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Phil Sawdon

Drawings’ Bodyies: An Autopsy


It’s first light … small brown birds are effortlessly scratching … without interruption.


Elusive … extant, whispering just beyond the use of language … goading … their voices pending a collapse under the weight of the indescribable.


Drawings’ body … bodies … The body is neither – whilst also both.


Penned, marked, inscribed … disjointed, cracked, and perturbed … positioned ambiguously.


An exhumed mimetic carcass in the archive of The Fictional Museum of Drawing, self-seen, self-examined, perhaps not yet altogether inert … this is not the drawing … this is the exact imitation of one. Wandering out of control … inside out and outside in … the inside into the outside and the outside into the inside … an adaptation … physical representation … analogous … diverse interactions.


As the Keeper I cautiously declare this drawings’ death, mindful of preventing the premature treatment of the lifeless as if it were departed. A living death transcending life. The mode of death perhaps outside of suffocation, circulation, or insensibility? How, then is an examination and understanding of drawings’ body … bodies … to advance? Perhaps there is no trouble-free way. 


The Council reach an agreement to effect the autopsy in daylight … they refuse the whim of a single paradigm. An act sited in the gallery. 


A kitchen table … a willow casket lid … a door removed from its hinges supported by chairs each spread with clean cotton rag … hand basins … empty buckets … a plentiful supply of hot and cold water … bottles of beeswax and Vaseline, worked up in a mortar to form a thick paste … a number of scholarly papers … sponges … a piece of soap … several towels … white rubber gloves will dull the sense of touch and taste.


Reckoning … guided towards the ground on which drawings’ body remains and to the ground that is proximate … looking for pivotal ciphers. Any conjecture is recorded … written. Marks are swabbed so as to make sure that they are not due to dirt. Any dirt is drawn into dust. Indications for identification, recognition, classification and conjecture are pursued in the surface marks. They are all examined closely for length and depth … whether they could have been self-inflicted … the category of stylus that could have fashioned them … the ghosts of extraneous substances in any of the established openings … public or private.


The Museum Council decide that it is both expedient and prudent that two practitioners will jointly conduct the examination. In case of any ambiguous signs, the advice and countenance of a colleague is strategic. One makes the section, and the other records the outcomes with each phase precisely chronicled. 


I have opened all the cavities … In some instances, I have employed a saw to circumvent the use of a hammer and chisel. 


A toxic condition and an inflamed large dish … before spreading we scrutinise for corrosive grievances and determine if we can taste any erratic odours. 


We open … search with the aid of a lens and carefully pour the contents into a jar. The presence and occasional absence of solid motions is recorded. We have noted the colour, the condition as regards rhythm and fluidity, all indications of rendered fat are deposited with all the fluid in appropriate vessels for further enquiry. All the various vessels are closed so as to be as nearly air-tight as possible, and our mouths are finally covered with paper securely tied, the knot of the string being generously covered with sealing-wax impressed with the exclusive seal of The Museum. Legends are also ascribed to the jars and bottles, on each of which is a description of their respective contents. Two lists are made … one forwarded and the other retained. A cool place and no preservative. Any relations remain unknown and in this case of exhumation the stage of the putrefactive changes in relation to the length of time the body has been interred are noted. In accord with Museum policy, I was present as was a Friend of The Museum. We agreed that this body had long lain underground … undisturbed.


Our catalogue reads along these lines … 


… discolouration yields to pressure … corrugated milk … stained fluids … gases distend the entire body … the features are unrecognisable … blisters filled form on the surface … areas are barren … maggots without number cover the cadaver … isolated patches of dirt change to dark … eventually to black … they subsequently softened and dwindled away … becoming rigid … contracted … devoid of articulation … stiff … firm … unyielding … rigor mortis? 


We persist … mandatory … hacking at the bandages … looking to trace fractures, crevices, gashes and marks that might tolerate a plunge into the undoing of meaning … eventually we decide that the condition at autopsy affords us no reliable proof as to this drawings’ condition at death. Perhaps when the left and right sides are both found to be occupied it is possible to say that the original condition at death is found to be empty of meaning … 


‘They all look the same …‘


‘There’s no difference …‘


‘Now if we take a piece of chalk and mark them left and right …‘


‘That makes it a lot easier for people when they are handling four pieces at a time …‘



Phil Sawdon is an artist, writer, erstwhile academic and The Keeper and founder of The Fictional Museum of Drawing. He is an Honorary Fellow of Loughborough University School of Design and Creative Arts. He resides in the UK in Oadby, Leicestershire. He publishes in various formats including prose drawing fictions, artworks, academic / scholarly books, sound-works and moving image. You can experience most of his writings at the Loughborough University Research Repository. He co-edits the academic book series ‘Drawing In’ (Bloomsbury). He also works with Deborah Harty as the creative drawing collaboration ‘humhyphenhum’ and with Russell Marshall as ‘Marshall and Sawdon’.

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