ULGC in conversation with The Draftery about the printed biannual Figures

You have certainly heard about New York-based The Draftery a curated drawing archive based on a call for submission founded by Jesen Tanadi. The team is composed of Jesen Tanadi, founder and curatorial partner, Athanasiou Geolas, editorial partner and Thomas Gardner, advising editor. The specificity of The Draftery is its curatorial practice-based approach. This is what at first interests me when I discover this website. How to curate a medium such as drawing when you don't have an exhibition space (yet)? The Draftery proposes two solutions: their website and a printed biannual, Figures that articulates drawing and text. Two volumes have been published.
The Imperfect Machinery of the Mind ı Cistern II | © Myles Dunigan, 2013 || The Draftery
8.5" x 10.5"
Drawing published in The Draftery in 2013
Image originally appeared on The Draftery

Their interest for drawing is not restricted to the only architecture area: architects, artists, students and other practitioners are invited to submit their works.
The website is organized into three main axes: Archive, Figures, Captions. Archive serves as an exhibition space. Captions is a new editorial project that will consist of detailed and critical conversation of work.

Extended macro Universe | © Val Britton, 2008 | The Draftery
71" x 97"
ink, gouache, graphite, collage, and cut-out on paper
Drawing published in The Draftery in 2011
Image originally appeared on The Draftery
A Primary School for a Future Nation ı Kid with Watermelon and Orange | © Ilfigeneia Liangi 2012 | The Draftery
23.4" x 33.1"
Drawing published in The Draftery in 2013
Image originally appeared on The Draftery

As the curators launched a Kickstarter campaign for the funding of the third volume of Figures earlier this week, I decided to talk about The Draftery, its history, drawing and of course Figures with its founder Jesen Tanadi and its editorial partner Athanasiou Geolas. They kindly accepted to respond to my email conversations.

Figures 03 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

The Origin of The Draftery
ULGC: What is the history of The Draftery? When and why did you found The Draftery?

Jesen Tanadi (JT): The Draftery was founded
in June 2011. However, the collection that The Draftery was born out of began earlier than that around 2010, while I was still in school.

While in architecture school, I was interested in architectural representation--from its history, its conceptual implications, its potential, and its aesthetics. There was a point in my education when I realized that the drawings I was constantly looking at and being asked to look into were all done by the same group of architects--most of whom are now pretty prolific. Most of them made their drawings in the 80s and 90s, and can usually be found in MoMA’s The Changing of the Avant-Garde, among other well-known publications that heavily feature architectural drawings. Soon enough, I became tired of them--don’t get me wrong, they’re still great drawings--but there’s only so much of them you can take...

I started doing my own research and running across great contemporary architectural drawing--usually on blogs. Unsurprisingly, a lot of those drawings were done by students and lesser-known practitioners. That’s when I began to make note of the drawings I found, and I began “collecting” them on my hard drive. It wasn’t a big collection or anything, but the work was still very inspirational, especially when I was working on my thesis--knowing that there are students out there producing such high-quality work kept me somewhat competitive.
In tandem with all of this, when I was in school, I was a proponent of sharing with my friends whatever random information about architecture I ran across: a blog, a set of drawings, a cool website, etc. When I got out of school and my friends and I moved away, I didn’t want that aspect of my daily life to go away, so I decided to make my drawing “collection” public--to share what I was already doing with a larger audience.

Athanasiou Geolas (AG): It wasn’t too long after Jesen had started The Draftery — maybe 3 or 4 months — that he emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in editing submissions for a book. This really came as no surprise considering that a good portion of both Jesen’s and my own work towards the end of school consisted of architecture projects that were really bookmaking projects with ambitions of having an architectural impact. We started with some relatively loose guidelines and have been having one long conversation about what we are really trying to do with these books since then. Figures as a series grew out of our desire to present drawings directly and then ask their authors to speak candidly about them. While in school, we would spend probably an unnecessary amount of time wondering how certain drawings we loved were made. And at best there would be a caption at the bottom of each drawing that would tell us the dimensions of the image, the kind of paper it was on and maybe pencil or airbrush, etc - the basic kind of info you’d imagine in an art history textbook. But we are practitioners, we make drawings and want to know how the drawings was made, we wanted to know exactly what processes lead to such idiosyncratic visions. And so Figures became a place where we could show drawings we found exciting and engaging visually, and then ask their authors to talk earnestly about how and why they made them the way they did.

Figure 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

Drawing and Representation
ULGC: The Draftery is curated drawing archive with multiple platforms. If I look at The Draftery's interests, this leads to two mediums: drawing and curatorial practice. Let me start with the medium of drawing. Why does drawing matter? Why did you choose this medium rather than, for example, models?

