2011 Everything and Nothing
Everything and Nothing|
The all-encompassing nature of the cosmos is combined with the idea of ‘being’ in colour in the series ‘Everything and Nothing’. This series of 12 diptychs, seeks to create a consideration of unity, via an experience of colour and geometry. Each diptych is comprised of a painted monochrome (enamel on board) and a mirror painted with text. The text on the mirror which reads ‘everything nothing’, is identical in each diptych except for the colour. The text colour on each mirror component is the same as the colour of the monochrome painting with which it is partnered. The series is hung on the gallery wall in a straight line in the order of the spectrum. I have brought the titles, which have always been important in my previous work, onto the actual work, into the present as monochrome text.
Everything and Nothing is the result of an inquiry into how I could create an experience of unity for viewers. More specifically, I wanted viewers to have an experience of connectedness with their immediate physical environment, including the work of art. This work is a return to the pictorial, however, the pictorial site is extended through mirroring. The use of mirror in this work locates viewers and their environment within the same pictorial plane. What viewers see is an image of themselves and their immediate environment that is interrupted by the words ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’. The colour of these words forms a visual pun eg. ‘everything is orange’ and ‘nothing is orange’. Other puns such as ‘I am everything’ and ‘I am nothing’ and ‘I am everything and everything is orange’ are implied when viewers see their reflection via the words on the mirror. A further pun is implied in this work through an examination of the reflective function of a mirror. As Eileen Doyle points out,
Not only is ‘reflection’ a term associated with visual perception, but it has also been taken up somewhat allegorically by the discipline of philosophy to describe mental contemplation as well. 125
I am aware that puns can reduce art to a clever throw away line, similar to punch line in a joke. It is possible that viewers experience the work as a visual piece of literary cleverness. By setting the puns within the spectrum I encourage viewers to understand the work beyond the wit inherent in mirrors and reflections. I deliberately use visual puns in my work in order to suggest a multiplicity of readings. The presence of reflective surfaces in my work indicates to viewers that they are engaged in looking at themselves and their lives and that the act of self-observation is an intrinsic part of the experience of the work.
Everything and Nothing is related to 42 Books about Art (which I discussed in Chapter 4) in that both works incorporate monochrome painting. Through 42 Books about Art I became aware of the autobiographical nature of monochrome painting and came to understand monochrome paintings as a space that is full of colour and empty of meaning. More specifically, monochrome painting can be seen as a space that can be filled with interpretation gleaned from an experience of colour.
Everything and Nothing differs from 42 Books about Art through the use of mirror and gloss enamel. The reflective surfaces of both these materials allow viewers to image themselves as part of the pictorial plane of the work. In 42 Books about Art, viewers hold the art object and make a physical link with the colour. In Everything and Nothing, viewers see themselves as an intrinsic part of the work and as such, observe themselves at the effect of geometry and colour.
The experience of ‘reflection’ is not only available in the mirror components of the work. The monochrome panels are painted in gloss enamel and although the surfaces are not a pristine show room finish, the panels have a reflective quality. Amidst the brushstrokes and uneven layering of enamel, viewers are able to see a vague, blurry reflection of themselves. The contrast of sharp reflection in the mirror and blurred reflection in the monochrome paintings highlights the cyclical shift from the concrete to the abstract and back that takes place in viewing art. The process of engaging with art can be described as a shift backwards and forwards from a material physical sensation (the concrete) of looking to a feeling or idea (the abstract). The mirror reflection is familiar, sharp and detailed (concrete). The monochrome reflection is also familiar, however, this familiarity is obscured and difficult to define (abstract). The surface of the monochrome negates the details of viewers leaving them relatively undistinguished within the colour.
The coloured text is an interruption to the reflection in the mirror and the act of seeing one’s reflection can only take place via the text. The two words, ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’ relate to the paradox implicit in monochrome painting described in Chapter 4. Barbara Rose articulates this paradox as ‘simultaneously fullness and void’.126 The painted monochromes in Everything and Nothing are both full of colour and empty of content, other than the colour itself and the blurred reflections. These monochromes are presented in tandem with the mirror components to highlight this paradox.
