Architectural drawings

Publisert 03/10/19
| Skrevet av Helga-Marie Nordby
| Originalt publisert i Numer #120

Vera Wyller er arkitekt og kunstner og bor sammen med sin ektemann Sverre Wyller i Krutthuset, et tidligere militært ammunisjonslager midt ute i skogen i Maridalen i Oslo. Med Vera som arkitekt har de sammen utviklet den monumentale, nesten sakrale murbygningen til arbeidssted, visningsrom og hjem.

Vera Wyller

Vera Wyller er en av de 35 kunstnerne i Tegnetriennalen 2019. Triennalen har fått tittelen Human Touch og kurateres av Helga-Marie Nordby. Tegnetriennalen som har tatt over for Tegnebiennalen, arrangeres av Tegnerforbundet og vil foregå på Kunstnernes Hus 8. november 2019–19. januar 2020.

For et par år siden var jeg og min mann invitert dit på middag, og idet vi skulle avslutte kvelden og vende nesen mot byen, falt blikket mitt på en liten blyanttegning som lå på Veras arbeidspult. Hva er dette? Hun løftet ut flere grå arkivmapper fra skuffen og la tegninger varsomt utover bordet. Jeg ble helt stum. Det er noe av det vakreste og mest finstemte jeg har sett. Jeg var ikke klar over denne produksjonen. For meg var hun arkitekt. Vera ble født og bodde i Beograd i det tidligere Jugoslavia til hun var tolv år. Da flyttet hun til New Jersey med familien sin. Hun dro til New York for å studere arkitektur og ble boende der i mange år, før hun flyttet til Norge. Som kunstner har hun vært tilbakeholden med å vise arbeidene sine offentlig. Hun har ikke ønsket å være en del av det «produktive» markedet, kravet, tempoet og presset som følger med det å aktivt stille ut. Det å tegne handler for henne om noe fundamentalt annet, det er en konsentrert og stille utforskning av menneskesinnet, dets eksistens og hva det kan romme.

Krutthuset. Foto Wera Vyller.
Krutthuset. Foto Wera Vyller.
Krutthuset, fasade mot øst. Tegning av Vera Wyller.
Krutthuset, fasade mot øst. Tegning av Vera Wyller.

Executions and proofs

HMN: Can I describe you as an architect who draws?

VW: I happen to be more of an artist who works with architecture through drawing.

HMN: In what way?

VW: Drawing is itself fundamentally constructive – it is architectural. It is really a thought-recording that forms and adapts to whatever is generating it, a result of complex mathematics, if you think about it. Making a line is an expression of interacting structures moving material through space. So, drawing is architectural. But my particular work-focus is an attempt to move against production, or work in a way outside what we normally understand as a productive existence, a productive life. You know, making buildings, working on a team, making stuff. Drawing is an attempt to remember that our existence is about something altogether other. That there is a sort of human depth that we don’t normally reach in daily life, or for me in architectural practice, for me when I work with others. There is some recognition that we have toward one another that we don’t get to talk about. My drawings are an attempt to turn toward that.

*Executions* av Vera Wyller, Proof 3, (24 x 15). Papir, blekk, tre og laboratorieglass. Foto Werner Zellien.
Executions av Vera Wyller, Proof 3, (24 x 15). Papir, blekk, tre og laboratorieglass. Foto Werner Zellien.

HMN: What made you come to this, to take this position with your drawings?

VW: I think I told you that I started to work on these very small concentrated drawings when the war broke out (Yugoslav Wars), and I didn’t know what to do with myself. How to speak as a human being in this.

HMN: You were in Oslo when the war broke out?

VW: Yes, but you know I was born there, in Belgrade. And wars are insane, they are madness. I wanted to take some sort of action in that, to do something. I tried, but it was just more of the same. My political participation in that form of hell was just adding to it, so then I decided I would try to draw what else it means to be human.

HMN: Where did you start?

VW: I started a series I call Executions, where each drawing became a kind of proof. I am interested in language. I think it is the most incredible thing how words evolve over time. Just think about the multiple meanings of the word execution. And then the drawings were its proofs. That is how I first decided to make this work. Until then drawings were primarily proofs of architecture, documents or sets of instructions I made for others to execute.

