For millennia, humans have struggled with the linguistic conundrum of describing what is inherently indescribable, in naming the unnameable.  As soon as words are used, meaning is lost.  The same conundrum exists in science and art.  This exhibition is a method of enquiry into this philosophical, scientific, religious, and artistic topic.

 

Inspired by artists and writers such as Yves Klein, John Cage, Agnes Martin, Gertrude Stein, and T.S Eliot, we draw on thinkers from Maimonides to Lao Tzu, Werner Heisenberg, Jean-Paul Sartre, and more. 


Below you will find a partial selection of influences and references to previous thinking on this subject in Art, Philosophy, Science, and Religion.

 

You can comment on the exhibition and the source refereces or add your own.  There is a comment section at the bottom of this page.

 

WILLIAM OF OCCAM

What can be explained by fewer principles is explained needlessly by more. 

 

MOSES MAIMONIDES

God's existence is absolute and it includes no composition and we comprehend only the fact that He exists, not His essence. Consequently it is a false assumption to hold that He has any positive attribute... still less has He accidents, which could be described by an attribute. Hence it is clear that He has no positive attribute however , the negative attributes are necessary to direct the mind to the truths which we must believe... When we say of this being, that it exists, we mean that its non-existence is impossible; it is living — it is not dead; ...it is the first — its existence is not due to any cause; it has power, wisdom, and will — it is not feeble or ignorant; He is One — there are not more Gods than one… Every attribute predicated of God denotes either the quality of an action, or, when the attribute is intended to convey some idea of the Divine Being itself — and not of His actions — the negation of the opposite. -The Guide for the Perplexed

 

INEFFABILITY

Ineffability is concerned with ideas that cannot or should not be expressed in spoken words (or language in general), often being in the form of a taboo or incomprehensible term. This property is commonly associated with philosophy, aspects of existence, and similar concepts that are inherently "too great", complex, or abstract to be adequately communicated. In addition, illogical statements, principles, reasons, and arguments may be considered intrinsically ineffable along with impossibilities, contradictions, and paradoxes. Terminology describing the nature of experience cannot be properly conveyed in dualistic symbolic language; it is believed that this knowledge is only held by the individual from which it originates.... Thus, one method of describing something that is ineffable is by using apophasis, i.e. describing what it is not, rather than what it is. (Wikipedia)

 

LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

 

Roughly speaking: objects are colourless.

 

For if a thing is not distinguished by anything, I cannot distinguish it—for otherwise it would be distinguished.

 

To present in language anything which “contradicts logic” is as impossible as in geometry to present by its co-ordinates a figure which contradicts the laws of space; or to give the co-ordinates of a point which does not exist.

 

-Ludwig Wittgenstein from Tractatus Logicus-Philosphicus

 

LAO TZU- THE TAO DE CHING

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

 

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub; 

It is the center hole that makes it useful. 
Shape clay into a vessel; 
It is the space within that makes it useful. 
Cut doors and windows for a room; 
It is the holes which make it useful. 
Therefore benefit comes from what is there; 
Usefulness from what is not there.

 

I AM THAT I AM

"Moses said to God, 'Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM" — Exodus 3:13-14 (New International Version)

 

Ehyeh asher ehyeh (Hebrew: אהיה אשר אהיה) is the first of three responses given to Moses when he asks for God's name (Exodus 3:14). The King James version of the Bible translates the Hebrew as "I Am that I Am" and uses it as a proper name for God.

 

MAURICE BLANCHOT

If nothing were substituted for everything, it would still be too much and too little. -from The Writing of The Disaster

 

A word may give me its meaning, but first it suppresses it. For me to be able to say, 'This woman' I must somehow take her flesh and blood reality away from her, cause her to be absent, annihilate her. The word gives me the being, but it gives it to me deprived of being. The word is the absence of that being, its nothingness, what is left of it when it has lost being - the very fact that it does not exist. -from Literature and the Right to Death

 

To name the cat is, if you like, to make it into a non-cat, a cat that has ceased to exist, has ceased to be a living cat, but this does not mean one is making it into a dog, or even a non-dog. -from Literature and the Right to Death

 

DOUGLAS ADAMS

“Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

-Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

 

TETRAGRAMMATON

The tetragrammaton (from Greek τετραγράμματον, meaning "(consisting of) four letters") is the Hebrew theonym יהוה, commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. It is one of the names of the national God of the Israelites used in the Hebrew Bible.