By presenting viewers with a mirror, viewers see themselves within the paradox. Viewers have the opportunity to consider themselves as everything and nothing. The word ‘everything’ can refer to all that physically exists, the entirety of time, matter and energy. The word ‘nothing’ refers to the absence of anything. ‘Everything’ cannot exist without ‘nothing’ and ‘nothing’ cannot exist without ‘everything’. Through the use of paradox as both word and monochrome, Everything and Nothing encourages an examination of human experience and a consideration of personal relatedness to one’s environment.
Mirrors and other reflective surfaces have a long association with vanity and understandings of self in all traditions. Through mirrors, viewers engage in the act of self-imaging. The idea of a viewer’s life being reflected back to them in art is not new and my use of mirror in Everything and Nothing can be linked with the conceptual works of Ian Burn and Joseph Kosuth from the 1960s.127 Both Burn and Kosuth used mirror to highlight the processes of seeing and understanding a work of art. The reflective surface in conceptual art can be understood as a vehicle through which viewers see themselves within the ideas of the artist. Through these surfaces, viewers and artist are visually fused. Ideas are the primary focus of these works which prompted new understandings of the capacity art to convey the complexities associated with perception. Both artists were engaged in the question of ‘what makes art art?’ The pleasure provided by the work is not an aesthetic pleasure, but the pleasure of the viewers’ own thinking. Whilst my work may have connections with this ‘idea’ based history, it has other primary concerns around aesthetics, colour symbolism and the spectrum. I want my works to create an awareness of being in the world and by implication, being in the cosmos.
In Buddhist and Hindu traditions a profound connection to the cosmos is created by meditating on the chakras. A similar connection exists around the ‘laitifs’ in Sufism. In these meditations, colour is seen as a spectrum based sequence of spinning wheels of energy within the body. Colour forms a bridge linking the individual and the cosmos. An experience of the cosmos can only be achieved through an understanding of oneself that is attained by progressing from one colour to the next in a spectrum-based meditation. The reflective surfaces of Everything and Nothing immerse viewers in a visual progression through the spectrum, allowing them to see themselves and their immediate environment within the context of this progression. These works reflect a shift back to the use of colour as a coded sign for the contemplative. Colour is used within the spectrum not only as a sensation but as a symbol for continuity and endlessness.
Consideration of the cosmos and/ or divinity requires a consideration of self. In order to experience connectedness with one’s surroundings and the world we inhabit, one must have some sort of understanding of one’s self. Through their reflective surfaces, both the mirror and the monochrome bring into focus this relationship. In his influential article The Mirror Stage, Jacques Lacan discusses the way in which the mirror removes us from ourselves, allowing us to observe ourselves the way that others would observe us. According to Lacan, the mirror separates us from ourselves and in order to recognise ourselves, we need to be separate from ourselves.
I use the mirror in Everything and Nothing as a device to highlight the self-referential process of looking at art. The reflective surfaces in my work separate viewers from themselves and project their image into the realm of art. Time, circumstances and contexts constantly change, but the work of art remains the same. Little about the mirrors and monochromes in Everything and Nothing will change over the next 20 years. Viewers on the other hand will look physically different and it is likely that they will look upon the work differently. Our view of the work will have been impacted by 20 years of varied life experiences. Mirror is used in this work in order to articulate this human state of flux within the scheme of infinity.
Hanging the work in a horizontal linear format, helps viewers read a specific sequence of colour in which their reflections are seen. As I have discussed earlier there is an infinite range of colours within the spectrum. This infinity of colour is made evident to viewers through the use of multiple components each of which is a different colour. This sequence of mirrors and monochromes from red to violet highlights the spectrum, and is my personal symbol for infinity and endlessness.
I used a rectangular format of 30cm wide and 40cm high for the mirrors and the monochrome panels because I wanted to create a sense of familiarity and domesticity. The scale of mirrors and panels in this work is similar to the scale of mirrors that are commercially available at discount variety stores such as Kmart and Big W. The mirrors sold in these shops are largely purchased for bathroom and bedrooms. This scale offers viewers an opportunity for the text to be seen across the face of the reflection. Viewers literally come face to face with themselves throughout the sequence of the work.
