Mariana Sissia


Meditated matter

By Eduardo Stupía

The visually delivered message plays on our experience and imagination with all the power of a verbal language, arousing feelings and thoughts, memories and fantasy, and releasing stores of mental energy. In our personal encounter with painting, there may be no need to translate this language into any other, no need to transform visual images into words. The visual image is a self-sufficient reality which verbal translation can do no better than very crudely approximate.

Jerome Silbergeld, Chinese Painting Style, University of Wash- ington Press, 1982.
Earthly materials, as soon as they are grasped by curious and brave hand, awaken our drive to work them over.

Gastón Bachelard, La tierra y las ensoñaciones del reposo, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2006. (English title: The Earth and Reveries of Repose.)
The first drawing by Mariana Sissia that I ever saw showed an excavation, a seemingly deep pit, faithfully represented on the plane—that is, in the ground—at the end of a diagonal axis. Placed at a slight remove from the pit, just a little higher and to the left, was a perfectly rendered mound of earth produced by the act of digging. Beyond its quality —more remarkable still considering the young age of its author— the drawing was striking in that the natural direction of its reading seemed to go against the completed act of digging. A tension seemed to pull the earth into the pit, as if a tacit force called the earth to fill the hole back up—an effect heightened by the weight of the pit in the composition. This kinetic induction established a connection with the paradoxes of representation. Early on, then, Sissia was reflecting on the dilemmas of her métier, in terms of both the construction of the image and of the active exercise of drawing, in the form of a concealed allegory or as an intentional metaphor.
Like other scenes by Sissia akin in constitution or poetics, this excavation seemed to suggest a conception of drawing as a painstaking and radically physical task operated on a surface. One advances in the drawing by grinding the material on that first outer layer, searching for a less explored hidden plane; sediment is left along the way as part of the same phenomenon, of the same figure, which is not only a specific formal presence but also an instance of visual rhetoric. A sediment that threatens at times to obstruct or to drown visibility, the breath of what has been revealed. That drawing astonished me due not only to its specific virtues, but also because it stood out from various works on paper by other young artists —as young as Mariana herself— also featured in the group show where I saw the work. Sissia’s style and graphic approach were even more striking in a wider context —the year was 2010— marked by less and less probity, wisdom, and mastery in the craft of drawing and by an endless number of faltering, rudimentary, unlearned proposals, some of them deliberately clumsy and crude. Sissia’s work was grounded in a completely different philosophy of action, one explicitly dedicated to the vocation of drawing for the sake of expressive and practical ends almost demented in the orthodoxy of their approach to the tool; she seemed to have something like pious devotion to an unwaveringly uniform and endlessly rich line and tone. And that which was so arresting at that time has continued to be one of her distinctive traits; it has not shifted or faltered since that early moment, despite various stages in her production. II
During that same period, Sissia focused on a specific set of scenes, making use of recognizable elements like water tanks, above-ground swimming pools, scaffolding, and groups of trees generally placed on blocks or large clods of ground or floating intact on the plane. They seemed to make reference to the instructive rhetoric of technical or industrial manuals in a gesture somewhere between surreal estrangement and a kind of improvised metaphysical synthesis. Some of these works proposed other variations on the gathering of ground without the aid of any accessory.
A theatrical quality, dramatic tone, and concordance of other logics both progressive and destructive makes itself felt in these works with their cuts and gaps, their bite marks and plates, their rocky slopes and smooth segments, which the titles identify as tunnels, caves, caverns, walls. The artist moves skillfully between fantastical feints, insinuations, and resonances, and we suddenly have the sense we are before a protoscientific document intended to illustrate the architecture of anthills or termites’ nests; we have the unsettling feeling that we are examining animals’ dens or caves or exploring an inventory of construction sites, an engineer’s notebook. The polysemy and breadth of Sissia’s method and procedure is striking. It partakes