 

T.S. ELIOT

But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

-T.S. Eliot, from The Naming Of Cats

 

 

THE HEART SUTRA

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva 

when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita 

perceives that all five skandhas are empty 

and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Shariputra, 

form does not differ from emptiness, 

emptiness does not differ from form. 

That which is form is emptiness, 

that which is emptiness form. 

The same is true of feelings, 

perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Shariputra, 

all dharmas are marked with emptiness; 

they do not appear or disappear, 

are not tainted or pure, 

do not increase or decrease. 

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings, 

perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; 

no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, 

no object of mind; 

no realm of eyes 

and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it, 

and so forth until no old age and death 

and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination, 

no stopping, no path, no cognition, 

also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita 

and the mind is no hindrance; 

without any hindrance no fears exist. 

Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds 

all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita 

and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita 

is the great transcendent mantra, 

is the great bright mantra, 

is the utmost mantra, 

is the supreme mantra 

which is able to relieve all suffering 

and is true, not false. 

So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra, 

proclaim the mantra which says:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.

(translation by Seung Sahn)

 

THE GATELESS GATE

From The Gateless Gate

Joshu's Dog

A monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Zhaozhou replied, "Wú."

Translators often render Zhaozhou's answer as mu from Japanese retellings. Normally, wu and mu mean no, not, without, "nothing", or nonexistence. It is the single most common character in the entire Chinese Buddhist canon. It serves to translate a number of terms which are standard in Indian Buddhism. Centuries earlier, the same Chinese character appeared at the end of verse 40 of Lao Zi's Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) in a line sometimes translated as "existence emerges from nonexistence". Mahayana Buddhist doctrine codified in the Nirvana Sutra held that all sentient beings, including animals, possess the capacity for enlightenment. However, the commentary of teachers in the Linji (Rinzai in Japanese) tradition tends to emphasize that this kōan dialog consists of a challenge the monk posed to Zhaozhou to demonstrate Buddha-nature without becoming entangled in doctrine; and that this interpretation only has meaning to a meditator who contemplates the kōan.

A related kōan in the Book of Serenity reinforces the teaching that Zhaozhou's response does not refer to affirmation or negation:

One time a monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Zhaozhou answered, "No."

Another time, a monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Zhaozhou answered, "Yes."

 

MONISM

Monism is the philosophical view that a variety of existing things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance.  The wide definition states that all existing things go back to a source which is distinct from them (e.g. in Neoplatonism everything is derived from The One).  A commonly-used, restricted definition of monism asserts the presence of a unifying substance or essence.  One must distinguish "stuff monism" from "thing monism". According to stuff monism there is only one kind of stuff (e.g. matter or mind), although there may be many things made out of this stuff. According to thing-monism there exists strictly speaking only a single thing (e.g. the universe), which can only be artificially and arbitrarily divided into many things. (via Wikipedia)

 

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE

The object does not possess being, and its existence is not a participation in being, nor any other kind of relation. It is. That is the only way to define its manner of being; the object does not hide being, but neither does it reveal being.

 

Thus the appearance, which is finite, indicates itself in its finitude, but at the same time in order to be grasped as an appearance-of-that-which-appears, it requires that it be surpassed toward infinity.

 

Consciousness is prior to nothingness and "is derived" from being.

 

If the act of creation is to be continued indefinitely, if the created being is to be supported even in its inmost parts, if it does not have its own independence, if it is in itself only nothingness-then the creature is in no way distinguished from its creator; it is absorbed in him; we are dealing with a false transcendence, and the creator cannot have even an illusion of getting out of his subjectivity.

 

-from Being and Nothingness

 

AGNES MARTIN

Perfection, of course, cannot be represented. The slightest indication of it is eagerly grasped by observers. The work is so far from perfection because we ourselves are so far from perfection. The oftener we glimpse perfection or the more conscious we are in our awareness of it the farther away it seems to be. Or perhaps I should say the more we are aware of perfection the more we realize how very far away from us it is... - from notes for On the Perfection Underlying Life.

 

It is commonly thought that everything that is can be put into words. But there is a wide range of emotional response that we make that cannot be put Into words.  -from Beauty is The Mystery of Life.

