You think it, I draw it

Married artists' couple-based art concept goes on display Wednesday at MICA

  • Creating "Black Magic" for "The Telepathy Drawings," on display at MICA through March 10
Creating "Black Magic" for "The Telepathy… (Photo by John Morris )
January 24, 2010|By Tim Smith | | Baltimore Sun reporter

It started with an invitation to participate in an art show that would present works by couples on Valentine's Day. Two MICA alumni, Christina Ayala and John Morris, decided to give it a try, and a twist.

"I had been kicking around the idea of telepathy for a while," says the Georgia-born Morris, 35, an adjunct photography faculty member. "We wanted to see if we could create art using the telepathic process."

Ayala, 40, who works for Southwest Airlines (she's originally from Texas), met Morris when they were both students at MICA about a decade ago. She was focusing on drawing and painting, not mind-reading. But the idea they came up with for that collaborative show was for Morris to concentrate on a single image and have Ayala attempt to draw it.

"I don't claim to have ESP," she says. "But, you know, I believe I do have a gut intuition. And some people have a more heightened intuition than others."

Their debut as mental/visual collaborators was in 2005, and the Baltimore-based duo has continually added to the project ever since. The results can be viewed at MICA, where "The Telepathy Drawings" exhibit opens Wednesday.

The display includes a "Telepathy Station" - a plain table with a large timer clock in the middle; two chairs at either end. When they produce their work, Morris and Ayala sit opposite each other at the table. He sets the clock for seven minutes and concentrates on one thought, while she, within that time span, attempts to draw what he is thinking.

Why seven minutes? It goes back to that initial experiment.

"There's two of us; February is 2; and 2 times 7 is 14 - a play off of Valentine's Day, when we first did this," Morris says. "Numbers are always a lot of fun." (Morris and Ayala were married in November - on the 7th, as it turns out.)

Speaking of numbers, the couple has produced about 60 drawings from these sessions over the years. Morris documents each session by photographing it with a large-format camera; photos of the collaboration are then paired and framed with Ayala's drawings.

"They're very simplified, stylistically, from what [Ayala] would be doing otherwise," Morris says. "During a session, she spends two or three minutes looking at me, so it's more like four minutes of actual drawing time. I have to take the pen away from her sometimes; she'd like to keep going."

Another 200 or so drawings have been done by visitors taking advantage of the public interactive "Telepathy Station" when the exhibit travels (it has been presented at art spots in Connecticut and Georgia, as well as Japan); a sample of visitor-generated creations will be included in the MICA show.

The collection of pieces by Ayala and Morris includes such juxtapositions as "two cows" (Morris' thought) and the drawing of a cat on a pedestal; "apples and oranges" became a hat; "diesel power" became a skeletal pirate. "Seven minutes is a really long time to sit there and think 'diesel power,'" Morris says.

But, when he envisioned "16 candles," Ayala drew a Luke Skywalker-type figure with a laser sword in full flame. "Broken heart" yielded a Rubik's Cube that Ayala marked with "impossible." " Jon Voight" turned into a fat burrito. And a seven-minute thought about "Mickey Mouse" led to, well, an unmistakable Mickey Mouse.

"It leads to some spooky things happening," Morris says. "We think of a session as successful if we look at it and somehow it makes sense."

But, wait a minute. What's to stop two people - married, at that - from plotting the whole thing in advance, pulling legs as they go merrily along?

"Ultimately, that would be much less interesting," Morris says. "There's a certain level of trust that people are willing to give us. We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes."

Besides, part of "The Telepathy Drawings" isn't so much about ESP as it about the essence of collaboration.

"What we're really interested in is the audience," Ayala says. "In an age of e-mail and texting, people want to connect."

Adds her husband: "There's a certain investment that goes beyond the usual gallery show. Instead of a passive experience, two strangers can sit down in silence for seven minutes, and that is kind of exciting. It's interesting to see how disappointed people are when it doesn't work, or how they react when they have a moment of spooky."

Participating "senders" can choose a topic from an eclectic list provided ( Kevin Bacon, Canadian football, perestroika, kitty litter, etc.) at the Telepathy Station or settle on their own; the "receiver" works with provided pencils and paper. The results can be wildly off the mark, or intriguing - one drawing shows two men holding hands and turning toward the viewer; the thought behind it was "ham and cheese."

"There's no proof telepathy exists, but it should exist," says artist Gary Kachadourian. "This could be the thing that proves it. I'm not skeptical, I'm totally hopeful for it."

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