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the nothing of artists

'the invisible is real' - Walter de Maria -

... artists often focus on transforming, changing and creating something out of nothing or nothing out of something. they celebrate that which is in-between, that which is different, fake, alternative, new and avant-garde. in more or less playful ways they negotiate nothingness and the unknown ...

... Suprematist monochromes and nihilistic Dadaist protestations from the beginning of the century was echoed in the 1950s painters exploration of the limiting process of going from polychrome to monochrome to nullichrome. the American abstract artist Ad Reinhardt toured the leading galleries in America, London and Paris in 1963 with a series of five-foot square all-black productions. not surprisingly, some critics condemned him as a charlatan but others admired his art noir: 'an ultimate statement of esthetic purity', according to American art commentator Hilton Kramer. it is a challenge to purists to decide whether Reinhardt's all-black canvases capture the representation of nothing more completely than the all-white canvases of Robert Rauschenberg. or you might prefer the spectacular splash of colors in Jasper Johns' The Number Zero.

the sixties spawned a host of immaterial works of art made from microwaves, electromagnetic fields, ultrasonic sound, inert gases or just pure thought. a major concern for these artists was questioning the idea of what we see before us. they examined the part that material qualities play in supplying evidence of an artwork that may exist purely in the imagination.

Yves Klein’s famous fabricated leap into the unknown, 'Le saut dans le vide' more recently artists have tested and parodied these works and ideas. Keith Tyson’s telepathic invitation to collaborate - resulting in a blank canvas and Pierre Bismuth’s blue wall a slightly different color blue that you can’t see. these artists make playful homage to Robert Barry’s telepathic piece, made in 1969, and Yves Klein’s patented color International Klein Blue. Tacita Dean’s sound work Trying to find the Spiral Jetty is a recent recording of her search for Robert Smithson’s land sculpture in Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA, 1970, now submerged. has often appeared as info-ecological efforts to insert into info-sphere a conceptualized pause. producing a critique of image industry in the times of overproduction, when the amount of produced information is much higher than the capabilities to consume it.

the artists of the Renaissance discovered the visual zero for themselves in the fifteenth century and it became the centerpiece of a new representation of the world that allowed an infinite number of manifestations. the 'vanishing point' is a device to create a realistic picture of a three-dimensional scene on a flat surface. the painter fools the eye of the viewer by imagining lines which connect the objects being represented to the viewer's eye. the canvas is just a screen that intervenes between the real scene and the eye. where the imaginary lines intersect that screen, the artist places his marks. lines running parallel to the screen are represented by parallel lines which recede to the line of the distant horizon, but those seen as perpendicular to the screen are represented by a cone of lines that converge towards a single point — the vanishing point — which creates the perspective of the spectator.

musicians have also followed the piper down the road to nothingtown. John Cage's musical composition 4,33 consists of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of unbroken silence, rendered by a skilled pianist wearing evening dress and seated motionless on the piano stool in front of an operational Steinway. Cage explains that his idea is to create the musical analogue of absolute zero where all thermal motion stops.

writers have embraced the theme with equal enthusiasm. Elbert Hubbard's elegantly bound Essay on Silence contains only blank pages, as does a chapter in the autobiography of the English footballer Len Shackleton which bears the title 'What the average director knows about football'. an empty volume, entitled The Nothing Book, was published in 1974 and appeared in several editions and even withstood a breach of copyright action by the author of another book of blank pages. another style of writing uses Nothing as a fulcrum around which to spin opposites that cancel. Gogol's Dead Souls begins with a description of a gentleman with no characteristics arriving at a town known only as N.: "the gentleman in their carriage was not handsome but neither was he particularly bad-looking; he was neither too fat nor too thin; he could not be said to be too old, but he was not too young either." attributes and counter-attributes are canceled out to zero.

- partly based on text by John D. Barrow


for further readings do a search in our search center or go to the nothing of November 2001: Nothing at ROOSEUM, Malmö's Center for Contemporary Art, 3 November - 16 December, 2001

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foreningen av ingenting -  association of nothing
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foreningen av ingenting -  association of nothing

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