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Monday, 2 January 2012

The Peripatetic School: Itinerant drawing from Latin America

Ishmael Randall Weeks, Fragments 2011, Mixed Media Installation

The Drawing Room is a small gallery stranded in Bermondsey (although the opening of the new White Cube might suggest it won't be stranded for long). It is a 15 minute walk from the tube station through suburbs and housing estates, but you must not let doubt creep in. When I eventually find it, the converted Drawing Room factory stands in the deserted centre of an industrial complex, it seems to have no entrance. I circle the building in silence and begin to think I have been led to the biggest prank in the art world.

You have to ring a bell and someone will come to let you in. The Drawing Room is the Tate Modern's cooler little brother; subsidiary projects which are far too niche to grace the walls of Gilbert Scott's epic factory, but which, without the support of their rich elder sister would surely die. In ways that other galleries can't, The Drawing Room just gets to have fun, and The Peripatetic School's Latin American artists are the best example of this.

Tony Cruz, Distance Drawing San Juan/ London, an attempt to draw the distance from San Juan to London (6,751.2362m). Realised only 0.0031890 percent (2,153m) 2011, Dibujo Distancia

Latin American art is obsessively peripatetic, concerned with the landscape, both urban and rural and the things we might find in travelling, or the things we might take with us. Brigida Baltar's works Untitled and Sertao's Flora use earth as their primary material; Sertao's grip upon Baltar's artwork is as more than just a place of origins and imagination. Her paintings of the Flora of her home town are delicate, nostalgic earth works.

There is a polemic in this exhibition. Drawing, so frequently the medium of peripheral sketchbook studies, has powerful energy and movement and is used here in challenging ways. Nicholas Paris' Hurry Slowly is a series of drawings and cut-outs of a running man which incorporate a number of found objects; the heel of a shoe, a piece of driftwood, a spirograph. Totems which rest on a shelf below the drawings. Testaments to our attachment to objects, but also their portability, both imaginatively and physically. Each object changes the drawing; it's texture and its mobility. Our sense of the speed at which the figure hurries is modulated by its object.

Mateo Lopez, Nowhere Man 2011, Mixed Media Installation

'Drawing has always been the most portable medium' claims the exhibition blurb. Tony Cruz's Distance Drawing, a pencil drawing made directly onto the wall of the old factory, is like the automatic scribblings of a seismograph. It feels like the obsessive scribblings of an artist desperate to record; and yet its obvious portability destroys the illusion. How many times will the unfinished drawing be reproduced, and how is it transported between galleries, from wall to wall?

The installations of Mateo Lopez and Ishmael Randall Weeks look as though they could be packed up and carried away. Lopez's Nowhere Man is a temporary home with desk drawers filled with maps, and more suggestive materials scattered about than can be processed in a single viewing. But the overall sense is of its emptiness. Randall Weeks' Fragments is my pick of the whole exhibition; an architect's table of sketches and plans, towards a Utopia? But once again it has been abandoned, stranded in Bermondsey.

You might arrive to find the space empty, but treasure it all the more. The Drawing Room is doing really exciting things with its factory. The Peripatetic School is an intellectually engaging exhibition. The white bricks walls like blank paper, let these displaced drawings speak for themselves, and what they have to say is filled with energy and itinerant creativity.

The exhibition will be at Mima in Middlesborough until the 12th February 2012.

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