ACW alumni Kirsten Simpson’s piece on the work of Paola Catizone

Natural Artifice | Paola Catizone

A study of the relationships and discordances between drawing, performance and video art

Kirstin Simpson

The recent exhibition by Paola Catizone at the SOMA gallery in Waterford is part of a continuum of work by the artist deploying durational performance, movement and dance together with trance music to create abstract drawings. The work also includes sculptural and video elements. Collaboration plays an ongoing and central role in Catizone’s work, particularly in performance, where a dialogue with dancers and DJ’s underlies her practice.

Some of the earlier works included in the exhibition are large circular drawings composed of energetic lines and strokes, developed performatively over a number of hours, during which the artist stands very close to wall-mounted paper clutching a number of mark-making implements in each hand. The physical limits of the drawings, therefore, are controlled by the natural circular span of the artist with two arms outstretched.

The compelling effect of the resulting drawings seems to reflect hidden impulses and energies in the subconscious – strange bipartite fields of marks with intensities in certain areas that might be interpreted as areas of the brain lighting up in involuntary response to the music or, perhaps, the parts of the brain activated in trance or even, more simply, the capacities and limits of the body engaged in an exhausting activity of a repetitive nature. Reference to the brain may be incidental, or it may demonstrate as elaborated later, the extension of ‘thinking’ into the body, that is, the embodied nature of thought.

In these pieces, the tangible result emerges and evolves through a set of parameters – the paper, its vertical positioning, the music, the duration, the artist’s chosen limits in terms of permissible movement and drawing implements.

Comparing one spontaneous drawing with another, an aspect of mood and temperament enter the frame – moments in time expressed in gesture – the translation into drawing of a body- language that is pre-linguistic. Catizone speaks about drawing from the body, not the eye and ‘seeking to go beyond our tired everyday perceptions.’ In these terms, one brings to mind the endeavors of Paul Cezanne to strip himself of inherited or learned ways of seeing. Seeking to revert to a pre-linguistic, untutored self in order to achieve a more complete vision – an embodied vision. Merleau-Ponty explores and dissects embodied vision in his essay ‘Eye and Mind’ (1964). Since we are ‘in the world’ we do not regard the world from the outside, as suggested by geometric perspective – our body is implicated in all we see.

For Merleau-Ponty, the body is interface between perceiving mind and physical world. He contests, in this way, the inheritance from the Renaissance of the constructed perspective which creates forever a viewer external to the scene in question and he sees in the work of Cezanne an attempt to overcome this exteriority. The constructed perspective, he says, is just another convention, as flawed as any other; there is no such thing as ‘depth,’ but only another width. We are not static – even the eye has to move to see and in any case, we move to negotiate and understand the world.

Catizone’s methods are, of course, very different from those of Cezanne. She is very specific about the role of drawing, as opposed to painting in her work. Drawing creates marks of a vulnerable, always contingent nature, maintaining an important transparency between the inhabited, physical world and the realm of the drawing, never seeking to create an ‘alternate’ world. Catizone does not produce representations in her drawings but something more akin to the experience, albeit a heightened one, of being embodied in the world. Through durational performance, moreover, we have the possibility of accompanying her into the realm of altered consciousness – into the place of ‘flow’ or complete absorption where we, too, might experience a shift in the tired everyday assumptions. In reference to the experience of performance art, Catizone says:

‘According to Coogan and to Milhalyi, flow is a state of deep absorption akin to ecstasy and to the buddhist Jana, during which the sense of time is lost and only the task at hand is held in mind.’

Catizone speaks about ‘breaking through’ our usual ways of seeing ‘if it is only a set of marks that have escaped the habitual tyranny of thinking and seeing….seek[ing] to shatter and fragment the habitual perception of reality.’ The practice is durational as it is only through extended time we can defeat our usual ways of thinking. Also, over time, there is something of the shamanistic spanning between two worlds. We might say, alternatively, it is an opening up of receptiveness to the reality of this world, to which we are more generally closed.

