Drawing with Tim Ingold

A note from the Editors: At Sensate, we are committed to providing both a forum for discourse and exchange between scholars and artists, as well as a space for experimentation in the display of media-based scholarship. We are not always certain what these pieces will look like or even how they will read, but by continuing to explore this rich terrain, we hope, as a community, we can develop a mode of dialogue, sharing, and critique suitable to the digital age. This project is the first installment of what we hope will be a series of artist responses to scholarly works.

“Drawing with Tim Ingold”
Produced by Ben Gaydos and Julia Yezbick

“Drawing is like a conversation with the thing drawn, likely to involve prolonged and total immersion… A line drawn is important not for what it records so much as what it leads you on to see. ‘Each confirmation or denial brings you closer to the object, until finally you are, as it were, inside it: the contours you have drawn no longer marking the edge of what you have seen, but the edge of what you have become … a drawing is an autobiographical record of one’s discovery of an event, seen, remembered, or imagined.”’ (Taussig quoting Berger, 2011:22)

“Drawing is not the production of an image, its the trace of a movement.” – Ingold

Many artists and scholars have theorized the ways in which we think with our hands, our eyes, our bodies. As one of the oldest forms of human expression, drawing or sketching has been both a mode of documentation, communication, and duplication as well as a method of discovery, interpretation, imagination, and desire. It is this dual nature of notation and creation that we are exploring here – the entanglement of mimesis (the hand inscribing an object or idea) and the inherent interpretive flights that it engenders. On a chilly day in Liege, Belgium, in September 2010, Aryo Danusiri and I conducted an interview with anthropologist, Tim Ingold, which became the starting point for the collection of film and videos below (You can listen to the interview here). The works prompt us to think about drawing and the lines or traces of processes that are evident through various media.

Whether we draw “by hand” with a pencil or with cameras, digital or analog, or computers, these processes of inscription and description carry distinct traces of their maker’s hand. It is at once a documentation and a depiction of a mediated experience of time and place; or as Tim Ingold would likely describe it: as an unfolding of action within the world. Building upon, but departing from, Gibsonian ecological psychology, Ingold elaborates a theory of action that denies that agency is a thing to be obtained or acquired by an actor. Gibson, he states, imagines a world that is already formed, as already populated with tables and chairs, and trees, etc. and then “in comes the perceiver.”

This “in-comes-the-perceiver” model presumes the text (whether digital or interactive or not) is a perceivable object, rather than a part of a perceivable and knowable world in which things, people, and atmospheres are always already relationally constituting each other. Ingold refuses to accept that agency is somehow outside of human action and he extends this to his theorization of the senses. He speaks of perception as an active engagement of human organisms in the world. The system that is human-object-environment together perceives and also enacts agency.

He tells us of an exercise that he does with his students in which they make a kite and then take the kites out into a windy field and fly them. ‘OK,’ he says, ‘what happened?’ The kite did not have agency apart from the wind that carried it. The enmeshing of human-kite-wind is the agentive unfolding of action in space. The same is true of what we like to call “the senses.” The senses, he argues do not exist apart from light for seeing, sound for hearing, and breath for smelling. These together, in action, create the sentient lifeworlds of human perception. “The sensory world,” he explains, “is both on the hither side and the far side of the eyes, ears, and that’s what makes the world sentient, because we can only be sentient in a world that is itself sentient. If the world wasn’t sentient, we couldn’t be sentient ourselves, in it.”

The following three pieces were created for Sensate as the beginning of what we hope will be an expanding collection of media responses to concepts and theories of scholars whose intellectual contributions have provided, in part, the environments in which our kites fly.

Julia Yezbick, Founding Editor
July 2, 2014

A video response by Atticus Allen

In this piece, Allen explores Ingold’s take on action vs. agency in which he argues that people do not possess agency, action possesses people; humans themselves are “hives of activity.” Here a boy plays with a kite and we are prompted to think about Ingold’s injunction of the importance of the wind and the environment as a part of the system of action that makes up the boy/kite/wind meshwork. Shot on a LomoKino super35 still camera on 35mm color film, where each frame is divided into two, Allen had to crank the camera to record each frame; the changing edges of the frame are a trace of his movement of cranking the camera. The visibility of the frames of action display a trace of its process in a way that does not attempt to replicate human vision but acts as a form of drawing and implicates the maker in the system of action as representation.

A video response by Chris Burbank

Burbank’s piece follows on Ingold’s discussion of lines (cf. Lines: A Brief History, 2007) by playing with our perception of linear space and time and contemplating the distinctions between the act of writing and drawing. The return of the end to the beginning creates a perceived looping, a line that is not a line. While at the same time, each element is a build-up of time/memory without a beginning or an end. In this way, this piece depicts the coalescing of things, people, and memories, each taking form in time/space, but through a continual, processual unfolding.

A video/film response by Gerald Hastings

“…From birth we are immersed in action and only fitfully guided by taking thought.” Hastings explores Ingold’s concept of immersion through a filmic improvisation in which he continually adjusted his movements and methods in relation to the task. His improvisation led the piece from video to film and back to digital video. He first shot digital footage of a passing train, then transferred the footage to film by printing each frame out on an inkjet printer, transferring the image onto a piece of packing tape and then, adhering the tape to a frame of clear 16mm leader, which was projected and re-digitized. The audio for the piece is an edited composition of sounds that were recorded diegetically (i.e. the sound of the film being processed, or the train passing, recorded at the time of the visual recording). Each step of this process is retained in the final piece in some form, rendering the work an abstract process film in which the aim of the documentation of the process is not one of pedagogical instruction, but rather a material trace of a process; a drawing of sorts, in which each part of the process or moment of improvisation produce what is seen and heard in the final piece.


Taussig, Michael. 2011. I Swear I Saw This: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ingold, Tim. 2007. Lines: A Brief History. New York: Routledge.

Ingold, Tim. Interview by Julia Yezbick and Aryo Danusiri. Liege, Belgium, September 28, 2010.

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