HMN: So, the drawings had only been a tool for you until then?

VW: Well, not only a tool. It was never only a tool. It was more like an expression of sensuality that one hopes to achieve in a building. If you can make the drawing do it, you can make the building do it. So, drawings were always important, it was always a part of this other thing.

HMN: What you are saying is that it all started with a reaction to the war, it was then it became clear to you what drawing could be about. Before then you were just doing it as part of your work as an architect?

VW: Yes, in a way. I used to think that in architecture a drawing expresses a physical entity, a desire for a space. You could say it was an expression of desire, because it expresses something that does not yet exist. But with these other drawings, they were it, there were no buildings coming after them. I am not sure if it is even right to attempt to describe it. It is like when you hope that a drawing will somehow talk about the depth of being, and of time. That is a very big wish! I am not sure if I ever can achieve that. I can only say, this is what I was thinking about, and this is why I started to do it. With the drawings I wanted to prove that we are what I think we are. I don’t know if they even come close, but the wish sets up a mode, a way of working, an attitude and a concentration.

*Odysseus Ulysses, Yellow* av Vera Wyller, (57.5 x 41).Papir, blekk, kryssfiner og glass, Foto Werner Zellien.
Odysseus Ulysses, Yellow av Vera Wyller, (57.5 x 41).Papir, blekk, kryssfiner og glass, Foto Werner Zellien.
*Odysseus Ulysses, Blue* av Vera Wyller, (57.5 x 41). Papir, blekk, kryssfiner og glass. Foto Werner Zellien.
Odysseus Ulysses, Blue av Vera Wyller, (57.5 x 41). Papir, blekk, kryssfiner og glass. Foto Werner Zellien.

Human grandeur

HMN: Can you describe your process; how do you draw?

VW: I usually work in short periods of high concentration, for about two hours at a time, though there are no routines, no fixed points of any kind, except for a feeling that it is good to keep going. My drawings are stories built with encoded gestures or signs. They often begin with an extracted form, a sort of energy code that gets repeated over and over again. Their life is in how the gestures connect to one another and how they are influenced by where they are made, by what they are made with, what the mood is in the atmosphere of the place where I am sitting and how I feel that day.

HMN: The special event with the war triggered a way of working for you, the drawings have become a method for you to look into yourself. I am trying to dig even deeper into your motivation, what is really going on when you are making them?

VW: What happens when I draw or what moves a drawing into being, I don’t really know how to explain. It is almost like there is a kind of wait, a sound. Then I find the means to express that wait and to make that sound. Then I choose the medium I work with and the gesture I think will help to achieve that.

And then there are a lot of other things. There are particular topics, like language, literature, history and neurology. Then the peripheral or subliminal thought-content of drawing are all the different things you can imagine and think about in one day! In my drawing process all these things happen, but I don’t know how much of it makes its way into the drawings. In any case, this is what is going on when I am making them.

I sometimes think about connections to women’s craft in my work, of work done with overlapping threads made with both hands over a long, long period of time. Millions of hands.

What I really want is to express human grandeur …

Installasjonsfoto av Werner Zellien.
Installasjonsfoto av Werner Zellien.

«It is almost like there is a kind of wait, a sound. Then I find the means to express that wait and to make that sound.»

Vera Wyller

Drawing as a language

HMN: I don’t believe your drawings are about understanding something, it is more what they do to you, how they evoke a reaction, an inside movement, a feeling. For me they are sounds more than anything else, a resonance.

VW: But that is very hard to talk about …

HMN: As a curator text and words are my tools, even though I always want the exhibitions to speak for themselves. But sometimes there is too much text and too many words. I really want the Drawing Triennial to speak for itself, that when people come and see the exhibition, it is not about words at all. This is scary! I want it to be about seeing, experiencing and feeling, that there is a direct connection between the works and the viewers.

I think of the drawings as language in themselves, a language we share as human beings. Each one genuine, but still possible to share, to enter. I am struck by this possibility, this potential. That something so abstract as lines and dots can make you connect, reflect and feel.

