Randy Williams, my teacher for a high school drawing class that I attended at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, told the students decisively during an exercise that there are no lines in real life; he may even have said it multiple times. Of course, this was him trying to guide us away from an inky comic book stylization, one we were doomed to render at such a tender age, and open us up to the parvenu of subtle shading, hue, and blending that dictate successful composition. This is the crux of the dialogue between Katie Holten and Mariateresa Sartori in their two-person exhibition, Linea. The conceptual lines they explore are often more real than any line drawn on a page, yet that existence is registered purely by the drawn line, or a line of words, on the page.

The exhibition began, for me, with a walk. I met Holten in Union Square and we soon sauntered down to BOSI Contemporary on Orchard Street; she had taken the walk 13 times previously, and was planning to do it each of the 35 days of the exhibition. Her companions before me had been fellow artists such as Dan Graham and Richard Wentworth, as well as other friends and acquaintances. The walks were unchoreographed but had a predetermined focus, like walking under bridges, past specific trees, or viewing old apartments and inhabitations. In my case, the route was an architectural tour of favorite buildings. Eventually, a spidery approximation of this trip would appear in the gallery as a pen sketch pinned in a 5 by 7 matrix of sheets of drawing paper on the wall, and displayed above a ritual table composed of piles of cartographically themed hardcover books bedecked with objects collected during the walks. Holten’s work frequently employs perambulations as source material for her projects—her Laboratorio della Vigna, Ireland’s entry to the 2003 Venice Biennial, for example, involved over 40 scientists, writers, and artists who collaborated with Holten on a very mobile research project looking at the history and ecosystem of Venice. Mariateresa Sartori provided a sister project adjacent to the walk drawings, “All People Going, Piazza San Marco, Venice (1 – 6)” (2014), six pen drawings illustrating crowd movements over brief time intervals on the early afternoons of February 25, in 2006 and 2010. The moments are short—anywhere from 12 to 70 seconds—and again, utilize ballpoint pen lines as complicated intersecting notations of the movement of individuals throughout the piazza. The drawings achieve an indecipherable complexity that is reminiscent of Poincaré’s theory of fluid dynamics and the mathematical impossibility of projecting the movements of more than three particles in a stream.

Despite similarities in the graphic interface that both artists use to represent their data, Holten and Sartori approach their research from opposing perspectives. Holten focuses on desires and yearnings as well as the collection of tangential and disparate information. She distills it to a simple meter that imitates a scientific result but is an amalgam of emotion and thought, a holistic but imaginary scientific geometry. Sartori, conversely, approaches a relatively simple set of vectors—movement over a specific time period in a well-delineated space—and produces a diagram that, through complication, loses its viability and instead becomes an artful drawing. This dichotomy unites the show, as each artist practices her own brand of documentation, fluctuating between concrete representation and agitated bits of information.

There is a propensity toward didacticism in the walking pieces of both artists that almost demands the viewer be a participant in order to fully understand the work and its context.  The non-participatory pieces at the gallery, on the other hand, approach sublimity of line and its attendant information in a delightfully roundabout and poetic framework. Sartori’s “The Drawers” (2013) presents a video of six mature art students staring straight at the artist/camera, sketching her in a quick drawing exercise, and the accompanying series of 88 drawings “1 minute and 15 seconds of drawers’ gaze” (2013) are tracings of the movement of their eyes, and those of 82 other students. Each leaf shows two almost identical squiggles, as the artist traces the eye movements off a computer screen, but each page shows a completely unique signature of each student and their unique movements. 

Moving away from the paths, boundaries, and chains of thought conjured up by lines, Holten explores the potential of the simplest means of registering presence—a dot. The five stolid black rectangles inscribed here and dusted with various white pigments constitute a subset titled “Constellation (Earth at Night—varying latitudes and longitudes)” (2014), part of a continuing series of drawings that were recently exhibited at Van Horn in Düsseldorf last fall. The works are primarily drawn with fossil chalk from the Cretaceous era collected by Holten and play with implication—not just an aesthetic game of “connect the dots” cued by the title, but the theoretical use-value of points—as sites of human activity and habitation, the delineation of hazy regions: the origin of mapmaking. These coagulated glowing nodes could be anything from phosphorescent jellyfish to bacteria or neurons, but the title makes it clear they are locations on the earth at night, spinning the drawing into a mirror of itself—a constellation on land observed from the sky. The image of Missoula, Montana has only traces of light, and the figure/ground relationship between the imagined “void” and the few “stars” is convincing as a star map of an empty sector of the galaxy. Conversely, the pearlescent dots that crisscross a drawing of Salina, Kansas pointedly deconstruct Holten’s visual pun on constellations. There is no way this can be stellar; it is clearly a wobbly but very organic or human-manufactured non-repeating pattern. Chains and trails bisect the canvas, indicating that as soon as we manufacture a constellation of our own, we regulate and suffocate it out of existence.

The “images” of the constellations inevitably refer back to the library of atlases that are piled up as part of “Walks.” There is a hermetic interconnectivity between all of Holten’s projects, one endless spiraling walk that the artist is taking over as much terrain that defines the closed system of life and geography of the planet. Sartori follows a more linear path; she finds the lines within systems: music, movement, form, and generation in general. Sometimes the line makes the movement, sometimes vice versa. Linea presents a pair of artists who repeatedly intersect in their practices and in the space of the gallery, trading visual cues as frequently as kernel ideas. There are no parallel lines here.


William Corwin