 

TOLSTOY

We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.  -from War and Peace
 

PLATO

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.  -The Republic
 

OSCAR WILDE

I love to talk about nothing. It's the only thing I know anything about.

 

HEMINGWAY

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.” -from A Clean Well Lighted Place
 

STEFAN ZWEIG

Nothing on earth puts more pressure on the human mind than nothing.

from The Chess Story
 

JACK WHITE

When I say nothing, I say everything -from Lazaretto
 

A.A. MILNE

"But what I like doing best is Nothing." "How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time. "Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, What are you going to do Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and you go and do it." "Oh, I see," said Pooh. "This is a nothing sort of thing that we're doing right now." "Oh, I see," said Pooh again. "It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear and not bothering." "Oh!" said Pooh.”    -from The House at Pooh Corner

 

ALAN WATTS

How can I face the fact of nothing. Which is by definition not a fact.

 

Nothingness is really like the nothingness of space, which contains the whole Universe. All the Sun and the stars and the mountains and rivers and the good men and the bad men and the animals and the insects, the whole bit: all are contained in the void. So out of this void comes everything, and you’re it.

from The State of Nothing

 

VOIDS: A RETROSPECTIVE

Voids, A Retrospective’, exhibits nine freshly whitewashed, empty galleries at the end of the long corridor traversing the contemporary collections of the Musée national d’art moderne on the fourth floor of the Pompidou Centre. Each of these spaces refers to one of nine historic ‘empty’ art exhibitions. -Vivian Rehberg in Frieze, May, 2009.  See the full article here.

 

More on the 2009, Vides, Une Retrospective exhibition exhibition here: Empty Exhibitions:  BY ANDREW AYERS, MARCH 13, 2009, Blouin Artinfo

 

LUCY LIPPARD

During the 1960's, the anti-intellectual, emotional/intuitive processes of art-making characteristic of the last two decades have begun to give way to an ultra-conceptual art that emphasizes the thinking process almost exclusively. As more and more work is designed in the studio but executed elsewhere by professional craftsmen, as the object becomes merely the end product, a number of artists are losing interest in the physical evolution of the work of art. The studio is again becoming a study. Such a trend appears to be provoking a profound dematerialization of art, especially of art as object, and if it continues to prevail, it may result in the object's becoming wholly obsolete.   -Lucy Lippard and John Chandler- The Dematerialisation of Art.  Full text here

 

Lucy Lippard's - Six Years:  The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972.  Full text here

IMG_2899.jpg
not this, not that
not this, not that
not this, not that

 

not this, not that, installation views, Axle Contemporary, 2015

How much is nothing worth to you? Support Axle's investigations into Art and Nothingness at: www.axleprojects.org.

Yves Klein.  Le Vide (The Void).  April 28, 1958. After leaving the exhibition, Albert Camus responded, "With the void, comes total empowerment."  See Klein's film of the exhibition here.

Yves Klein. Leap into the Void. 1960

Marcel Duchamp: Air de Paris, 1919

John Cage, 4'33", 1952-  (performance on YouTube here)

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1913  "To reproduce beloved objects and little corners of nature is just like a thief being enraptured by his legs in irons. " - from From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting, (1915)

Gabriel Orozco, Empty Shoe Box, 1993

Robert Barry, Closed Gallery Piece, 1969

 

DOUG HUEBLER

The world is full of objects, more or less interesting: I do not wish to add any more.

 

MA

Ma (間) is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as "gap", "space", "pause" or "the space between two structural parts." The spatial concept is experienced progressively through intervals of spatial designation. In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision. Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.- (from Wikipedia)

 

NEIL YOUNG

Love is a rose but you better not pick it

Only grows when it's on the vine

Handful of thorns and you'll know you've missed it

Lose your love when you say the word mine

-from Love is a Rose  (listen here)

 

THE WHO

Got a feeling inside, can't explain
It's a certain kind, can't explain
I feel hot and cold, can't explain
Yeah, down in my soul, yeah, can't explain.

-from Can't Explain, lyrics by Pete Townshend see video

 

AD REINHARDT

No texture, no brushwork, no drawing, no forms, no design, no color, no light, no space, no time, no size or scale, no movement and finally no object.

-from Twelve Rules for a New Academy

 

The one thing to say about art is that it is one thing. Art is art as-art and everything else is everything else. Art as art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art.