strategically of the iconography of geology and of the speleological universe, as well as simulacra of transcriptions of archeological field notes that she recreates in, for instance, a chain of references to public installations as contemporary as skateboard parks, their tracks here turned into dried fossil remains. As they plunge into the rugged ground, these even pits and ditches are steeped in duplicity, armed with a certain objective rationality, but also infused in the dizziness of the bizarre, as if the hidden life of a concealed underworld quivered within that illusory earth. At the same time, one has the distinct impression that the one who makes these drawings does so knowing full well that her steadfast affirmation of certain figurations or contents, her use of motifs like intact or lacerated rock, perforated or solid ground, are an analogy for the endless penetration of drawing in the drawing itself, suspecting —or knowing— that man can dig in rock, but all he will ever find is the rocky. (Ibid)
The will to look inside of things makes vision sharp and piercing. It turns vision into violence as it discovers the fracture, the crack, the gap through which the secret of hidden things can be violated. (Ibid) III
With clarity and surgical precision, absolute mastery of technique, vast attention to detail and enormous productive capability, Sissia’s drawing rummages in its own expanded body. Year after year, she hones her instruments and resources tirelessly. Steadfast, she trains the subtle muscle of her sensitive repertoire, adding elliptical alterations and transfigured correspondences. In a single but twofold act, she combines legible access and uncertainty. Her frictionless formula risks with almost naturalist fluidity the synthetic incrustation of foreign agents in worn mounds and terrains. It is in this form that slides and other items from playgrounds, ladders, drains, fences, and makeshift bridges come before us and justify their role as ghostly props. In this period of her production, like its later regions, Sissia’s comprehensive elaboration of drawing depends strictly on her thorough control of the strokes —lines in, evolutions, landscapes, fillings, degrees of pressure— with the pencil or graphite bar on paper. Her treatment is geared to sustaining the dense substantiality and seamless corporealness of the planes that make up her large objects and structures. She worked for a spell on sheets of paper with plastered surfaces though the grain does not interrupt the drawing’s optical disposition. Equally effectively, she would later make the porous and somewhat coarse support intervene in the drawing as a new and suggestive textural sign.
In relation to the spirit that seems to move them, though, the sharp earthy incisions and even depressions suggest precarious and primitive handiwork as well as a greater economy of means now on an industrial or project scale. Both hypotheses converge in the geometric regularity of the line in architectural blueprints, compromisingly rendered abysses while soothing foundations become orthogonal collapses in the earth’s crust. With chilling coldness, a grave appears as well as part of what might be a reference to a virtual catalogue of the cultured uses of the earth. Everything serves to further unlikely anecdotes and mild tensions. The human factor is an absent presence, and empty city lots with melancholic waste are fanatically displayed to the torrid whiteness of a plane that is territory and space as well as negative force. What stands out in this singular mix is the brutal excision, the wide and square scar that Sissia calls Trinchera [Trench]. It takes shape at the center of energetic gravity of one of the many remarkable series in the course of her prolific production. The sense of uneasiness, of an improper use of gadgets as steeped in connotation as they are dated and, therefore, useless —stuck as they are in the perpetual present of the anonymous scenes of excavation and unearthing— makes time a farcical presence; the irony of a use of time that is cultural and social, but also an anachronistic nightmare. Once subject to vital actions and movements, the situation and its parts are now frozen forever and, like a collection of urban fetishes, artificially placed on a neutral background. IV
