example, an individual who is 10 meters away and whom you approach progressively until you can shake hands? What does a sideways movement mean, pictorially speaking?

I try to find answers for all these questions. The problem I address seems to bring me very close to Cubism and even closer to cinema; actually, however, it is exactly opposite to them because it is not a question of visual fragments but of a "liquid" vision. There is no fixed gaze, but a view that changes in space and time.

The cinema is only an illusion—certainly an inspired one...


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pp. 379-380
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