New Center skirts the line with new exhibit

• Line (lin), n.: A long narrow mark on a surface.

“Desenho em banana (Banana Drawing)” by Tonico Lemos Auad.

“Desenho em banana (Banana Drawing)” by Tonico Lemos Auad.

That simple dictionary definition doesn’t do justice to the line. Lines are an artist’s most basic tool and a very important visual element. In fact, everybody draws, resulting in a familiarity that has the tendency to take away some of the line’s power.

Lines are expressive, convey direction and design shapes. Our eyes follow lines as if they were road maps, directing us around the composition. Our minds and eyes will even make lines that aren’t really there. They also can be preliminary sketches for a piece in another medium, thus giving the viewer a peek into the thought process of creativity.

In the works of The New Center for Contemporary Art’s exhibition, “Skirting the Line: Conceptual Drawing,” drawings can be the finished project. The exhibit is curated by Kaytie Johnson, director/curator of galleries, museums and collections at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. The collection combines line and drawing with conceptual art — the art of ideas — opening up the field to media far removed from pencil and paper.

As Johnson explains in the exhibition brochure, “During the 1960s and 1970s, drawing became analogous to artistic activity — and essential to the development of conceptual art — when artists adopted it as a means of demonstrating process. Drawing’s proximity to thought naturally aligned it with conceptual art, where the idea was paramount to the object, and the resulting object — if there was one — existed as a document of the artist’s thinking.”

“G-Woman” by Holly Zausner.

“G-Woman” by Holly Zausner.

Many contemporary artists, such as Mark Harris, have combined basic line drawing with new technology. Harris and his “Video Drawings” are an addition to the DePauw show by the New Center for Contemporary Art. A portion of his video shows him in the men’s restroom of a train station, busy marking a red line down the center of paper hand towels. Eventually the police stop him. This is clearly a man obsessed with line, and he has the video to prove it.

Holly Zausner also creates with modern technology. The exhibition displays her film “The Beginning” featuring the abstracted female figure “G-Woman.” The linear rubber sculpture is presented through performance art, as Zausner is filmed and photographed throwing it up in the air against the architectural backdrop of New York City and Berlin. It becomes line in motion as a result.

You don’t get less technical than Tonico Lemos Auad. His organic drawing of the banana is ever changing just by ripening. “Desenho em banana (Banana Drawing)” is created by pricking dotted lines on bananas; oxidation darkens the dots and reveals the drawing. The New Center has three banana drawings — face, words and chain — that curatorial director Jay Jordan has to change weekly using Lemos Auad’s template design. (I bet Jordan didn’t think that task was going to be in his job description.)

Lines drawn on metal are not that unusual, and neither is an artist’s use of recycled material. What sets Marco Maggi’s work apart is the highly structured compositions made by what he calls “engravings.” He created small, precise incisions on 48 Empire rulers that resemble detailed abstract renderings of architecture, computer parts, even maps. “Empire Rules” requires the viewer to step in close, examine the marks and imagine what they are.

Anthropogeomorphology is the study of how the Earth has been altered by human activity. It is not an art word but one belonging to the scientific community. Yet anthropogeomorphic photographs by the research and activist organization Center for Land Use Interpretation are included in this show. Curiously enough, they seem to belong here.

CLUI is a bit of a renegade, including its photographs in art exhibits to get points across. The lines produced on the landscape by such industries as mining and transportation can form geometric patterns. A photograph of three classical circles seem to be drawn in the earth; only after understanding it as art do you begin to comprehend its real use as “Navy Target 103.” It’s unintentional Earth and Site art by non-artists.

Contemporary draughts-persons have inherited the long history of drawing. It’s still about engaging the mind and hand but using new media and techniques. Often regarded as just a beginning, drawing today, as “Skirting the Line” illustrates, has once again proved it is as innovative and edgy as other art forms.