Though resolute, the systematic change of course that Sissia begins to effect makes itself felt gradually. It entails a radical change in perspective and in the design and use of the spatial vraisemblance. Sissia will hover over craters and depict hillsides, summits, crags, and mountainous peaks as she wavers between mimesis and imaginary invention. In the smallest details of these disruptions in the land lurks the resounding transition that would irrupt in the overall conception of her project and lead her language to take root at a fruitful threshold. She will now begin to skillfully depict collapsing chalky walls, rugged peaks, and canyons and to manipulate counterpoints and combinations of networks, linear weaves, and gradations of gray embedded in evanescent layers of graphic epidermis. These deceptions exist in a limbo of sheer appearance and, hence, can be seen as organic abstractions or as a sort of solid wall that becomes diaphanous suddenly, its physiognomy unstable and shades changing. More than ever, the artist works on the basis of antagonistic structural premises as expansive as they are muddled as they encroach on the entire visual field like a pan shot. These works look like unknown cartographies, boundless aerial views of a conjectural plateau or, in more terminal manifestations, lush camouflages.
The vigorous making of these works does, in fact, attempt to emphasize, albeit gradually, the grain in the tenuous vibration of the stroke on the paper or to hide it by threading together, at an intimate and steady pace, the nodules, lumps, and cells yielded by the endless workings of the pencil. The thickness, weight, and varying coarseness of the support silently bind together the whole. After all, Sissia is suspicious of anything that might be seen as a shortcut or as a facile and flashy effect. Startlingly, in these works accents, contrasts, and emphases rendered by means of frottage appear as well, orchestrated in the ecology of the whole with an inalterable organic quality. We should linger further on how Sissia crosses that vast terra incognita which, like an expert explorer, she has discovered, armed with pencils of varying gradation and with graphite wielded like arrowheads, sharp vehicles to supply a much needed dose of options and registers. There is no room in drawing —or, rather, in Mariana Sissia’s act of drawing— for turning back or for correction. Her approach is always head on as she leaps into the void without flashy acrobatics, embracing instead the challenge of constancy that affords no hesitation or scars regardless of how many precautions and decisions she may have made on how to give shape to each individual work. Sissia interrogates the appropriations, adjustments, consistencies, couplings, and dissonance of drawing, rendering with virtuosic stubbornness generative, rough, and ashy dots, segments, lines, rays, and tiny scribblings to form constellations with changing skin that can be read in turn as conjectural depth, sky, earth, pond, map, hydrographic basin, maze, wall. Her recent works go beyond that initial allure and enchantment to cross the frontier of her own ontological threshold, at once representative fiction and informalist project. The various formats of the support are shattered into extreme instances in, for instance, the magnificent and landscape -like panorama made from horizontal pieces assembled in a contingent sequence like the semicircular mirage of Claude Monet’s Nymphéas or an abstract version of the Buddhist narrative scrolls that reached China from India. Similarly, the long vertical scrolls of rice paper redistribute her work and provide another reading of the image perceived as a dissected dynamic whole rather than as a mere link on a chain. All of this entails not only a new Eastern perspective, but also a redoubled determination to test out and to experiment in terms of the internal and external dematerializations and the installation -like environmental variations these works propose. V
The notion of graspable and real time is accentuated on the cognitive level by the remarkable oneness that Sissia manages to achieve despite the radical heterogeneity of the scenes she depicts and the evident material density in each and every work. We have a sense of hours and hours spent on methodic and taxing toil, slow and demanding work that requires full attention, awareness, and motor skill. This can only be achieved by an artist well trained in navigating the relationship between creative drive, manual perfectionism, and profound subjective alertness —all of which Sissia brings together in a systematic and meditative practice. An encounter, a tension, a struggle of thicknesses and substances that ensues between the interior productive forces of the Homo faber and the limits of the expectant material. It is the resistance, the hostility of matter (Ibid) that must be brought out into the world and shaped. Inert, it is steadfastly fleeting, straining, and evading the very one who would give it origin, breath, vitality, and sensation. Sensitive avatars, amorous conflicts, sacrifices and discoveries experienced by those who, like Mariana Sissia, give themselves over to the all-encompassing monastic rite of meditated matter (Ibid) which, for her, goes beyond matter at the service of art.
With such wrath imagination seeks to explore matter! All great human efforts, even when they are external in form, are harbored in intimacy. (Ibid)


