Just because it’s happening, it doesn’t mean it’s real

On objects as diagrams and drawings as life

As part of my studies at L’École Jacques Lecoq, a physical theatre school in Paris, I am taking classes at the L.E.M. (Laboratoire d’Etude du Mouvement). The L.E.M is the school’s scenography department, dedicated to researching space, rhythm, and movement.

In our class this week, we explored push and pull - according to the school’s methodology, two of the fundamental movements of daily life. We started with drawing. I decided to draw the mechanism on a fire door. I depicted the horizontal metal bar that pulls the door shut and pushes a wedge of air up and outwards from between the door and the door frame. 

After some time we came together as a group to reflect on the drawings we had made. As we discussed our work, it became clear that my drawing described, but did not express the door’s movements (its closure and its expulsion of the air). I had drawn a diagram that showed what push and pull were in this instance, instead of drawing push and pull themselves. We returned to our desks to try again. 

Here are some of my attempts:

Drawings of push and pull

Drawings of push and pull

Next, we moved onto making a structure in space. Using wood, cardboard, string, and glue, we tried to make structures that dynamically expressed push and pull. 

This is what I made:

Push and pull structure

Push and Pull structure

Once again, we came together as a group to reflect on our efforts. Our teacher, Pascale, moved towards what I had made and confirmed that “the wood is pushing and the string is pulling”, but, she qualified, “just because it’s happening, it doesn’t mean it’s real.” 

What then, does ‘real’ really mean? Real for who? Here was an object, in real life, whose structure was held by two opposing forces: push and pull. Nevertheless, as Pascale pointed out, it was not real for us, the audience. I looked at my structure - I realised that I also did not feel the sensation of push or pull; I only understood the idea of these movements. 

Looking back, I wonder if my structure (an object existing in reality), in fact, performed as a diagram - it seemed to be representing the idea of something rather than being the thing itself, just like my sketch of the fire door I made at the beginning of the class. By contrast, my push and pull drawings shown above (marks on a page), seemed to express the forces that my structure only described

My drawings behave more like I would expect an object to behave (as something real), and my structure behaves more like I would expect a drawing to behave (as a representation). 

How can it be that the structure performed as a diagram and the drawings as something in life? Why does one make me feel push and pull while the other only makes me understand push and pull? What is the difference between the two? How might I alter my structure so that it, too, dynamically expresses push and pull?

Some thinking through drawing: 

Of course, this is a diagram of a 3D object that I am imagining! I draw it in the hope that the structure would really express push and pull. Off to go and try!


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