Emma McNally

Emma McNally talks about her drawings in “MIRRORCITY” at the Hayward Gallery

View of “MIRRORCITY,” 2014–15. From left: Emma McNally, Choral Fields 5, 6, and 1, graphite on paper, each 118 x 79”.

London-based artist Emma McNally charts the astronomical, the anatomical, the topographical, and the topological. Recent selections from her ongoing drawing series “Choral Fields,” 2014–, are on view in the group show “MIRRORCITY” at the Hayward Gallery in London through January 4, 2015. Here, the artist talks about her inspirations and what pencil portends for paper.

I THINK OF THESE DRAWINGS as fugitive, heterogeneous gray areas. They are the turbulence between noise and signal. They are a space of difference and deferral, a weather system of graphite. They are also broadband realms where signals at multiple frequencies are being transmitted and received—including those not usually within our “range”: sonar, ultraviolet, the very fast and the very slow. I’m constantly trying to disrupt the figure-ground relationship to make blurred areas where the conditions of focusing are undone.

I mine all sorts of ways of thinking visually about space and time: the spiral paths of particles in bubble chambers, which are infinitely fast and small; images of cellular mitochondria; the Hubble Deep Field images that probe deep time, where all time is held in the surface of the image but can’t be reached. I like looking at images that show fleeting events and images of aerial views of cities at night—all the emergent formations at a macro scale that look like deep-sea organisms in the dark water. I also love aerial images of airports, both in use and obsolete, as well as the Nazca Lines.

I constantly listen to sound when I draw—the white noise of rainfall; field recordings from all environments; the humming and buzzing of Francisco López’s album Buildings [New York]; the transmissions from the hydrophones under the Antarctic ice, streamed live on the Internet; as well as all kinds of music. I try to attend as closely as possible to the sound, and to transcribe the rhythms into the drawing, to make a sort of seismograph. Marks that are suggestive of the airborne or the sub-oceanic, for example, can come into relation with marks, lines, traces, and paths suggestive of circuitry, telecommunications, Morse code, molecules, stars, shoals, electronic pulses, particles, networks. These sorts of “readings” are at the center of my drawings.

Graphite is a medium that lends itself perfectly to this practice of rhythmic making and unmaking. The dense graphite areas act as engines in the drawing, emitting dark signals of loss, desire, longing, separation, reaching—they are the material “heat.” I also like to think of carbon—a material that is both an insulator and a conductor—in different states: coal, diamond, smoke, black oil; as well as water in all its states: ice, snow, mist, rain, vapor. I want the works to be humming graphite sound-fields: vibratory, oscillatory, multivoiced assertions and hesitations, yet also full of silences, voids, ghosts, residues, and remainders.