Reflections on Sarah Risebourough’s work at Somatic Distortion, Leitrim Sculpture Centre.

by Fergus Byrne

“Somatic Distortion” took place on Oct 4th and 5th at the Leitrim sculpture centre. The event was curated by Sandra Corrigan Breathnach and featured live performance, videos and photography of past performance art.

Sarah Riseborough’s drawing/sculptural performance took place in the front space of the gallery and was visible from the street. A  roll of white paper hung from the wall and extended toward the floor where it was taped down. With considerable slack hanging free Riseborough was able to manipulate the paper as she drew upon it. Using pastels she inscribed the sheet both front and back in tandem with her movement with the paper.

Sarah Riseborough Photography Sandra Corrigan Breathnach (5).JPG
Image by Sandra Corrigan Breathnach

As this proceeded she elevated certain sections by attaching them with fishing line to the window frame. An evolving architecture commenced in which she operated, sometimes concealed and at others revealed by the paper. Certain moments saw her marking the back of the paper  by  leaning into it: her arm and later her face became surfaces for this frottage. This reduction of the space between the page and herself raised a haptic space; a meeting of skin and paper surfaces. The density of marks contrasted with  previous lines inscribed by broad sweeps and extensions of her body. Extended movements  would return in the form of a knife with which she cut the paper to open apertures in the form. One viewer commented on the circling cut of the stanley blade that emerged like a shark’s fin above the surface.

The audience could come and go over the course of perhaps three hours. At one point  I returned  to see a Gestalt leap in the layers and planes of the form. No longer was  there a surface of front and back but a three dimensional sculpture occupied the floor. This shift into three dimensions reminded me of André Lepecki’s writing  on Trisha Brown’s It’s a draw/Live Feed. 1

At this point I must tangent briefly to outline Lepecki’s writing. It’s a Draw/ Live Feed was  a series of drawings on charcoal by dancer Trisha Brown which were performed on the floor.  Lepecki writes of the distinctive territories of horizontal and vertical space in the context of Benjamin’s horizontal as the site of ‘graphic marking, of writing’ as opposed to the vertical as the plane ‘of painting, of representation’.  Lepecki’s basic argument is that Brown’s relation to the horizontal subverts this dichotomy and particularly the horizontal as a site of ‘signing, or with writing’2.  Through the abstract mark making of her dance, (not all of which leaves its trace on the page) Brown confounds Benjamin’s  horizontal plane of logos.  However ultimately  the work is hung on the wall to allow a second  drawing to be made. It is also hung on the wall when displayed in museums3. This culmination does in some ways unravel  Lepecki’s arguement as the artist’s motivation diverges from his theory.  It is in the three dimensional form of Riseborough’s drawing in Leitrim  that I see a sequel to  Lepecki’s discussion in material form.

Riseborough’s activity was process based and more functional than  dance movement: ‘My body made an environment where it felt it could leave a trace of itself. That’s the understanding I have, that there was a preparation or making of a space’.4

 Image by Sarah Riseborough

She is extending the drawing surface into three dimensions through the act of folding and cutting which proceeded from initial mark making. Volume thus superseded surface.   The final  spiraling shape gave a sense of lines of motion  in space. The light weight of the paper retained the ephemeral quality of movement in space.  Riseborough’s kinesphere in which she had operated was made manifest.  By taking the material into three dimensions the drawing escaped the limitations of both the horizontal and the vertical be they practical or philosophical as proposed by Lepecki.  As mentioned above Brown’s dance was not entirely driven by mark making. Movements of the arms and upper body  often left no mark on the ground surface so much of the dance’s trace was elusive.  Riseborough on the other hand  left an object as clear evidence of movement in space without in fact having danced its creation.



1          Lepecki ‘Toppling Dance: the making of space in Trisha Brown and La Ribot’. Exhausting Dance, performance and the politics of movement, 2006. p68.

2          Ibid. p 70.

3          I saw one of these works in Madrid some years ago where it was displayed upon  a wall. The performance of which Lepecki writes was relayed by live feed to a remote audience via a vertical screen when performed at  the Whitney museum.

4          Correspondence with artist.