However, it seems to me that artists put very different weight on their interest in viewers and communication. Many artists I have spoken to describe art first and foremost as looking into themselves, expressing themselves. Communication and viewers are not that essential to them.

VW: For me personally the whole business of self-expression is not essential at all. To me this is almost like an axiom, everything you do is about expressing yourself, we express ourselves all the time, it is unavoidable. For me the other, the viewer, is important. I make the drawings in the hope they will connect, be understood and mean something to someone else. That there is something universal. I think of the drawings as a way of being real, another way of being real that is not so accessible, except what is accessible through the drawings.

Detalj fra *Book I* av Vera Wyller. Blyant på papir. Foto Wera Vyller.
Detalj fra Book I av Vera Wyller. Blyant på papir. Foto Wera Vyller.

HMN: One of the things you mentioned you are interested in is language?

VW: Yes, very much! I don’t know if I told you I have this project I call The Lexicon of Missing Words. The Lexicon deals with the problems of classification. In our daily experiences there are all these situations, states we don’t have words for, where existing words are slipping off all the time. So, I try to make new words just for fun. I try to keep intact states that have been fragmented and classified out of existence or separated into polarized either-or concepts that can no longer hold them together. But they can occur together, like the simultaneous presence of yes and no. Not like a maybe, but something that is yes and no at the same time. This appears often, we all know it happens, and there is no word for it in any language I know.

HMN: We know language is there for communication, for us to understand each other, but it also restricts us. I was talking to Eirik Blekesaune, another artist who will be part of the Drawing Triennial. He also describes what he does as signs, as an alphabet. An alphabet for indescribable things, something that we recognize or grasp, but have no words for, like your yes and no. But talking about drawing as a language, I am still hanging on to the question or amazement of how I am actually able to enter or understand your work?

VW: Because we don’t understand it like that. You can equally ask: How can you possibly understand this sentence, or how can I understand the sentence you just said, because it could mean so many different things. Yet we understand each other, way beyond the words. Words are only signs for perception that is some other activity altogether, occurring somehow adjacently, but having its own separate life and physiognomy. I don’t really know how to describe it precisely. To employ the Platonic theory of forms for a moment, words or sentences are just approximations of communication, like theater props we use to live or talk to each other through. The real communication they approximate is not in the material domain. To me drawing is beautiful because its materiality is so fine. If you think about our economy, the state of the planet, overproduction, the Anthropocene, drawing is then the most elemental way to make something without adding to the shit.

HMN: I remember you told me that it is not for showing off that you draw with both hands at the same time or write backwards in miniature letters. Though it is easy to be intrigued by your skills, your work goes way beyond that. You said human grandeur is what you are looking for. How far can we go?

VW: It is to express human depth. If we think that everything is encoded into our bodies from the beginning of time, how we somehow carry traces of existence. We don’t know to what extent we participate in the making of the thing. There is a sort of agreement about inaccessibility of all that we are. We all agree that we only know some parts. Things happen in life where we are suddenly made aware of whole other rooms of being. The world is big, and we are big in it in a fragile way, and to even remember that … I believe that every good work of art call that up.

«If you think about our economy, the state of the planet, overproduction, the Anthropocene. Drawing is then the most elemental way to make something without adding to the shit.»

Vera Wyller
*Brain study* av Vera Wyller, (15 x 10). Blekk på papir. Foto Wera Vyller.
Brain study av Vera Wyller, (15 x 10). Blekk på papir. Foto Wera Vyller.

Written drawings

HMN: You have these drawings that are like diaries …

VW: Yes, they are literally that.

HMN: The writing is unreadable for a normal eye. You have written in extremely small letters in reverse, page after page. When I first saw them, I did not immediately recognize it as writing, I saw drawings. Can you describe these written drawings? Do you use automatic writing?

VW: The written drawings are interesting to me because they are not automatic. I am not really a writer. I was trained to write with my right hand. It was always a kind of traffic jam in my head when I tried to write something. All these things I wanted to explain would come out of this epitome of big noise. So, what I discovered when I started to make these drawings, I write them with my left hand in reverse, there was no traffic jam. Suddenly writing became simpler. It’s not like it is all content. As a proper writer you have to sit down and make sense. In my drawings I don’t have to make sense. I just write about something, and when I run out of things to say, I just take a word and I repeat it because I want to continue to work, to get to the bottom of the page. And then there is rhythm, a kind of movement of thought, that you can see recorded in the drawing. There is a sort of flow in the surface. You can actually see what happened, and what you can see is that sometimes I have something to say and other times I don’t.

