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Tina Jonsbu: Line, drawing and time

By Henning L. Mortensen
Kunsthåndverk no. 106, 4/2007

Strek, tegn og tid.PDF

Tina Jonsbu works a lot with drawing; line, drawing and time. Because of the particular way she works it is necessary to take a closer look at her main final year ceramics work at the Kunsthøgskole in Bergen in 1997. Jonsbu decided to decorate a room with small lumps of clay, with small variations and distance from one another over the walls and ceiling. These lumps were dried clay that should be recycled, worthless objects. Each piece was a point, and were mounted as points in the room, fastened between a pin and the wall. It took 4 weeks to mount these small pieces with 20,000 pins fixed into the walls. A room defines itself and we have expectations about what a room should be. Tina Jonsbu wanted to saturate the room with an insistent treatment of thousands of these `points´ like a new nervous system in the rooms internal structure. There is a decorative element to this, but it is perhaps more in Jonsbu´s spirit to see it as a play between room and time. Through the time Jonsbu gave to the room a value developed that was beyond the physical and visible change that had taken place in the room. That something has been done and valued by others is something we like to think of, it confirms a moral universe. But, also, it can occur that such activities go without being seen. They can be a part of house work or tending roses that no one notices. Unseen work with no gratitude to the one that has carried out the work. Treatment and such work can seem boring or routine like, but can give an existential meaning by demanding that it has meaning. One can do work out of duty, or even better, out of desire. Or one can do work just because it has to be done and there is no one else to do it.

Constraint and irregularity
Jonsbu´s work is not object orientated, rather she explores monotony and repetition. She doesn´t only do it meaningfully but also retreats to doing it to find a place to think. Not meditatively, but concentrated and open. Order and process occupy all of her work. But absolutely essential is that everything can be planned beforehand; this created variations in the lumps of clay in her final year work, by the lumps becoming smaller and smaller towards the bottom of the container she used during the mounting. This unplanned variation could also occur through releasing control and following the bodies rhythm, as in the stamp work. In this work she used a stamp that counted from 1 to 1000, on a large canvas, then made a small dot marking each number and outlined all of these with a pencil line which ran from 1 to 2 to 3, etc. up to 1000. A self made constraint for these works was that the pencil line should go the shortest way and cross cleanly. Jonsbu wanted a steady distribution across the entire canvas, the stamping was made blindly. Jonsbu is like this; free but bound, directional but random. Such are the works that they are practices in constraints, in addition to being orientated towards a known quantity, a number of points, a number of lines or restricted time. An example is the drawing: `One hundred lines placed blindly´, which shows just that. She also gives information about the materials and methods she uses in the comments that she writes about each work: `series of 9 drawings. I have drawn pencil doodles blindly with a time restriction and then stamped on top of all the intersections that occur. The first drawing was made in 7.5 sec., then the next in 15 sec., then 30 sec., 1 min., 2 min., 4 min., 8 min., 16 min. and 32 min.
The drawings often fit a finished shape which is governed by the papers shape and is decided by where on the sheet Jonsbu decides to begin the drawing and where it will end. She often decides to begin at the outside edge and work inwards. Each drawing has then the same foundation structure and the task is divided up and defined before the filling out of the drawing begins. This process orientation can be linked to mathematics or physics with rows and columns. Or geographic measurements with grids over streets and roads, or pipes, or cables on ships and buildings. But Jonsbu is not a machine, she follows the rhythm of the body and concentration. it is the random element that makes her work interesting, the human `errors´or irregularities which come forward given enough choice. This shows that Jonsbu´s project has variations; that that she directs herself and that that she cannot foresee.
She says:`Where irregularities occur in the system, excitement occurs’.
The works are quiet and calmed but with nerve. Jonsbu intends to realize her work with worth, to give time to something that on its own can seem like treatment that doesn´t deserve attention. She works conceptually. She doesn´t work `romantically´, she shows ways to draw which are empirical and statically researched where variations inside repetitive patterns have meaning. Because she cannot plan everything beforehand gives the work personality and an almost tactile appeal. A diffused charm and friendliness to something that could have otherwise been championed as rigid.