Extensions of the spirit

By Florencio Noceti

“Sin ser una cosa extensa, el pensamiento tiene su extensión y se extiende a su manera, que consiste en no llegar nunca a estar extendido.”

Marie Bardet
Minds less brilliant than René Descartes have often mistaken the terms of his celebrated distinction between thought and the extended thing. The fact that the RES COGITANS is never an already extended RES does not mean that it does not extend. But thought –perhaps unlike matter– extends endlessly with no boundaries, delimitations, or destination. Borges asserts that “the terms of an infinite series admit any number,” and that “If space is infinite, we may be at any point in space. If time is infinite, we may be at any point in time.” Happen what may in the external world of bodies, this is precisely what happens within the realm of thought. Mariana Sissia understands this clearly, distinctly. Her landscapes are landscape of the COGITO, of the mind engaged in the act of thinking. There is no room in them for references, cardinal points, or geodetic coordinates. They contain no up or down. The fact that, in them, any attempt at cartography or navigation is doomed to fail does not means that the artist does not turn to those terms as concepts in an image potentially endless as well. What the image depicts is a possible world never given over to the experience of the senses. Her —slightly dreadful— interest lies in the enormous difficulty that contemplation entails. How to explore a lands- cape like this? Where to begin? What direction to take? Where to end? Unfathomable as material, for sensibility the landscape of the spirit is also the landscape for the spirit. Vague and incorporeal despite its undeniable consistency, the mental landscape that Mariana shows extends perhaps to the limits of the perceptible but not beyond the limits of the thinkable. Not yet extended, it extends precisely in order to be thought, indefinitely and endlessly by those who take on this arduous act of contemplation.