The vantage point for her drawings, Catizone says is ‘inside the image’ and only partially visible in the making. This seems an apt metaphor for Merleau-Ponty’s ‘intertwining’ in which we, in any case, never see from outside. Merleau-Ponty says we do not just act upon the world but the world makes demands of us. These durational pieces are reciprocal – as the work on paper emerges, the body too becomes marked, internally and externally, bearing traces of effort and exertion.

The drawings work on different levels. Up close, we see in the scrapings, scribbles and smudges, vigorous movements, pressures, footprints, handprints, frailty of endeavor. From further away, we see the very extents of limbs in creating action – a transference of three-dimensional movement in space onto a two-dimensional surface.

Other drawings in the exhibition have been created in a more conscious way, with circumspection and an eye to composition, albeit remaining anchored in a sense of body and movement. The artist speaks about an interplay between the conscious and subconscious and certain of these pieces bring to mind the work of Kandinsky – where the gestural stroke is imbued with an emotion and contains a sense of coded meaning. In places, there are lines that repeatedly follow the same path, yet here the embodied becomes less dominant and rather seems to spill over into obsessive thought or emotion.

A number of much smaller pieces also punctuate the exhibition. Compositionally, they provide contrast within the gallery, as well as areas of open space that offer a reprieve from the large, immersive drawings. Once again, the body of the viewer is implicated by the compunction to move towards or away from the works. ‘Scale can allow for immersion or objective detachment,’ says Catizone. She plays with these perceptual qualities, she says, ‘using the gallery space to create an environment within which disparity of scale, media and materials (plastic/paper/natural objects/video/performance), vie for the viewer’s attention. The title Natural Artifice derives from this juxtaposition of the natural and direct with the synthetic and mediated.’

‘Organic and plastic, slowly crafted work and quick gestural pieces create tension. I refuse to attempt to create a forced harmony or consistency of what is in fact a practice based on a fractured awareness.’

As with all performance art, Catizone must grapple with the documentation of her live work and its status within her practice. In her recent work, there is always some tangible record of the performances – mostly in the form of the resultant drawings as well as video documentation. Catizone integrates this video documentation into the body of her work, presenting it in the gallery space alongside finished drawn pieces. She regards it as offering another mode of reception and points out that her work is enriched in this way, where a more detailed or repeated viewing of a performance is possible.

‘Video recording of live performance can result in image making that can hold its own potency. While witnessing a performance in real time can allow for an empathy with the performer, viewing it again on video offers a detailed and total view of the event.’

A huge drawing on plastic (7×2 metres) is one of the more consciously created piece and this, in turn, becomes sculptural as its relative robustness as well as sheer size and its flexibility allow it to be mounted in a three-dimensional manner, requiring the visitor, once again, to move in and around it and to engage physically. It can assume various forms and each of these is documented by the artist and assimilated into her body of work.

The performance piece, which took place on the opening night of the SOMA exhibition appears to have evolved more directly, in a number of ways, from the earlier ‘circular’ drawings. Here, the parameters were a choreographed movement piece, developed in collaboration with Fiona Quilligan and performed by Catizone and Quilligan, music selected and provided by Nigel Woods and a drawing surface which was a strip of paper on the floor along which the two performers moved, often in a supine manner with a
combination of improvised and pre-determined gestures, each making marks with both hands. This time, the bodily movements are more elaborate, flowing and developed, yet the
resulting drawing emerges, once again, as a product of pre-determined parameters and without conscious ‘deliberation’. If the early circular pieces are ‘evidence’ of a durational event, this time we have more the feeling of a ‘mapping,’ of movements that are more planned, choreographed and chronological.