 

VIA NEGATIVA / APOPHATIC THEOLOGY

(from Ancient Greek: ἀπόφασις via ἀπόφημι apophēmi, meaning "to deny"), also known as negative theology, via negativa or via negationis (Latin for "negative way" or "by way of denial"), is a theology that attempts to describe God, the Divine Good, by negation, to speak only in terms of what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God. It stands in contrast to cataphatic theology. An example can be found in the 9th-century theologian John Scotus Erigena's assertion: "We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being."  In brief, negative theology is an attempt to clarify religious experience and language about the Divine Good through discernment, gaining knowledge of what God is not (apophasis), rather than by describing what God is. The apophatic tradition is often, though not always, allied with the approach of mysticism, which focuses on a spontaneous or cultivated individual experience of the divine reality beyond the realm of ordinary perception, an experience often unmediated by the structures of traditional organized religion or the conditioned role-playing and learned defensive behavior of the outer man. -(Wikipedia)

 

NETI-NETI

Sanskrit, neither this nor that (used in Hinduism to describe the undifferentiated and ineffable nature of Brahman). -Dictionary.com

 

AGGI-VACCHAGOTTA SUTTA

-Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

"How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if he holds the view 'the cosmos is eternal...'... 'after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless,' he says '...no...' in each case. Seeing what drawback, then, is Master Gotama thus entirely dissociated from each of these ten positions?"

"Vaccha, the position that 'the cosmos is eternal' is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.

"The position that 'the cosmos is not eternal'...

"...'the cosmos is finite'...

"...'the cosmos is infinite'...

"...'the soul & the body are the same'...

"...'the soul is one thing and the body another'...

"...'after death a Tathagata exists'...

"...'after death a Tathagata does not exist'...

"...'after death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist'...

"...'after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist'... does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding."

"Does Master Gotama have any position at all?"

"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.' Because of this, I say, a Tathagata — with the ending, fading away, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsessions with conceit — is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released."

-Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, © 1997 (more here

 

GERTRUDE STEIN

"There is no there there...It is a funny thing about addresses where you live. When you live there you know it so well that it is like an identity a thing that is so much a thing that it could not ever be any other thing and then you live somewhere else and years later, the address that was so much an address that it was like your name and you said it as if it was not an address but something that was living and then years after you do not know what the address was and when you say it it is not a name anymore but something you cannot remember. That is what makes your identity not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember."  -from Everybody's Autobiography

 

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.  -from Sacred Emily

 

JOHN CAGE

4'33", first performed by the pianist David Tudor in Woodstock, New York, on August 29, 1952. During the premiere, Tudor sat quietly at his piano, opening and closing the keyboard lid to mark the progression of the three movements. The audience waited in anticipation of the performance: their expectations of a conventional concert were shattered, but music was made. Cage recounted, “You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.” Cage saw silence as a way to plug the audience into the sound track of everyday life, to open them up to the infinite possibilities of ambient sound. (via MoMA)

 

                                                             I have nothing to say

                     and I am saying it                                            and that is

poetry                                           as I need it    

                               This space of time                                  is organized

                                     we need not fear           these silences

-from Lecture on Nothing

 

 

KAZIMIR MALEVICH

Black Square, 1913

It's the first time somenoe made a painting that wasn't of something, or at least it’s often held to be so, and the Kiev-born artist Kazimir Malevich certainly thought it was (though the dispute rages on). He wrote in a handout to accompany its first showing in the exhibition The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0. 10: "Up until now there were no attempts at painting as such, without any attribute of real life…Painting was the aesthetic side of a thing, but never was original and an end in itself." He made his intention clear; he wanted to completely abandon depicting reality and instead invent a new world of shapes and forms that belonged exclusively in the realm of art for art’s sake. In his 1927 book The Non-Objective World, he wrote: ‘In the year 1913, trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of the square.’ (from Fiontan Moran at the Tate)

 

GABRIEL OROZCO

Empty Shoe Box is basically what it says it is: an empty shoebox, lid placed underneath, left in the exhibition space to be overlooked, kicked, puzzled about or maybe just removed by unsuspecting visitors. Gabriel has often said that he likes to disappoint people with his work. I think what he means is that he does not like to play into expectations or to exploit the popularity of one work or exhibition by continuing in the same vein. He used this expression to describe one of his most surprising and confounding works which he first showed at the Venice Biennial in 1993. At Venice, where artists are always expected to put on their ‘best face,’ it was a brave act to make such a statement. Gabriel uses shoeboxes at home to house unfinished ideas and projects. Small sculptures and materials he is trying out are kept in these boxes until he feels like working on them some more. For this reason he has also referred to them as like a container for ideas. So the empty shoebox rather than being nothing could in fact be many things.- Jessica Morgan, Tate Modern

 

DONALD RUMSFELD

US Congressman and Secretary of Defense

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.  -watch the video here.

