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The Week in Arts

In Praise of Forgetting

Roman Camarda on Violet Strays

Roman Camarda on Violet Strays

I didn’t get out to see much art this week. Sometimes you don’t need to.

The thing that’s captured my imagination this week exists online, on the website Violet Strays. If you don’t know it, Violet Strays is Seattle’s only online gallery dedicated to temporary, non-archived, digital format art. It was started in 2011 by co-curators Serrah Russell and Alyssa Volpigno and has shown over seventy artists since then. The exhibit format (i.e. totally digital, usually one-week-long exhibits) pushes artists’ work in unexpected, experimental directions. Around July of last year, Violet Strays went on extended hiatus, but thank goodness it’s back up and running and since this spring has been showing work by artists like Cable Griffith, Gala Bent and even work by local, award-winning chef Scott Carsberg.

It’s a little maddening to try to describe how interesting Violet Strays is, because there’s no archive of the work exhibited. Just links to artists’ websites. Even though a lot of art claims to be concerned with ephemerality through temporary installation or site-specific experiences, Violet Strays takes a very literal approach to wiping all traces of the artwork.

This championing of the ephemeral goes against a lot of art world culture concerned with cataloging and registering every movement and thought that passes as art. Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s crusade to combat cultural amnesia comes to mind. His “protest against forgetting,” which takes the form of prolific interviews and a zest for documentation for history’s sake, is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

This week the featured artist on Violet Strays is Roman Camarda. Camarda recently graduated from UW with degrees in biochemistry and photomedia. Now he’s studying biomedical science in San Francisco.

Roman Camarda on Violet Strays

His exhibit, Dess(e)in, is about drawing. Each day there’s a new video accompanied by a short quote on the subject. The first day it was Jean-Luc Nancy from The Pleasure of Drawing. Today it’s Stéphane Mallarmé (“The omnipresent Line in its spacing from every point to every other in order to institute the Idea.”) On day one, the video starts out with a slightly jittering, vibrating black field. It’s muddy. It looks like glistening, tar-black soup. Then Camarda’s fingers come into view. He’s holding a tool—some kind of awl. With it, he begins to make slow, repetitive marks. The metal tip pushes into the gritty liquid and carves, momentarily, a line. Four minutes this goes on.

The next day the exercise is repeated; this time the drawing is being made on something white and powdery—maybe flour or talc. The tip of the yellow-handled awl presses into the powder. Over and over, it carves a single groove. The piled-up powder crumbles and caves in on itself. It’s a mess. Eight marks are drawn. Only the final mark remains deep, unmuddled.

The third day Camarda drags his tool through thick piles of acrylic paint. Black, grey, silver, red, blue and more black are ploughed. The colors streak like lumpy marbleized paper.

Roman Camarda on Violet Strays

By the fourth and fifth days, I can’t really tell what Camarda’s material are. He’s making marks in the loosest fibers, in thick piles of grains and fluff. The material gives instantly beneath the stylus. Impressions barely remain for more than a second, despite his persistent gestures.

As a medium, even conventional drawing on paper is inherently fragile: museums don’t exhibit old drawings very often because exposure to light and other environmental inconsistencies will cause paper and mark to eventually deteriorate. As an action, drawing is unique in its immediacy and directness (which is to say, a specific kind of vulnerability is always at play). There is little mediation between mind and mark. As per Mallarmé, Line is synonymous with Idea. Also as fleeting as an idea. Camarda’s lines—like thoughts, like time—fall down almost instantaneously. What makes drawing so wonderful is silently articulated, wonderfully, via these incomprehensible, maddening drawings.

Ironically, my own writing about Camarda’s vanishing line for a vanishing exhibit is contrary to the task attempted by the site. I am, despite my better judgment, archiving a gesture meant to disappear.

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