A sculptural element returns as a conclusion to the performance piece as the large resulting drawing is folded and becomes a three-dimensional object. In a wonderfully cyclical act, the spatiality of bodily movement, which has been traced or ‘mapped’ 2-dimensionally becomes spatial once again – acquiring a presence as a 3-dimensional object. The mapped gestures thus become distorted, suggesting the bending of space – the physically impossible.

The performance of this work – the languorous, seductive and compelling movements of the performers interspersed with frenetic ‘drawing motions’ brings to mind one of Catizone’s stated influences, Rebecca Horn. Here, however, instead of machines producing human-type actions that create marks, humans perform machinic actions with similarly seeming ‘arbitrary’ or incidental results.

The drawings resulting from these processes appear to tap into some unseen mystery that is both personal and universal. There is an audience and there is a performance, yet in the exploration of the body, its capacities and limits – we join in the ‘universal.’
Catizone speaks about becoming ‘the conduit for this non-personal truth.’ In Zen terms, says Catizone, ‘the small mind seeks to expand into larger mind.’

Whilst it is useful, in Catizone’s work, to refer to Merleau-Ponty and his commitment to pre-linguistic body and mind integration, Merleau-Ponty insists upon the attachment of every perception to an intention. Consciousness, for Merleau-Ponty, is always consciousness of something and that something will always be a tangible entity. Since perception is intertwined with movement, all movement becomes purposeful. Alfonso Lingis, a proponent as well as a critic of Merleau-Ponty, points out that most of our movements are without specific purpose – pacing, fidgeting and so on. Excessive energy and movement, then, is an extension of what we are as embodied entities and perhaps reflects our resonance with multiplicities and rhythms in the world around us. In this way, he also embraces the concept of ‘raw sensation,’ which is not attached to an object.

Alphonso Lingis, by contrast with Merleau-Ponty, celebrates sensory perception as providing the possibility of the indiscernible – an openness to that which is not pre-determined, where we find the possibility of a deeper access to the world.

In terms of Catizone, then, we might regard the seemingly meaningless (in her words) movement and drawing, as an expression, once again, of our universal embodied nature
and therefore – albeit elegant or agile – universal and identifiable for all.
Catizone talks about this large-scale body drawing as being perhaps more akin to touching than seeing and indeed pushing out to the extents of the body – the body pushes against a mark-making surface and the surface responds. As Merleau-Ponty says, it is not only the body that acts upon the world but the world responds, makes demands. This acting of environment upon us is evident, as we have seen, in the different scales of works in the exhibition – the small drawings bring one close – the large ones are viewable from a distance – although the intensity of line draws one close again – moving towards and away from the walls as we do from a source of sound.

‘Large scale places the imaginative realm around us rather than inside the body, where Christianity would have the soul reside. This surrounding Anima Mundi includes us and connects us to all things’ says Catizone. In this way Catizone’s work also topples the hierarchical structure from the divine to human to animal and inanimate in favour of a heterogeneous world of which we are a part rather than over which we preside.
…‘Not as a window into the world but a device for understanding our place in the universe’ (Dexter.E.2005.p5).

Catizone’s work elicits an empathic and embodied response both in its performative creation and in the resultant works. As stated by Arnold Berleant, aesthetic experience is embodied – meaning the deployment of body and mind together. He speaks of this experience both in the creation and reception of art.
More recently, the idea of empathic response has been scientifically verified – we re-enact in our bodies that which we witness – and if inured somewhat by overexposure to electronic media, we are arguably heightened in our response to the presence of a live acting body – its frailty and vulnerability.

The sight of the body in motion, the hand at work is powerful and so in Catizone’s work we have resonances not just with the embodied but the very moment of engendering of the work. These drawings are about the gesture itself – the act of movement – essentially staying in that moment. Furthermore, where performances are durational, we become more immersed over time. It takes time to slough off everyday ways of perceiving, as Catizone says, and this applies to the viewer as well as the performer.