The triumph of landscape

By Ionit Behar

As an extension in space, then, the line is also an extension in time. Not time in the sense of measurement of a finite duration, but rather time that just goes on ad infinitum. In Mariana Sissia’s new drawings Mental Landscape, we find, not a place nor even a point, but a conception in the mind. Sissia calls this series of work Mental Landscape, where the artist traces an order that one cannot quickly grasp, the order of emotions and sensations, something similar to the feeling of your own skin, your hair or your body. Sissia’s drawings are not a “thing,” but a layer of a thing that proposes an order that can be contained in paper. Their space is both physical and abstract –concerning materials and matter, and escaping precisely being a thing. Using rice paper, Sissia creates large scroll-like drawings, with extreme dedication, patience and caution. Known for its use in 19th century Chinese painting, this thin material is delicate and un-textured. Sissia starts by applying “frottage”, a graphic art technique developed by surrealist German artist Max Ernst in 1925, to create a basis for further refinement. Sissia rubs over textured surfaces, such as cement floors, walls, and stones, which she then intensifies and marks with graphite of different scales. She refers to her method as “temperamental,” slowly building a landscape that develops according to the artist’s daily energy. These passionate scenes are investigations of materials –resembling masses of air or pieces of sky, ethereal realms. Sissia’s skies remind the ones by Argentinean artist Oscar Bony in the mid-1970s. What seems to be a banal topic, the sky becomes an intense metaphor for freedom. Sissia, like Bony, cuts the skies loose, separating them from the infamous world of figures. Here, matter reaches the sort of complexity we find in the human brain. Similar to the philosophical position or the belief that conscious- ness is a universal feature of all things, Sissia attempts to extend herself into the environment and to work with its problems and events. She becomes aware of her own body, in a way that has nothing to do with the accepted idea of the self-portrait, but more with the questioning and observing of sensations. The absence of figures and human bodies in the landscapes give a sense of “loss of touch” –not only with ourselves and with each other, but also with the culture of which we are a part.


The map and the territory

By Nova Benway

Hamlet points to the sky and turns to Polonius. “Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in the shape of a camel?” Polonius, who has come in the service of the court to persuade the errant young man to visit his mother, the queen—follows the prince’s gaze. “By th’ mass, and ’tis like a camel indeed”, he answers obligingly. But Hamlet is unsatisfied, and draws the courtier further into his sky-gazing reverie. “Methinks it is backed like a weasel”, he counters. “It is backed like a weasel”, comes the somewhat impatient reply. But the prince isn’t through yet: “Or like a whale”, he persists. He is really testing the limits now, but the unimaginative, decidedly practical Polonius has no way of extricating himself from the banter; his courtly role forces him to be perennially agreeable: “Very like a whale”, is the only reply he can meekly proffer. Just when it seems the prince could play puppet master with the foolish old servant for as long as he likes, he abruptly ends the game: “Then I will come to my mother by and by”. What is taking place during this brief interlude? Is Hamlet truly invested in this idle whimsy? Is he delaying the inevitable responsibility for avenging his father’s death with a few moments of childlike daydreaming? Is this one of the first indications that he is descending into genuine madness? Or is he simply stringing Polonius along, distracting him from his intended task? Perhaps, in this moment, Hamlet understands that the ability to free associate, to call to consciousness things that aren’t there, to interpret and interpolate one’s own perspective into the crude material of everyday life, is a way of retaining his humanity within the sinister chaos of the court. It is in these seemingly whimsical moments that the seeds of his later actions —both tragic and noble— are planted. In the drawings of Mariana Sissia, the raw material of graphite and paper are used to explore the nature of thinking and acting. While the process of thinking tends to be understood as always and only internal, separate from action that takes place in the world, Sissia uses the drawn mark to merge a psychological experience with a physical one. Like Hamlet, she brings a new reality into being. And, like those of Hamlet, her visions are fleeting and personal, and they escape interpretation: their effect is cumulative, rather than linear. They do not resolve into narrative so much as they evoke dozens of narratives, natural and historical, aesthetic and social. Sissia calls them “Mental Landscapes”, suggesting that the mind is as rich a territory as any tangible one, and inviting the question: where does a map of the mind lead us? LANDSCAPES
Sissia has described her process as a kind of introspective detective work, in which she reveals the inner workings of her mind through the meditative use of frottage on paper. These rubbings, by their very nature simultaneously controlled and freeform, evoke an incredible array of thoughts and images. As the artist told me:

