2 Mar 2023 — 1 Apr 2023
Alexandra Roozen

The title of Alexandra Roozen's latest exhibition is based on the typographic terminology monospace, or non-proportionally spaced fonts, where the space between characters are entirely equal, without accounting for proportional width of the characters themselves. The TRACES Series set to be revealed this exhibition are a collection of never-seen-before works. They are all applications of the monospace concept, of stacked letters. The TRACES Series is far from the only series of works to be exhibited. Roozen’s previous MONO Series and FEW Series also make an entry. What about TRACES lent its typographical concept to the overall exhibition title? Roozen recognized her previous works using a set grid of intervals as the kicking-off point. The iterative monospace pattern had been a recurring pattern in her works, merely not named as such.

Alexandra Roozen’s TRACES Series grew out of a creative connection with Dutch composer Willem Boogman. The Dutch composer had recently started a series of compositions (modulationes) in which he translates one form of musicality into another and had written a composition based on the music he “heard” in Roozen’s works. Performed by the renowned Ives Ensemble from Amsterdam, the composition’s scores contained plenty of textual clues written in the margins, for example: ‘Vaguely present, as a contour,’ ‘Contact sounds should be in balance with the tone,’ ‘In one breath,’ ‘Always light accents,’ etc. The notes of abstract and poetic clues resonated like a mantra long afterward, and eventually led to the development of the TRACES Series. The composer had recognized music in her works, but the artist may have found the words for her iambic movement and nature of her cadence and rhythm, movement and breathing, in the margins of the composer’s musical score.

Roozen’s previous works have contained elements of musical measures. Seen by Hand (2018), a short film documenting a creation of the artist’s work, auralized the sounds of drawing as an important part of her work. The artist works in the medium of pencil and paper. At times it is the hatching of a single pencil in her hand, or the scratching of hundreds of pencils fixed in a mega-holder she has created for the specific work. At other times, it is a rotating pencil driven by a rotating electric power-tool. Regardless of the mechanism, the meeting of the media create familiar yet diverse sounds. Some are metronomic and regular, while some are strange and unintended. With the human body involved and driving movement, even the most mantric movement is bound to variables. The hand-held electric drill is no exception. Accompanied by the mechanical rotating sound, the drill’s rotation results in a line that is neither continuous nor straight; an interrupted trail of small scratches and strokes. All that is to say, the variability of hand-writing behavior can be seen regularly in the artist’s pen-and-pencil works.

Alexandra Roozen elaborates on hand-writing as a constant source of inspiration. Her MONO Series and FEW Series have explored this through a degree of abstraction in the gesture, in the act of drawing, in the touches and traces, that reflect or reference the material. Her TRACES Series in that sense, has taken a first step towards figuration and recognizability through the introduction of handwritten characters capable of identification by viewers as characters, yet illegible as conduits of meaning. Characters and the meaning that they hold are often mis-conveyed and misinterpreted. The iterated and superimposed hand-written characters have depleted (or saturated) any impregnable meaning as text, but opened up new conduit possibilities as image. Do the superimposed characters etched into paper through labor-intensive handwriting exist as characters, still? Or are they merely traces? The answer to this question may be for the audience to fill in.

The musical element of drawing and the visualization of the iterative hand-writing come from the material properties of pencil and paper. ‘What is painting?’ is a fundament question that Alexandra Roozen has asked herself many times over. The question encompassed not only the canvas’ surface, but the fibrous material of the canvas itself, the frame, the substrate and pigments of color, their perceived gravity, and so on. In seeking answers, she found that the colors of paint where excessively laden with symbolic meaning and looked to pencil sketches as the more prototypal stage of painting. Pencil and paper are some of the most common and familiar tools, and drawing and writing both begin with pencil and paper. Intuitive to use, yet rich in expression, she uses the pencil to iterate lines on paper without the use of erasers. Once a line is drawn, no amount of erasing will return the paper to its original pristine tone. For Roozen, there is balance between the pencil’s convenience of use and the calculated rigor of execution.

The MONO and FEW Series clearly display the material characteristics of pencil and paper. The MONO Series is a collection of works where paper has been heavily saturated with pencil graphite. Roozen finds the ancient material deeply fascinating and very nuanced. Its ability to create a reflective buffer and shimmer captures the gaze despite its seeming simplicity and antiquity. The intense iterative process of saturating paper with graphite causes the strands of fibers to become hedged and tousled like fauvist fur. As such, paper can be very fragile and even flimsy as a material, tearing and wearing down easily, but it can be very resilient and even strong enough to cut through skin. The FEW Series shows relief-indentations from the application of intense physical pressure. Showcasing both degrees of intaglio and relief, the works present properties of paper that may not resilient or restored to its original state, but that captures and encompasses the traces of impact.

Roughly speaking, the concept of the monospace is less descriptive of the physical outcome and more expressive of Roozen’s practice in creating works. Her monospace works serve as a portal into the irregularities and variations within structures. When structures are breached and irregularities are observed, all logic and reason reliant upon that scaffolding also loses credulity. Those moments of breach and realization are where Alexandra Roozen’s monospace portals open to. The pencil may break or veer off-course from point A to point B. The hand might hesitate and the artist may be momentarily distracted. All errors there are perhaps what is most human about it all. The electric-drill line is not intended to avoid room for human error. Machines, mechanisms also undergo glitches and are affected by variables. This irregularities within structures gazes into imperfection with a sense of familiarity, even humanity. Handwriting, the individually beautiful and unique transfer of writing unto substrate, occurs out of the very iterative errors of human hand over paper.
Installation view