The repetition of form within the series encourages viewers to consider the variation in visual and emotional impact of the colours. The processes of contrasting and comparing allow viewers to examine the nature of each colour and their relationship with it. The process of experimentation with colour can be seen as a metaphor for the inquiry into the nature of the universe. Experimentation is made visible for viewers through the inclusion of 12 components, rather than 6. Given that there are 6 main colours (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple) within the spectrum, the use of 12 components allows viewers to observe a more seamless transition between one colour and the next. In my work experimentation represents questioning, discovery and a coming to terms with one’s environment. It emerges out of a curiosity or a need to define one’s experience with clarity. In my work, I highlight the process of experimentation within the spectrum in order to symbolise and give visual form to infinity and endlessness.
The linear display encourages viewers to physically move along the sequence of components, experiencing themselves ‘in’ each colour. Seeing one’s reflection in all of the mirrors at the one time is impossible. It is a requirement of viewers, to move across the expanse of the work if they would like to see themselves in the reflection. The notion of infinity is heightened through the placement of the work in a corner. This placement allows the mirrors to reflect infinitely within each other. The viewers have the opportunity to see their reflection within the context of infinity. Locating the viewer within the spectrum allows for a connection with its symbolism. Given the spectrum’s association with a number of cultures, viewers have the opportunity to consider themselves within the context of spiritual pursuits and practices. Viewers are given the opportunity to be part of a meditation, an alignment of energies or an aspect of a rainbow.
The linear display provides the opportunity for viewers to shift both physically and symbolically from one colour to the next. The physical shift is apparent as viewers walk along the 7-metre stretch of the work. The symbolic shift occurs as viewers absorb and resonate with the impact of each colour, transitioning from red through to orange, then yellow, green, blue and purple. This process can be likened to a Buddhist or Hindu meditation in which participants journey through a visualised series of coloured energy fields or chakras from red through to purple.130 Thus the paradox of being both ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’ is contextualised within the symbolism and the structure of the spectrum. Whilst the spectrum is displayed as a set of components in this work, I aim to give room to viewers to speculate about the infinite shades that could exist in between each component. The reflective surfaces of both mirror and the monochrome within this structure of the spectrum, encourage viewers to consider themselves within the context of infinity.
Given its scale and display, imaging oneself is intrinsic to the full experience of the work. As viewers progress along the sequence of the work, they oscillate between their sharp and blurred reflections within mirror and painted surfaces. This progression is metaphoric of the consideration of oneself within the cosmos. The act of contemplation is always an interruption to what is known (the sharp mirror reflection). It is always an inquiry into what has been hidden, obscured or unrevealed (the blurred monochrome painted reflection).
‘The mirror itself is the instrument of universal magic that changes things into a spectacle and spectacles myself into another, and another into myself.’ 131
According to Merleau-Ponty, the mirror allows viewers a unique image, understanding and perspective of themselves. Through a mirror, viewers have access to an observation of themselves that can only be provided in the very moment that they look upon their reflection. In my work, the ‘spectacle’ to which Merleau-Ponty refers can be seen as the image one sees of oneself when presented in an art context.
The reflective surface of both mirror and enamel paint implies that anyone and everyone and indeed everything and nothing standing in front of the mirror can be part of the work of art. This type of inclusiveness in which ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’ is part of the work of art creates visual unity amongst all of the elements of the work. These elements include the viewers, the artist, the materials used to make the work and the exhibition venue. Through the inter- relatedness of all of its elements, Everything and Nothing invites viewers to consider their connection with their environment. The reflective surfaces of the work provide for the viewers, an image of themselves immersed within the object they are observing. In these reflections, viewers’ images both sharp and subtle create an opportunity to be part of the work of art. Through my symbolic use of the spectrum, the viewers’ images, are part of infinity.
Everything and Nothing is an investigation into the ways colour and geometry can be combined to foster and nurture contemplative experiences. This work is not about the act of contemplation, but rather it is about the ways in which viewers can interact with art and in doing so develop, expand and deepen an awareness of their being in the world and as such, their being in the universe.