I don’t have a plan before I start or, rather, the plan is not to have a plan ... to let [the drawing] take shape through the trace that the frottage leaves on the paper. On the basis of intuition, I decide which surface on which to rub the paper, the exact location on which to do the frottage, the blank spaces to be left, and how to interpret it. I conceive as a “script” that takes shape at random, one that I interpret according to my emotional state.

Yet for all the introspection and delicate meditation of these drawings, Sissia also evokes the astonishing variety of the natural world. Blooming flowers, volcanic eruptions, wet rocks in a stream, conifers fluorishing on a mountain’s face —the spread and expansion of these natural textures form a kind of unresolved landscape that floats transiently through the viewer’s consciousness. This thoughtful attention to landscape as mental space shouldn’t be surprising, since two of Sissia’s often-named influences are the Romantic painters Caspar David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner, who both imbued pictorial representations of landscape with complex psychological resonance. Sissia shares their approach to the sublime, which suffuses the beautiful with an overwhelming sense of awe. She employs variously repeating elements that transform without pause from the delicately decorative —flowery shapes patterned on wallpaper— to the voraciously unyielding, as volcanic ash washes over the ground, subsuming everything in its path.
The relationship between surface and ground in these works is complicated by Sissia’s manipulations of the paper, which is built up with crabbed pencil lines that recall the knobbly trunks of trees, while in other places rubbed smooth like a pebble in the sea. When a gap in the drawing appears —the pencil thinning out to reveal the paper substrate— is the viewer descending into a formless abyss, or is it only the sun breaking through a cloudy sky? We imagine we can press our face against the soft fur of an animal that seems to appear in one densely layered thatch of lines, when the next moment this comfort falls away, to be replaced by the dizzying vertigo of a high aerial perspective. The environment is totalizing, and we cannot tell whether we are looking at a surface in front of us, as with a wall, or from above, as with a sweeping bird’s eye view. As the scales shift and worlds large and small rise and fall before our eyes on the paper, the artist complicates our notion of the line between the active experience of being in the world, and the aesthetic experience that takes place for the viewer of drawing. Sissia’s technique suggests an introspective response to the Action painters of the mid-twentieth century, who emphasized the relationship between the physical process of making the work, and its physical presence in its finished form. Like Sissia, these painters sought ways to surround themselves with their work during its making. Yet in contrast to the extreme drama of certain gestural abstraction, her work is human scale. Again, the active and meditative converge in the drawings: Sissia has said she sees each drawing as “the mantra I repeat in order to reach a certain state. When my breathing has quieted and my mind goes blank, the drawing takes shape and expands like an organic substance.” Even as we explore this complex environment with an intrepid sense of adventure, we are drawn into a more psychological reading of the landscape as well. Delicate fingers seem to have left their prints in a thousand places over the surface of each drawing, but how do we read the evidence they’ve left behind? Likewise, the confluence of shape and texture that occasionally resolves itself into a meticulous, handmade Rorschach test: with a sly hand, Sissia creates confusion between the random associative meaning of the inkblot with the carefully articulated visual significance assigned by an artisan. The raw materials of the world brim over with meaning, cultural, spiritual, and personal: pools of water coalesce into figures, smeared windows seem to suddenly reveal the handprint of Jesus. The surfaces of Sissia’s drawings seem to be the perfect reflection of a hundred forms of significance. Every day, our surroundings seem to ask us: What do you see? What does it tell you? How do you read it? Sissia seems to suggest that in these drawings, such contemplation is shared: she invites us into the stream of her consciousness, made visible by mark and texture. Like Hamlet, we watch the clouds go by, grasping at any meaning they might offer us before they disappear from sight; recognizing that it may all be an apparition produced by an active mind, but is no less significant for that. MOVEMENT
Recently, Sissia has begun hanging her drawings in the middle of the gallery, allowing them to drape across empty space. As their intricate surfaces become voluminous, their stillness is occasionally disrupted: the drawings sway and bow when a visitor enters the room. While this movement does relate to certain forms of kinetic art, the drawings seem less independent than many of those works, more responsive to human activity. The more crowded a space, the more they move, creating the pleasant illusion that the drawings are social—excited by human presence. The literal movement in the room pleasantly echoes the implied, metaphorical movement of the forms on the page.
As they occupy the space with their twisting and leaning, the drawings’ fragility is revealed as a kind of muscular strength. They remind the viewer of a dancer’s body: the simplest movement can carry extreme power when it combines subtlety with absolute control. As with a skilled performer’s sweeping foot or curving wrist, each drawing seems to call up profound significance from extreme economy of means. Sissia cleverly uses the vacuum-like space of the gallery to remind the visitor that, even in a seemingly void-like space, there is constant activity and motion. A primary way she achieves this is through the boldness of size: her drawings billow and sweep like waves across the gallery. Sissia doesn’t think of this method of installing the work as performance, however; rather, it activates latent qualities in the drawings themselves. The surface of each drawing is such a light and deft exploration of the intersection between void and matter that Sissia’s placement of them in space feels particularly intelligent: they are constituted by air, so air is easily felt to be integral to one’s experience of them. HISTORY
Because Sissia’s work presents an idiosyncratic and singular vision, it is perhaps no surprise that her influences are eclectic and far-reaching. The depth of her knowledge of Western art history is expressed in ways both rigorous and playful, as evidenced by her references to kinetic art and landscape painting, already mentioned. However, one can situate her drawings within a number of traditions that predate the more circumscribed boundaries of modern art movements, including tapestry, Asian scroll paintings, and cave painting. Each of these has a long and complex history, and Sissia’s engagement with them is an indication of the depth and breadth of her project.