In short, drawing is how architects communicate. It’s much more immediate and less encumbered, both in its making and its viewing. In a drawing, a mark is a mark, and the process of making that mark is the simplest way you can visually communicate your ideas. Models are a bit more encumbered, in that there are a lot of steps in the process: drawing the components, cutting whatever material you’re using, and then assembling them together.

I also like the visual impact a drawing has. To me, the most effective drawings convey more than one set of information on a sheet, so in addition to the graphic aesthetics, the density requires the viewers to read the drawing--to separate the information presented--as opposed to just look at it like an object. But the term “drawings” is also open-ended because a drawing has the potential of conveying almost anything--the final outcome is usually pretty indeterminate.
That said, models can be drawings, and we’ve featured drawings that either have a 3D component, or that have incorporated a built model into the drawing itself.

Figures 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AG: As Jesen said, we read drawings; and we make them in order to communicate. I have almost literally never had a conversation about a building with another architect that didn’t involve sketching of some kind along with the words, “like this”. It is a very immediate and embodied way to communicate, and for me that is the ultimate paradox — how a drawing can communicate information both abstractly through a set of conventions that we all understand, and through an immediate spatial reality--“like this”--is something that I am still not able to reconcile. However, it is a quality that models in general do not have. They are too literal to carry the same extent of abstract communication. Plus I just really enjoy the act of drawing — it is something unique to professions in the building industry. That ultimately, the obligations and power of an architect concentrate into a set of drawings which are bound together, stamped and referenced in the construction of buildings is more surprising than I can describe who knew that architects draw for a living?

Figure 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AL: I am interested in the relationship between drawing and representation in architecture. Drawing is a language with specific codes. It has a grammar, a certain rigueur, and a materiality. The architect uses drawing to express first ideas on paper and, with the advent of the computer, digitally. Drawing is the first step in the making of representation in the discipline of architecture. Are you interested in the making of representation?

Figures 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

JT: Yes, absolutely. It’s not exactly what I do anymore, but it was a tremendously informative part of my past. I now work in graphic design, but I find that my process continues to reflect that history.

AG: Every drawing’s role is to communicate, and any manifestation on paper--the lines, colors, and--shades are representations of some idea. They are attempts at giving form and order to some inchoate expectation; that these representations ultimately lead to other larger kinds is a major concern in the way that I consider drawings.

Figures 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AL: Do you consider yourself to be merely passionate about architectural drawing, or are you a collector?

JT: I prefer the term “researcher.” “Collector” has a certain socio-economic connotation and possessive quality about it. When I think of art collectors, I immediately think of the people who collect works of art for economical reasons (or to decorate their lavish homes)--to place them in their incredibly valuable portfolio. There are others, of course, who find pleasure in the aesthetic qualities of the artwork itself, but I can’t help but think of the former kind. We also don’t actually “collect” anything, really. We don’t own real copies of the drawings we publish, and we don’t buy any rights. We merely promote people whose work we find valuable, online and in print. In a way, we’re kind of like a museum that doesn’t own anything--without the drafters’ impetus, we’re nothing but a blank white room.

AG: I am definitely not a collector. I’ll take Jesen’s answer here, I also prefer the term researcher. We are passionate about drawing in general, passionate about the reality that drawings influence us greatly, and passionate about presenting a relevant discourse about the way that architects communicate.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AL: The computer allows new possibilities and methodologies. Over three decades or so, there has been a boom  in digital drawing—that leads to a hot debate on the future of traditional drawing. Are you more interested in traditional drawing rather than digital drawing or both?

JT: At first, I was more drawn to traditional drawing. And that’s probably part of the education I received. Where Athan (Athanasiou) and I went to school, manual drafting was (and still is) extremely valued. Unlike some other schools I’ve visited, our desks were made up of one giant drafting board and a butcher block. I think that says a lot about the pedagogy there--that the hand is still valued. It also didn’t help that the digital drawings I came across were all unbelievably banal and lacked much of the author’s voice. In essence, they all looked the same--overly-glossy, ultra-realistic V-Ray renderings. Of course, that isn’t the way architects operate anymore (although I’ve worked at offices that still have a drafting table or two set up, sometimes used, but mostly dormant). Through my research for The Draftery, I’ve come across some beautiful digital drawings that aren’t just ultra-realistic renderings of a proposed project. A couple of years ago, a friend mentioned the term “digital craft,” kind of in passing, but that term has stuck with me since. I like to think that The Draftery is beyond the tired argument of digital vs. analog, because the digital isn’t going away. People are at arms because with digital drawing, there’s a method of operation that’s inherently different than what they’re used to. The arguments were healthy, and the problems are just part of the process’ growing pains, but I think it’s time to move on. Now, more than anything, we look to craft.

