(See below for an extended video of the performance.)
deFINE Art, SCAD’s fine arts festival, brings some of the best in contemporary art to Savannah annually, but infrequently offers the firsthand experience of witnessing the creation of a work of art. However, for its fifth installment, the school brought Tony Orrico to perform one of his drawings. I was able to attend Penwald: 8: 12 by 12 on Knees at the student center on February 20, and was entranced by the young artist’s inventive, beautifully choreographed approach to drawing.
Originally a choreographer, Tony Orrico has been using movement to produce large-scale drawings for several years. For his deFINE performance, he created one of his Penwald pieces (a series of works in which he uses his body as a unit of measurement) in the student center. Surrounded by the beautiful arabesque columns and niches on the second floor of the converted synagogue, the artist created his drawing on an immense piece of white paper. Placed on the ground, the 20×20’ paper served as a stage as well as the artworks’ surface.
At 4PM, with intense focus, Orrico approached the paper. Like a swimmer getting ready to dive, the artist adjusted his body, twitching and tweaking his limbs in an attempt to ready himself for the mental and physical endurance that the drawing required. Walking to roughly the center of the paper with a large piece of graphite in either hand, he laid facedown, arms outstretched. He spent several moments in this preparatory pose and then lifted his head, placed the two pieces of graphite on the paper, and made a half circle by slowly swinging his body on the axis of his core. From there, he sat upon his knees at the edge of the semicircle, and began swinging his arms and turning counterclockwise so that he had made another, smaller circle with 60 quick, pendulant hash marks. He then moved back to the facedown pose, turned his body on the axis of the large circle, sat back up and created another small circle. This was repeated until he had twelve smaller circles. From there, Orrico went on to make twelve large concentric circles each with twelve smaller circles on its edge. Overall, the drawing took 4 hours and 15 minutes to complete.
During the performance, I was struck by the realized potential of the entire human body as a drawing tool. The ways in which Orrico made his marks were impressive, not only for their requirement of total mental focus and physical endurance, but because they showed the body as a means for creating (nearly) perfect forms. When the artist spun on his belly to create his large circles in the drawing, his body remained perfectly straight. No revisions or adjustments were made to the drawn line. With these nearly perfect circles, I couldn’t help but think of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The drawing, an icon of Renaissance idealism, was created to show perfect proportion of the human male form, which was for da Vinci an analogy of the mechanisms of the entire universe. However, while da Vinci approached this divine proportion through strict mathematical research, Orrico employs a real body, making real marks, in real time. Through precise choreography, the artist shows viewers how the proportions of a body moving through space have the potential to create beautiful, geometrically balanced compositions. I had a chance to speak with Aaron Levi Garvey, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions at SCAD, about the specificity of the artist’s compositions. He told me:
“Tony’s pieces are highly choreographed. His mark making, though seemingly random, are all calculated and counted. Each strike and swipe happens in the exact mannerism as the prior. Tony spends significant amounts of time mapping the pieces prior to starting them so that they will not differ from the last, and so that he will not get lost in the work.”
Orrico uses performance as a means to create a relic of human touch. What I found most interesting about the piece for deFINE was precisely that the status of significance of either the final drawing or performance was muddled. An audience isn’t necessary for the artist to create the work. So why create it with one? Likely, it doesn’t matter. It was a truly exceptional experience to witness the drawings’ creation.