Scroll paintings differ from most Western painting in the way that the viewer encounters them: while the latter are viewed at a distance, the former have historically been encountered close-up, at an individualized pace, as the viewer unrolls the piece him or herself. Often, scroll paintings are not made with the expectation that they will be viewed as a whole; rather, one appreciates them in stages as they are rolled and unrolled. One of the most striking qualities of such works is the elastic- ity of time: the phases of life of a warrior might be represented on a single sheet of parchment, depicting, for example, the young boy at his lessons jostling against his older self in the midst of combat on the battlefield. Sissia plays with this elasticity in her own way, as her abstract forms take shape and disappear, one after another, on an endless stage. Like traditional scroll painters, Sissia places a clear importance on format —the long, narrow sheets of thin, translucent paper— that is absent from Western drawing and painting, in which the rectangle or square is the default for most artists. Her use of rice paper underscores her debt to the scroll painting form. Sissia responds to this tradition in the making of her work as well: she has said that she starts each day on a new section of her drawing without looking back at her previous efforts, and often does not even view her larger drawings as a whole until the day of the exhibition opening. Le Corbusier famously called tapestries “nomadic murals,” and for Sissia, who has referred to her own drawings as “conceptual architecture,” the confluence of the concrete and the ephemeral holds an evident appeal. As an ancient art form, tapestries were valued for their ability to depict grand scenes of religious, military or royal significance, while remaining easily portable, as they could be rolled up and transported as needed. Their simple, repetitive forms flirt with the decorative and domestic while conveying myths and history on epic scale. Indeed, as Sissia’s rice paper surfaces float in the breeze, one begins to liken them to coats of arms, or delicate, drooping flags. At first their fragility seems to undermine their impressiveness, but then the viewer quickly realizes that all flags are made to move: unlike a stamp or a printed sign, flags gain their power from their visible motion, as they flutter and sway above capital domes or from the masts of ships. No matter how full of life and motion they are, they remain persistently in the realm of representation, never quite becoming “real.” It is this combination that is perhaps most intriguing: Sissia’s images, in their size and scope, demand attention and invite reflection, but they are also grey, blurred and inconclusive, and they raise more questions than they answer. There is a humor in Sissia’s insistence that her quiet, subtle forms be presented as unavoidable, unapologetic, even bombastic. There is something ceremonial about them, and they convey a tentative pride as they festoon the space, lending a sense of simultaneous solemnity and celebration. But what small nation do they represent? In the name of what humble people are these banners raised? Unlike tapestry, in Sissia’s cosmology, myths and histories are more evocative for their lack of specificity. Her work does not actually depict legible narratives, any more than they function as real architecture. If any signs or symbols are present, they should be read in a way akin to constellations, to be regarded with the same combination of significance and mystery which humans have sought and found in the stars for thousands of years. Finally, Sissia’s drawings call to mind the most ancient drawings we know of—those found in caves dating from prehistoric times. One can easily imagine a horse or elk or spear-wielding hunter taking shape out of the grey tangle of graphite contours and furrows. It is thought that cave painting was a ritualistic practice: hunters depicted animals in order to conjure a more successful future hunt, while shamans adorned cave walls in the hopes of drawing out their power. Sissia’s meditative technique echoes this sense of drawing as spiritual. Her drawings also recall the strange placelessness of cave art: on the dark walls, animals and symbols float in a groundless space, detached from any sense of time or location. Imagining Sissia’s drawing on a wall in Lascaux, though, the viewer would find it difficult to say where the drawing ends and the stone surface of the cave begins. Imagined inside a cave, the blemishes on the wall would become part of the image; the patterns on each animal’s skin would blend with erosions and patches of dirt. The scrapes and abrasions in the paper caused by Sissia’s frottage technique even, in places, call to mind the direct intervention, the scratching or clawing, of living creatures. Every mark is also a rubbing, an incising, into the page; surface and substrate are inextricably linked. Like an archeologist, Sissia is excavating as much as she is drawing. Why does Sissia draw? This most basic of questions leads to perhaps the most provocative exploration of the significance behind her work. Though many of her influences are to be found in painting, she emphatically grounds her work in the medium of drawing. What compels, again and again, her use of the pencil in so many permutations? Drawing is of- ten described as a kind of thinking: it is raw and direct, relatively unmediated in its relation between marking tool and substrate. Indeed, Sissia has said she does not use color in her drawings because she feels it will get in the way of the pure sense of gesture she is attempting to convey. The history of drawing is that of exploration and observation: drawings are used to articulate what the draftsman sees. The drafstman is an inventor whose every decision is visible in the final product, as a form of visual thinking, existing in the present tense, and always full of the potential for further embellishment. Sissia frustrates this expectation: her use of frottage is both evidence of her hand and its effacement; the technique creates a tension between the presence and absence of the artist. Drawing is an intellectual pursuit, even a philosophical one; early theories of drawing invoked Plato’s notion of the representation of the ideal in nature. Sissia’s earlier landscape drawings were much more literal in term of this relationship: she would observe the view that interested her, and then attempt to reproduce it. Today, her drawings exploit the mimetic tradition by blurring the line between what she perceives and what she feels. She challenges the notion of precision in terms of observation: the lines in her work seem to create the boundaries not of distinct and identifiable shapes, but of blurs, smudges, and ambiguous forms. Drawing also allows an artist to build an image slowly. In Sissia’s case, individual marks accumulate to produce a paradoxically vast and cohesive landscape of gesture and tone. Her lines often seem to be following some path that the viewer cannot quite discern. While drawing has traditionally been understood as the ultimate medium of mimesis, she suggests that it might be used to undermine the very idea that nature is directly observable at all. Rather, there is a symbiotic relation- ship between the observer and the observed. Sissia’s drawings evoke the fact that experience is both something you enact, and something that happens to you. Life, as it is lived, leaves its mark on you.