AG: To be more interested in one or the other would be a disservice to the mission of The Draftery. I fully agree with Jesen that the debate between the two is tired. Of course I prefer hand drafting, but that is what I learned. But this doesn’t change the fact that drawings--digital or traditional, output by a computer or painstakingly crafted one hatch mark at a time--are drawings. A clutch, a Mayline, a computer, and Rhino are all tools; and tools are really only worth what you can do with them. What is important to remember is that each tool has its function. The impact that new tools have on the things that we make is undeniable, but what we make will always be more important. No one gets angry at a nail gun.

Printed Matter
AL: You have published two volumes of Figures. Would you mind talking about the history of Figures? It seems to me that Figures is more a curatorial project than a printed biannual. It is conceived as an exhibition as if you have displaced the space of exhibition into the space of the book. Would you agree with this characterization?

JT: We actually stumbled into the world of publishing by accident. We both like printed matter a lot, of course, but I hadn’t considered being part of the book design & publishing realm prior to our first Figures. A couple of months after The Draftery first existed online, a friend who happened to be working at Booklet, a small independent publishing house in Tokyo, asked if I was at all interested in publishing drawings from The Draftery. I excitedly agreed--I mean, who doesn’t want to be published?--and asked if any of my friends would like to help me put together the first issue. Athan jumped at the opportunity and we’ve worked together since. The first two Figures were wonderfully ad-hoc. They were about the size of a pamphlet and we only made 90 copies of them. However, working on them was a great introduction to the world of architectural publications.
I’m not sure what to think of the separation of a curatorial project vs. a printed biannual. I think Figures does both: it is a curatorial project that exists as a printed biannual. Yes, in a way it can be thought of as an exhibition, but the space of the paper allows us to do much--more this is more evident in the upcoming issue. There are things you can do in book design--such as cropping and repeating images, and overlaying and pairing text with drawings--that you cannot really do in an exhibition. In a gallery or museum setting, the drawing is sacred (unless you’re this guy--a clip from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing); with Figures, they’re much more malleable. That isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate the drafters’ work, but on a page there are ways you can represent the same image to make it tell a story without necessarily ruining the drawings.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit Image © The Draftery and Booklet

AG: While Jesen and I were still in school, a professor of ours made a very big point out of discussing “the status of the book.” This question resonates strongly with everything we are trying to do. I think that you are absolutely right comparing Figures to an exhibition. However, The Draftery differs from physical curatorial spaces not only because it can be revisited whenever you want, but because unlike an exhibition, our goal is not to establish a singular narrative about the drawings we feature. Instead, each theme for Figures grows out of the contributor’s work. The theme for each issue of Figures is often very malleable until Jesen and I sit down to write our opening statement. In fact, we write our opening statement after nearly everything else in the book has been completed. When requesting drawings and writing from our contributors, we only provide a very basic and open-ended theme. In general, Figures calls attention to the rhetorical capacity of drawings, asks authors to comment on their own rhetorical techniques (and how their drawings demonstrate these techniques), and then offers a critical essay that places this rhetorical theme in a contemporary context. There are, of course, questions we want to have answered; but, we are looking for those answers to come from our community. Our own opinions on the matter can come out in our statement, but the theme and its relevance to contemporary discourse comes from the drafters.

AL: The Internet offers alternative opportunities for production and distribution of architecture and art. Why is printed matter important for you? What is the place of the publication in your curatorial practice?

JT: There is something to be said about the permanence of a book. It has the potential to be useful--for someone to flip through it as they’re working on a project--and the potential to reach a more global audience. I suppose it’s a bit like an exhibition catalog: you get to keep a copy of the work with you.
Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit © The Draftery and Booklet

AG: Publishing a book takes a long time. The amount of work that goes into the production of Figures and that has almost nothing to do with either editing or curating was completely unexpected. Jesen and I have had to learn on our feet about the publishing world; it has been tremendously rewarding for the most part. And perhaps ironically, the most frustrating part about both publishing and architecture is also the one reason why both are so important to me: it takes a long time. The internet is fast. And without a twinge of nostalgia I can honestly say that something is lost in the slow-going of producing an actual printed book. Likewise, printed matter remains important because it doesn’t cease to exist--even at arms length--when the lights go out. It’s the viscosity of publishing and the commitment it takes to actually make it happen that continues to make printed matter important.

AL: I am interested in the book’s making-of. Figures is composed of texts and drawings. What is the role of the text? Do you see the text as an extension of drawing?

JT: In Figures, the text serves as a way to open up conversations. As much as we’d like viewers to just read the drawings we present, sometimes that is a difficult task. Some drawings are simply too dense, some need to be explained, and some have hidden intentions. In each issue, we feature an essay by one of that issue’s contributing drafters, as a way to prepare the readers for the set of drawings to come--kind of like how an appetizer whets your appetite. Besides the preparatory essay, each drafter also provides a small amount of writing. However, we’re conscious of not making the text serve as mere descriptions of the drawings. We specifically ask each drafter to talk about how their drawing process and intentions relate to the final outcome. What we try to do is remove the mystery around the drawing process--not in an instructional kind of way, where we teach readers how to draw a perfect circle--but in a way that hopefully explains that when drafters make decisions, whether implicit or not, there are reasons and implications behind them.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

AG: As Jesen has said, the text offers a way into the drawings, it frames them. Much of the work we publish could appear in a number of different contexts. Drawings are rarely so focused as to disallow a variety of readings. By offering space to each drafter to talk about their drawing processes and the significances behind them, and then framing those descriptions with a critical essay, we hope to provide a limited and specific context in which to consider this work.

