Tag Archives: Cornelia Parker

Drawing with Light

I want to do some research into drawing with light. This arises out of a review of earlier work and selecting light motes as intriguing found drawings. It also plays into future Part 5 themes of drawings developed over time and  my parallel project looking at absence/presence and traces.

There are various ways one might draw with light. Perhaps the most obvious is to make cyanotype prints using light sensitive paper on which an image can be made in several ways. Light can be excluded from the paper by stencils of various sorts, paper, thread, object, or the paper can be used in a pin hole camera to record traces of the sun or environment. 

Alternatively, the path of a small, powerful light can be traced in a longer exposure photograph, as in Gjon Mili’s photographs for Time magazine, where he attached lights to a figure skater, or those he famously took of Picasso drawing in space (Page, 2017).

Another way of harnessing light might be to prick pinholes in a support, possibly in reference to some image on the support and back-light it so that small, selective highlights are created.

I wanted to see if I could capture the light motes in a more direct way than photographing them. I have some Jacquard Solarfast light sensitive dye left from a textile project a few years ago which could be pressed into service. I had no success with this on paper in the past but decided to have another go. The fluid was applied to paper in a darkened room. Not being sure how best to apply it, I started with a sponge roller but progressed to a sponge brush as the roller produced an uneven orange peel effect. I chose a very bright day and set up an exposure bench outside with a cutting mat, a sheet of glass and my reflective object, a copper kettle.

My initial exposures produced solid blue sheets. I had thought that a long exposure would be necessary, but quickly realised that the background light was burning out any image and that the copper light motes were not very bright. A large card board box was positioned to shade the paper whilst allowing the light motes to be reflected back on to the paper. An exposure time of about 2 minutes allowed the light motes to be exposed before the whole paper was completely exposed and the marks were lost. However, only the strongest are captured and the delicacy  and extent of the whole is not recorded.

Perhaps I could produce a better image by using a uv light source in a darkened room with stronger light motes produced by cut glass. Unfortunately, this failed to develop at all, probably due to my led torch not producing enough uv. The dye only develops when wet, and the paper dried out before any development at this light level.

The glass light motes are much stronger than the copper, so I tried producing these with the sun as the light source. The light has to go through the glass rather than reflected back, so shading the paper was not possible, and you can’t project just the light mote.

Initial results were uninspiring, but I did get better at exposure, subject selection and dye application.

Old, heavily cut glass worked best at scattering the light. A flower bowl with internal holder probably produced the best image. All these glasses are really old and inherited it from my grandmother 40 years ago. This gives these pictograms added layers of trace and significance for me. They have a connection to Cornelia Parker’s images of glasses.

I did manage to record some light motes but I would much rather not have recorded the glass objects producing them. The light motes have a mysterious beauty about them which is negated by showing the objects. Since the light has been concentrated, rather than excluded, by the subjects, these images will always be low contrast.

This has been an interesting piece of research for a very sunny day. If I want to pursue it further, I think I have to invest in proper cyanotype chemicals and be able to expose dry paper using a focused light source.


Jason D Page. 2017. Light Painting Photography History. [ONLINE] Available at: http://lightpaintingphotography.com/light-painting-history/. [Accessed 8 July 2017].


2.3 Contextual Focus – Cornelia Parker

Poison And Antidote Drawing (2010) is part of a series of drawings started in about 1997 and several such drawings were created in 2010.  Parker is drawn to dangerous materials and processes. The substances from which her pieces are made matter as much as the visual content, ‘The material is often where my thinking starts.’ ( Aesthetica Magazine Ltd, 2016)

Originally the drawings used only ink to which poison had been added, but at some point she decided to look at opposites and contrast two opposing ideas or substances together. “I began with the idea of different sorts of oppositional things. “I was thinking of Hitler and Freud, for example, in terms of how they seem to personify contrasting parts of the psyche. I also wanted to make something physically dangerous.”(Drawing, 2000). These blot drawings reference the Rorschach test created in 1921 to help unlock deep seated emotions and characteristics through a patient’s interpretation of a blot. Parker is challenging us to make our own interpretation of these drawings. She may also be making the point that opposites exist as counterpoints to each other; black is only identifiable as black if we have the concept of white.

The series developed to use Quink and correction fluid to which poison and antidote had been added respectively. These carrier materials mirror the subject, correction fluid being the antidote to ink. The materials and technique mean that the outcome of the process is unknown to the artist. She has added jeopardy at each point, the danger of the material, the lack of control over the outcome, the uncertainty of our interpretation.

In this Poison And Antidote Drawing (2010), the correction fluid was viscous enough to have created texture which gives the blot an organic feel, adding to the psychological context. These later drawings look rather like sections through a brain or a skull. The inclusion of organic substances increases this association and amplifies the significance of the work.

The inclusion of culturally significant materials of objects in a work heightens our emotion response to a work. This can be negative or positive. Since the mid 1900s, artists have included their own or others bodily fluids (or in Manzoni’s case, solids) as a provocative element of their work. Warhol got friends to pee on canvases treated with copper pigments and Quinn used his own blood, frozen to cast a self-portrait. These inclusions create a physical link between the work, its creator or context and the observer.

One of the most moving experiences of my life was visiting the caves of Lascaux. These caves contain some of the greatest prehistoric art ever discovered but, due to the increased humidity caused by visitors’ breathe, access to the caves is now closed to the public and one visits a replica nearby. Does this matter? It is clearly necessary to preserve the caves and the replica is an identical 3d copy of the main chamber and passages of the cave. The paintings come to life in the simulated flickering of lamp light. The 3d nature of the paintings, which isn’t apparent in reproductions, is demonstrated with bulges in the rock (fibreglass) utilised for haunches, fissures for manes. But it isn’t the original. It has been tidied up, in particular the floor made safe.As an amateur astronomer, I cannot look at it and this ‘I am standing just were the artist stood about 17,300 years ago’. The hand prints and finger marks no longer really represent the physical presence of a fellow human across time.

I can look at wonderful NASA photographs of the universe, especially other galaxies. These are produced by combining images taken at a variety of wavelengths and therefore do not represent anything we could ever see with our eyes, even if we were in space. As an amateur astronomer, I look through my telescope at a distant galaxy and, if I am lucky, it appears as a faint grey smear, but I get a huge thrill out this because I am directly connected to what I am viewing; photons which left that galaxy millions of years ago are falling directly on my retina. I think that this is exactly analogous to being in the presence of a work of art rather than an illustration, and even more so if the physical content, rather than the visual content of the piece, is culturally significant. I feel particularly moved in the presence of sculpture, say, which preserves the thumbprint or other sign of the presence and intent of the artist.

Finally, I had a bit of fun making my own take on the blots in the context of my current ongoing project on Presence/Absence. No bodily fluids were included.


Presence/Absence, liquid graphite on Washi, A4


Aesthetica Magazine Ltd, A.M. (2016) Aesthetica magazine – Cornelia Parker. Available at:
http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/cornelia-parker-2/ (Accessed: 22 September 2016).

Drawing (2000) Available at: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=691360&partId=1&school=13279&page=5 (Accessed: 22 September 2016).