Marking and registering
An important part of Jonsbu´s project is to do with marking, registering and observation. In the work that she did at the Oslo City Hall (2000) she circled all the holes in the wall, nail holes from where previous artists work had hung. At the Domkirkeodden (2001) she circled all of the knot marks that had been imprinted in the concrete from wood work. Also, i Stamsund (1997) she marked and registered all the drawing pins and staples in the main street from old posters and notices by painting them flourescent orange. In Trondheim (2007) she circled all the chewing gum marks on the sidewalk in a certain area, in doing so she realized an unknown ornament in a public space. In these works it is not Jonsbu that is making variations and irregularities, this was done by others through functional and practical needs. She highlights the existing phenomena.

Ornament – not decor
With Tina Jonsbu it is the background processes that are important; treatment, time and rhythm.Therefore she is not engaged with the ornamentation element as decor. Although her works can pull in this direction, one can see the works as studies in pattern and visual structure, as do most things, such as repetion and variation in snow or a snow flake. Geometric shapes are associated to mathematics and physics, to natural phenomena and the way with whichn we descibe these. Patterns come as a result odf a system; not the other way around.

The index cards
Tina Jonsbu often works in a series with a common thematic idea. Therefore, seen over time there is a strong continuality in her work. One can almost say that these series are part of a whole collection. At the Pengeskapsfabrikken, where Jonsbu had a studio, she discovered a draw with unused index card in A5 format. She began to draw on these. Points and lines. An index card vis a way of keeping order, a catalogue of routines, specifications and documents. Through applying the cards with their unique quality, Jonsbu is taking us to a place where the cards have no connection to what they were before they were drawn upon. What Jonsbu has done, other than to pay homage to a system of order is to create a catalogue, a documentation. The cards become a store for memories an ambivalent place where the past has happened and yet the memories belong to the future.
Also `Water damage collection´is a similar collection. Jonsbu has taken care of paper that has been water damaged, and has used different marks to mark the areas of damage. On some of the sheets it is a thin, blue line which can look like the divider between sea and land on a nautical map. A document which shows when and where the water receded. These sheets have different markings and it doesn´t seem unlikely that they would give an unbroken line over over a hidden continent if one were to put them together.
In other circumstances, Jonsbu´s descriptions of materials and method look like a collector deeply involved with their collection: `I collect graph paper. Here is ca. 190 (on 12.02.2007 I have 350) and all are different – size, format, holes, colours, size of square, and printing errors are all variants. I circle the intersections with pencil. Begun in 1997´.

Spinning top drawings
Jonsbu shares her fascination we all have with spinning tops, but she has taken it a step further by investigating the physical manifestations in a series of works. In a mechanical workshop she was able to make a spinning top out of steel in order that it was heavier and made a better pencil track than those made of wood. In the middle was a hole for the pencil, and she made many series with ` Spinning top drawings´. In the first series she made 100 spins per sheet (2003), then a series with 1000 spins per sheet (2004) on larger paper, 150 × 170 cm, before she made a series of 5 drawings where each drawing took 7.5 hours. The constraint was the time that each drawing would have, as well as that the spinning top would start at the point where the previous spin had stopped. She gives a personal commentary:`Together it is a 40 hour week without lunch´. It´s not certain that lunch is important, but lunch belongs to working; a working day has lunch, and jonsbu brings attention that lunch was not a part of her working day. The line gives a repetitive pattern, which never the less gives quite different and therefore interesting qualities. This process shows Jonsbu´s project clearly; whish is summed up by line, drawing and time.

In `Buslines, tramlines and underground lines´(2005) she made three books with ink drawings. Each book had a graphic representation of the respective route map for the bus, tram and underground. The line for each individual service line was drawn on tracing paper, under which was a line that was drawn whilst travelling on that particular service, from the first stop to the last. She sat with the book on her lap whilst the ink pen in her hand followed the bodies movements which in turn followed the bus/ tram/ underground trains movements. For each line. Like a seismograph registering the shaking and the motions on the paper, noticeable and open, receptive and present. Just like her work.