BLOG: Artes Mundi and the Empty Room, Thomas W.
(By Thomas Williams, Artist, Chapter Gallery Assistant, Artes Mundi 6 Live Guide.)
The first thing you see when you walk into Artes Mundi’s presentation at Chapter Art Gallery, “Transitory Suppository 2016 ” by Nástio Mosquito, is, well, nothing. That’s not true of course. It would be more accurate to say that the first thing you see when you walk into Artes Mundi’s presentation at Chapter Art Gallery is an empty room. There are walls, a ceiling, a beautiful parquet floor, lighting and lighting tracks, the entrances to other galleries, but the room is, to all intents and purposes, empty.
That’s not true of course. The room that you have just walked into is not empty. What you see is an empty room (give or take the usual and expected elements that go to make up any room) but, given that you have just walked into it, the room is not empty.
A lot of people don’t seem to consider that, though, when they walk in.
“Has the exhibition closed?”
“Are you still installing?”
“Where is the art?”
a lot of people ask.
“You’re in it.”
I usually answer.
There’s a funny thing that people often don’t do when they walk into an art gallery and that is ask why. Why is it like this? Why did the artist decide to do it like this?
One person came into the Chapter Gallery and assumed that the artist didn’t have enough work to fill the empty room, so he left it empty. It’s perfectly possible, of course, that that is the reason the room is empty. It happens, sometimes, that decisions are made for logistical, practical reasons. It happens, sometimes, that curatorial decisions are not made for the purest artistic reasons. As a member of the audience, though, it’s unlikely that we will know that and, whatever the motivation of the artist and the curator, we are left to make our own sense of what we find when we walk into a gallery, empty or not.
This is, of course, true whenever we walk into any gallery.
But we normally don’t think about it in quite the same way as when the gallery is empty. Why would we? When there is stuff in the gallery, we can busy ourselves with the stuff. There are labels to read, objects to negotiate, relationships to work out. But when there is an empty gallery, there is only us,
And that’s the point.
Or at least that’s the point for me. That’s the point that I’ve found.
That’s the point I found in the empty gallery.
The gallery is an art gallery and it’s empty. Not because the artist didn’t have enough work to put in it. Or because the curator couldn’t be bothered to find work to put in it. The art gallery is empty because the people who made the decisions about how it should be wanted it to be empty.
I’ll quickly explain a bit about the Chapter Gallery. There are 4 galleries, 1,2,3 & 4. The gallery you walk in to is gallery 2. Gallery 1 is off to the left and galleries 3 & 4 are off to the right. So when you walk into the empty gallery number 2, you can see that there are other galleries on either side.
You can see that there is light coming out of them.
But the only thing that could be art, that could be part of the exhibition, that is in the “empty” gallery that you’ve just walked in to, is you.
What does that make you?
Does that make you art? Does that make you a performer?
What does that do to your relationship with the stuff, the things, the objects, the words, that you will find when you walk into the other galleries, the galleries that aren’t empty.
If you go to the National Museum of Wales (and if you don’t, you really should) you can look at some great art. Some of it, until the end of February, is in the Artes Mundi 7 exhibition. Some of it is in the collection. Some of it is by GREAT artists, by Monet, by Rodin, by Turner, by Cezanne, by Thomas Jones. When you stand in front of one of the works of art by a GREAT artist in the National Museum, does it make a difference to the work of art? Does Rouen Cathedral, or Saint John Preaching, or Margate Jetty, or the Francois Zola Dam, or the Buildings in Naples care that it’s you looking at it and not me? Or her? Or him? Is the work of art by the GREAT artist any different because of who is looking at it? I think, probably, not. I think that those works have already acquired a status which is unassailable. Enough people have already said that this work is great.
And you and I and her and him are nowhere near important enough to have any influence on that.
Nástio Mosquito, though, does things slightly differently. Nástio Mosquito leaves a space, a space for us, for you and me and her and him. He leaves room for us to be in the exhibition, to be part of the exhibition, to influence the exhibition. The work in “Transitory Suppository 2016” IS different because I’ve just walked into Gallery 2, because I’ve walked in with you and it’s you and I that are talking, that are trying to find our point, our reason, our meaning for the empty space we find ourselves in.
To find more about Artes Mundi 7 download the guide.