HMN: Even though I can’t recognize the exact meaning of your words, I do agree I can see shifts in energy. Your unique handwriting and the pressure of your pen has added to that. Your structured, reverse writing has created diverse patterns and energy fields.

VW: I need life in the drawing, and that is the energy transferred. The letters are so small because I don’t want to think that it is writing. I want it to be more like white noise.

HMN: But what about the Odysseys series? Here you are using already existing text.

VW: Yes, I took texts from Homer and James Joyce and transcribed them in that same way. I was hoping that just by the fact of what these texts are and what they have meant to the world, the presence they have in us as a cultural species, that I would be able to get a shimmer of that in the drawings. I used ink that had almost no pigment to try to describe how something exists in our memory or in our cells.

HMN: This work is so interesting, conceptual and physical at the same time. The imprint of something abstract onto something material. The title is of course very important here, you immediately start to think about the texts and what they represent.

VW: But you know it is also very reassuring. I was looking for meaning that I could use. It is like having a structure around me, I depend on all the stuff that everyone else has done.

HMN: What about your mirrored drawings, where you use both hands at the same time?

VW: Well, there are several aspects in them. One is that it was initially a didactic undertaking. I just wanted to see if it was possible to have one hand reflect the other hand, without being a direct symmetry. To make complex gestures and see how close they can be. It started with that and came up to a point where I tried to draw two different drawings at the same time. Why I wanted to do that is because I was trying to understand how we work and think, to make the brain the subject of the drawings. I see them as exercises; how many different thoughts can we hold on to at the same time, and also: Why are we symmetrical? What is really the thing with symmetry? How do we respond to it, and why is it important?

*Odusseus Ulysses* av Vera Wyller, Installasjonsfoto av Werner Zellien.
Odusseus Ulysses av Vera Wyller, Installasjonsfoto av Werner Zellien.

Tegnetriennalen 2019 – Human Touch

Tegningen ligger nær oss mennesker, den er et uttrykk for vår nysgjerrighet, vårt uttrykksbehov. Tegnetriennalen 2019 nærmer seg tegningen som et grunnleggende språk i mennesket, et potensial som vi alle har til felles. Utstillingen vil fokusere på tegning som utforskning og bearbeidelse av det menneskelige og vil presentere arbeider av kunstnere som søker og leter gjennom streken, som bruker tegningen som metode for å nærme seg hvem vi er. Tegnetriennalen 2019 skal handle om mennesket, tegning som menneskets avtrykk, fysiske avtrykk, mentale avtrykk. Utstillingen trekker også linjer til det prehistoriske og tegning som kommunikasjon før skriftspråket.

A room for the drawing

HMN: You chose to show your drawings publicly last summer, but in your own house. How was that?

VW: Yes, I decided to have an exhibition in Krutthuset because the building is also my work, a venue for art, and it is my ground. I don’t have anything against showing the works elsewhere, but I have something against getting into the machine. To show it there was fine, it was really fine. It was an initiation of the house as a place where work can be shown and not only mine and Sverre’s work. It was a great experience.

HMN: When I saw your work for the first time, they were single sheets of paper filed in envelopes. But then I saw them hanging on your studio wall, framed. You make your own frames. It is obvious you have an architect’s approach to that. You unite frame and drawing into something spatial. Could I say you make a room for the drawing?

VW: Yes, that is what I do, but it took me a long time to get there. The drawing is a fragile piece of paper that you hold in your hand, and there is a relationship between the body and that paper that is really wonderful. It gets lost in a frame, it gets claustrophobic. But I thought if I could make a room for them, maybe something else would happen, maybe they would take on a kind of architectural scale. I made some of these rooms the size of a head. It is really like going into the same space as the drawing, it creates an intimacy, like entering someone’s mind.