by Leon Lester
4.5m x 4.5m x 1.5m
Metal and Rope
This sculpture attempts to explore the nature of nothing and nothingness. It asks the question of the viewer – what is nothing? How is nothing experienced? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What would it be like to experience a state of nothingness? Is an artwork that is simply ‘nothing’ even an artwork at all?
The intention of this artwork is to go beyond Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain that brought forward the idea of designating a lowly object such as a urinal as a work of art to broach the possibility that art can be something that has no physical form at all, just an experience of nothing that may be different for each viewer where the central part of the artwork is simply the effect it has on the viewer themselves. It doing this, it asks the question, what is an artwork? Is it the actual physical object or just the experience that is induced inside the viewer? In 1958, Duchamp somewhat recognised this when he spoke of creativity, “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” However, what follows from this is the question does an artwork even exist where there is no one there to view it? This question is analogous to the question asked in the famous Zen Koan “If a tree falls in the woods, and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?
The impact of the observing something has also be explored by science specifically in the area of quantum mechanics. The ‘Observer Effect’ was demonstrated in the quantum double slit experiment most notably in 1974. The study found that factors associated with consciousness significantly correlated in predicted ways with perturbations in the double slit interference pattern. Simply put, observation not only disturbs what has to be measured, it produces it. In other words, the simple act of observation affects what is being observed. Therefore if nothing is being observed, the mere act of observation is adding energy to the nothingness already there.
Another way to interpret this artwork is to contemplate the essence of it, of nothing or nothingness itself. In meditative states, yogis, mystics and enlightened masters have long made accounts of their experience of nothingness. When one becomes dis-identified with the mind, one becomes aware of a nothingness, of a pure consciousness that exists in everything that is beyond the transient nature of everything, of the mind and the body. Individuals that have experienced this state have given it names like the Absolute, Universal Consciousness or simply ‘Enlightenment’. The words point to a formless, condition-less, deathless, stateless state or in more poetic terms the ‘groundless ground’. In this way, the individual encounters an phenomenon where there is nothing outside of themselves to observe, they are no longer looking from ‘a to b’ because they are experiencing themselves within and as ‘a and b’ simultaneously.