The existential and transcendent in Catizone’s work becomes culturally and mythically embedded when she begins to speak about weaving and making – pursuits that require patience and are associated with traditional feminine activities. Waiting and endurance also have connotations of healing and repairing as well as maintaining or remaking universal connections – a reference to the interconnection of everything, to networks rather than hierarchies:

‘All of these actions share a repetitive insistence aimed not at building in the daylight realm of reason but in the darkness of the somatic and unconscious, in an effort that runs contrary to common practical sense, working ‘contro natura.’’ Catizone.

Catizone taps into the realm of shadows – the place of imagination and mystery disregarded by Cartesian dualism and in modernism’s attachment to light, transparency and the rational.
This approach links to a political attitude underlying her work. Catizone speaks of taking a stance against the all-pervasive attitude of productive work and consumption, stepping, instead, towards ritual and magic. Her work represents ‘small actions of resistance against global catastrophe.’ This is echoed in the writings of Jane Bennett about ‘sensibility formation’ as a means of altering human behavior, in the belief that coercion is ineffective. She too, seeks to topple hierarchies, in her case of animate and inanimate, instead speaking of the interconnectedness of everything. When writing about the ethical and aesthetic turn in political theory over the past twenty years, Bennett cites feminist studies of the body and Foucault’s work on ‘care of the self’ as highly influential. The understanding emerged that knowledge or legislation alone would not modify behavior. Theorists began to affirm, says Bennett, that which ‘Romantic thinkers had long noted: if a set of moral principles is actually to be lived out, the right mood or landscape of effect has to be in place.’

‘There will be no greening of the economy, no redistribution of wealth, no enforcement or extension of rights without human dispositions, moods and cultural ensembles hospitable to these effects.’

Appealing to the feminine principals mentioned above as well as ideas of embodiment becomes more explicit in Catizone’s forthcoming work.

In her performance as part of her NCAD MFA final show, (opening to the public on the 13th of June at 7pm), Catizone, in her own words ‘will enter the space of performance as a solo artist …[pushing]… her practice of embodied drawing further, with an ‘all body’ drawing process. Here she will eschew not only the central role of the eye in art-making, but also that of the painting/drawing hand; the hands and arms and body become smeared and marked with the act and endeavor of making. As with Natural Artifice, the relationship between performance, drawing and video will once more be examined through this new work.
The performance will be repeated, and developed nightly until the 20th of June.
Please note, the times of performances are as follows:
13th June – 7pm
16th June – 6pm
17th June – 6pm
18th June – 1.30 pm
19th June – 6pm
20th June – 6pm

The show will continue until the 22nd of June and Catizone’s video and installation will be on display until then, together with the work of 25 emerging Dublin-based artists.
MFA Exhibition, 13th to 22nd of June, 2014, Emmet House (Across from Arthur’s Pub), Thomas Street, Dublin 8


Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press

Berleant, A. (2003) Aesthetic Embodiment paper given at the meeting of the American Philosophical Association Boston MA December 2003 accessed at

Carman, T. (1999) The Body in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Philosophical Topics Vol. 27. No.2. Fall 1999

Catizone, P. Questions on the Present Moment in Performance and Video Art (2014)
Catizone, P. Drawing Limits (2014)
Lingis, A. (2009) The Inner Experience of our Body. Discussion notes on Merleau-Ponty. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Vol.40, No.1, January 2009

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945) Cezanne’s Doubt in Toadvine, T., Lawlor, L.,(Ed.)(2007) The Merleau- Ponty Reader. Northwestern University Press accessed at

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge. Originally published as Phenomenologie de la perception (1945) Gallimard, Paris

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) Eye and Mind in Toadvine, T., Lawlor, L.,(Ed.)(2007) The Merleau- Ponty Reader. Northwestern University Press accessed at (original 1961)

F.David Peat (n.d.) speaking on ‘youtube’ video David Peat 1 uploaded by arcomanu (n.d.) accessed at on 25-9-11

Note: All photographs are courtesy of the artist