AL: Now the third volume of Figures. Would you mind talking about this third volume? You have just launched a kickstarter project for this matter. Tell me more about the kickstarter project for the third volume of Figures?

JT: Figure 03 will be about hidden things. We’ve titled it “That then Disappear in the Building of It,” which is a phrase out of a part of our curatorial statement: An often glossed over job of the architectural drawing is to reveal: to show what is behind a door or above a room, to show what is within a wall, to determine the overall spatial order and even relationships of liability that then disappear in the building of it. A few months ago, we decided that it was time to rework The Draftery--it had been about a year and a half since the first website was up. And in addition to the website, we decided that Figures should get an overhaul, so we spent some time re-organizing and redesigning it. In the last two issues of Figures, each drafter had his/her own section where we would present their drawings. This time around, we’re experimenting with a new format: right now there are three “sub-themes,” and we curate drawings, regardless of drafter, around those topics. So now it’s more like visual storytelling--more explicitly about how those drawings engage with the theme than in previous iterations. We also wanted to break out of our shell a little bit. The first two issues only had 90 copies, which meant that there’s only a small number of people who would be able to read them and really understand the drawings. With Figures 03, we’re trying to expand it a bit more. We want the journal to be everywhere for people to really get into architectural drawings and for that topic to be continuously part of architectural discourse again. While we were working on putting together The Draftery’s new website, we came across an article that was basically an outcry over the death of the architectural drawing. We’re here to reject that idea: we don’t think drawing is dead, it just exists in a new form. Figures is a way for us to dispel that idea; to our knowledge, it’s the only journal that continuously and explicitly places contemporary architectural representation at the forefront of discourse. The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the production of Figure 03. We really hope members of our community can help us out by pledging and spreading the word. We offer our services in kind, and we’d love to just be able to do this without asking for anything, but sometimes, the costs just add up, and we’d love if this whole project stays ad free.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

The politics of showing: curatorial practice
AL: As has been mentioned above, The Draftery’s concern can be divided into two mediums: drawing—what you show or the object—and curatorial practice—how you show. There is a rich debate and research on the discipline of curatorial practice in the art field. Indeed, curatorial practice is considered to be a discipline. Recently, such debates and research are getting more and more popular in the architecture field. Why did you choose the medium of curatorial practice as strategy to display the medium of drawing? And why not just a blog?

AG: A blog just wasn’t enough. As we’ve mentioned above, a physical book and the necessities of organizing an exhibition require a significant investment of time and energy. And the reality is that a blog is itself a highly curated endeavor. Ultimately our goal is to get people to pay attention to the fact that drawings are powerful objects. Expanding The Draftery into the physical space of the gallery and the book was a commitment to this project that we felt we had to make. This question again returns to the “status of the book.” Without the paper in the book, and the hours of conversation with our printer, without the weeks of contemplation; that is, without the lasting artifact, what commitment would we be making to the drafters we feature?

AL: Does The Draftery have an exhibition space, a gallery? Or do you use the Internet as an exhibition space? As you may know, the difference between the Internet and the exhibition space is that the one is less selective. What is the role of Archive? Is it just a webpage? Or does it work as an exhibition space?
Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

JT: We don’t have a real exhibition space (yet?), so at the moment our website is our primary outlet. But we’re selective as to what we display--there is a process in place where we review every single submission to see if it’s a good fit for us or not. We look for work that’s visually compelling and also has an interesting and worthwhile narrative behind it. Our Archive serves as our primary “exhibition space”. Prior to our update, each drafter’s page featured only his/her drawings, but we’ve since added more; such as space for the drafters to offer an introduction and description of the drawings they’re submitting. We’ve also been able to design each drafter’s page with a specific layout that fits their drawing set--pairing up one drawing with another and/or with relevant writing. Of course, Archive’s accessibility also differentiates it from the traditional exhibition space model. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and to anyone with access to a computer and the internet--unlike a gallery that has work you’re interested in seeing, but is in another part of the world. Our primary audience is made up of students, professors, and young professionals, and we imagine them to be looking through our Archive at the wee hours of the night as they’re trying to complete a project--whether in search of inspiration, or simply procrastinating.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

If you want to participate to the funding of Figures 03, see their Kickstarter campaign including a video presentation of the campaign.

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