Or at least that was Aristotle’s view, more normally phrased as “nature abhors a vacuum”. This post was commissioned by readers of GofaDM, or at least one of them suggested the topic to me – so, in this case, the buck doesn’t even slow down here!
The Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Invisible: Art about the unseen 1957-2012. This exhibition has generated plenty of controversy with such delights as plinths without sculpture and empty picture frames on offer to the attendee. I believe this helps the viewer to use their imagination as they engage with the art. Disappointingly, I have seen no mention of a textile exhibit – even in a purely republican context.
I had thought of presenting an entirely empty blog post as my response, but decided that this was rather a cheap joke (not that this fact would usually stop me) and could be confusing as it would not be clear to what the absence of words referred (or didn’t refer).
The art cognoscenti who have been to the exhibition have given very positive reviews, or so it seems from a cursory skimming of the internet. My own review will be written having not seen the exhibition, and so for me the art is truly unseen (though will only cover the period 1966 to 2012 as I feel ill-qualified to review items I haven’t seen by dint of my non-existence) which seems to be in the spirit of the endeavour.
It strikes me that the very presence of frames and plinths will tend to confine the invisible art and constrain the imagination of the viewer – and it places an imposed curatorial structure on any encounter. I’m also concerned about the cultural baggage that the extensive use of the colour white brings – when the art is invisible, the risk is that the walls, floor and ceiling will dominate the experience and I am not convinced that white is sufficiently self-effacing or neutral a colour. It surely cannot be right that the pure white emulsion generates a greater emotional (emulsional?) response than the unseen art itself? I find myself wondering: what is the colour of the void? I presume if there is nothing there, then there can be no photons and so it must be black (or at least perceived as such by our feeble senses) – though this does run into trouble if one considers the quantum foam with the instantaneous creation and annihilation of particles (and anti-particles) that perturb even the best kept vacuum (a phrase which suggests, to me at least, a new source of competition between British villages).
Even the building housing the exhibition is an issue, its form will impose itself unwanted into the viewer’s consciousness. No, the only venue suitable would be the depths of interstellar space – preferably surrounded by an opaque and unreflective dust cloud – where the viewer can experience the art unaffected by the petty irrelevances of quotidian reality. I realise this will be hard to achieve with our current technology – unless some invisible art hitched a ride on the Voyager probes – but it is worth the wait. The delay will also enable the works from the 20th and early 21st century to be viewed as part of a broader cultural perspective of the art of the invisible.
Now I come to write this, I am forced to wonder whether dark matter is not made of WIMPs or MACHOs as so often supposed. Maybe the universe is actually gravitationally bound together by the invisible art of much older civilisations being displayed to its best effect? Perhaps by encasing our modest output in planet-bound concrete we are denying future galaxies the chance of life and are accelerating the much anticipated heat death of the universe. Not something I’d want on my conscience…