A Dust Storm: Mariia Drachuk’s Art

There is `but one matter-energy`, and everything inheres within a single plane.1

(Peter Hallward)

As one enters Mariia Drachuk’s studio one senses something in the air. More than just work in progress, more than just the dust or the unstable pastel that are currently her preferred materials for `painting`, there is a sense of imminent or recently calmed action. It has become almost a cliché to talk of a dialogue between painter and painting, or a conversation between works, but one senses that this is what has gone on here, and it will only take favourable conditions - the planets in the right place, powder in the air, and a confluence of energies - for the process to begin again. If you have visited her work at the Master of Fine Art exhibition of 2018 at Gråmølna (satellite of Trondheim Kunst Museum), you might well have experienced the latent energy of this dynamic, although momentarily stilled artistic work.

Drachuk’s progress at KiT (Trondheim Art Academy) has been a journey that has arced across research into astro-physics and sprituality, arriving at new materialism. She has a particular interest in the materiality of creative, improvised, embodied artistic process. Her extensive research has now come down to singular practice at the scale of the studio and the exhibition space (where she has made more work in the week running up to the exhibition): all matter has intensified into this matter and, in the context of this exhibition, what matters here.

Atmosphere has always been important for improvising in art practice, and now, for Drachuk, the diverse materiality of an atmospheric environment has become key. It is understood to include the canvas, the pigment, the artist, even perhaps the air and the audience that circulates in it. One can only improvise if each of these are somewhat undefined. This might seem like a weakness, but as an idea it has a certain philosophical force behind it, and its potential – well, that must also remain unclear.

Modifying classical notions of materiality (and artistic work with it), such as the hylomorphic model (hyle = matter, morphe = form) in which form is imposed clearly upon matter from a blueprint in the mind, Edmund Husserl talked instead, of `vague and material essences`. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari picked up on this, in their chapter on `nomadology` in their book A Thousand Plateaux, considering these essences as neither fixed, metric, nor even formal; they are `vagabond, anexact and yet rigorous`.2 The event (what Drachuk has called `my practice that has acquired the name painting`) even takes place in anexact space-time. The `fuzzy aggregates`3 produced do not detract from the rigour of the artistic process that she brings to the performance of her work. One of the main points here is that the work is a kind of performance.

A performance-painting is something that comes from within - not in the sense of artistic insight, but rather what Drachuk calls, citing the work of Karen Barad, intra-action (rather than the inter-action of artist, material, canvas etc in precisely that hierarchical order). A similar process to this, and one which might also describe her work is epigenesis which is the generation of something from an intense core, a kind of seed, but which develops differentially and variably. It might not even proceed from a central idea, rather it could be what Deleuze and Guattari, in relation to Husserl’s haziness, call `intuition in action`.4 And if this is still a bit artist-centred then there are other ways of thinking through the openness, but immanence of (artistic) elaboration. For instance, we can `follow a flow of matter`.5 And if practice is embodied, then it is more than the body of the artist, rather the matter of the art event produces a `vague corporeal essence`.6

Mariia Drachuk’s work is concerned with the vibrancy of matter. If her practice is, in part, a performance, then the matter out of which it is made also performs. Anthropologist Tim Ingold, drawing on the work of art historian James Elkins, has been enchanted by an alchemical approach to materiality in which: `a material is known not by what it is, but what it does`.7 Consider how some of Drachuk’s specific materials perform, as indicated through their etymological roots. Dust, for instance, in its early Indo-European root form dheu is linked to smoke and vapour – one can imagine this material swirling all over and around the artist and the room and not simply the canvas. Dust is also linked to the German word tunst that has connotations of storminess: it is barely containable. And, contrary to the connotation of dust with death and decay, its Sanskrit form dhu means something shaken. Another aspect to her work is its inscription along a line of metamorphosis. If we look at the pastels that she uses, one can see their `anexactness`. At one stage, Drachuk’s work shifted from paint – not quite impasto, but certainly quite thickly layered – to pastel. The roots of the word pastel lie in a material, often food but also pigment, reduced to a paste. But this is just one form of the pastel - congealed, wrapped and cut - and another is as a powdery substance that is sprinkled (passein - Greek) and therefore also shaken, smeared, enlivened.

The canvas in Drachuk’s practice is an important part of the work. She chooses it carefully and experiments with different textures. Gilbert Simondon, commenting on Husserl’s observations on hylomorphism, considered a support (for instance the mould for a brick, or here, the canvas and its holding qualities, and which could also be considered a framing device) to be a variable and variably produced material in itself. It is not a geometric abstraction; rather it is a solid construction, itself matter, made from a specific material that has travelled to this place and this moment, where matter, of all sorts, matters. It is, then, equally and non-hierarchically, a part of the making of the work: it as much artistic stuff as paint and powder. No material, not even canvas, is raw and homogenous and inactive – it travels and changes along the way.

It is apposite, I think, to consider Mariia Drachuk’s practice in a context of nomadology because, for her art she has travelled a long way and, just as important, in the making of her art, there is always (sometimes literally, at other times metaphorically) a dust storm that will sweep her along with it.

© Simon Harvey

1 Peter Hallward, Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing between the Singular and the Specific, Manchester University Press, Manchester, (2001) p.12. He quotes Gilles Deleuze from Le Pli.
2 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, `Treatise on Nomadology`, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, The Athlone Press, London (1988) p407.
3 Ibid. p.407.
4 Ibid. p.409.
5 Ibid. p.409.
6 Ibid. p.408.
7 See Tim Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, Routledge, London (2013) pp.28-