 

LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS

Theoretical physicist, author of A Universe from Nothing

I cannot stress often enough that what science is all about is not proving things to be true but proving them to be false. Nothing can create something all the time due to the laws of quantum mechanics.

 

WERNER HEISENBERG

Nobel Prize winning Physicist

What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

 

Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.

 

The reality we can put into words is never reality itself.

 

Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word understanding.

 

[T]he atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.

 

Revere those things beyond science which really matter and about which it is so difficult to speak.

 

In classical physics, science started from the belief – or should one say, from the illusion? – that we could describe the world, or least parts of the world, without any reference to ourselves.

 

 

ERWIN SCHRÖDINGER

A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.- from The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics, 1935

 

EDIE BRICKELL

I'm not aware of too many things

I know what I know, if you know what I mean...

What I am is what I am...

see video

 

MICHEL FOUCAULT

[Neither words nor the visible] can be reduced to the other's terms: it is in vain that we say what we see; what we see never resides in what we say. And it is in vain that we attempt to show, by the use of images, metaphors, or similes, what we are saying. -from Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe, 1968

 

ALFRED KORZYBSKI

"The map is not the territory."

 

One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit. "Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies." The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet. "You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter.- (Translated from: R. Diekstra, Haarlemmer Dagblad, 1993, as cited by L. Derks & J. Hollander, Essenties van NLP (Utrecht: Servire, 1996), p. 58).

 

 

ALBERT EINSTEIN

It is very difficult to elucidate this [cosmic religious] feeling to anyone who is entirely without it. . . The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it … In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.

 

The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties – this knowledge, this feeling … that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men

 

 

CHUANG TZU

That which man apprehends by observation is only outward form and colour, name and noise: and he thinks that this will put him in possession of Tao. Form and color, name and sound, do not reach to reality. That is why: "He who knows does not say, he who says, does not know."

How then is the world going to know Tao through words?”...

 

Here is how I sum it up:
Heaven does nothing: its non-doing is its serenity.
Earth does nothing: its non-doing is its rest.
From the union of these two non-doings
All actions proceed,
All things are made.
How vast, how invisible
This coming-to-be!
All things come from nowhere!
How vast, how invisible -
No way to explain it!
All beings in their perfection
Are born of non-doing.
Hence it is said:
"Heaven and earth do nothing
Yet there is nothing they do not do."

Where is the man who can attain
To this non-doing?”

The Way of Chuang Tzu (translated by Thomas Merton)

 

GREGORY BATESON

I never could accept the first step of the Genesis story: " In the beginning the earth was without form and void." That primary tabula rasa would have set a formidable problem in thermodynamics for the next billion years. Perhaps the earth never was any more a tabula rasa than is, a human zygote – a fertilized egg.- from Mind and Nature, A Necesary Unity

 

HELENE CIXOUS

Writing is the delicate, difficult, and dangerous means of succeeding in avowing the unavowable.

 

TALKING HEADS

Well, I know what it is
But I don't know where it is
Where it is
Well, I know where it is
But I don't know what it looks like
What it looks like
Well, I know what it looks like,
But I don't know where she comes from
Well, I know where she comes from,
But I don't know what's her name.

-from Perfect World, by Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, and David Byrne, 1985

 

PARMENIDES

Parmenides stated that there are two ways of inquiry: that it is, on the one side, and that it is not, on the other side. He said that the latter argument is never feasible because there is no thing that can not be:

"For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are."

-from On Nature, The Way of Truth, 5th-6th century B.C.E.

 

MARTIN HEIDIGGER

Why are there beings at all, at why not rather nothing?  -What Is Metaphysics?

 

THE EMPTY SET

While the empty set is a standard and widely accepted mathematical concept, it remains an ontological curiosity, whose meaning and usefulness are debated by philosophers and logicians.

The empty set is not the same thing as nothing; rather, it is a set with nothing inside it and a set is always something. This issue can be overcome by viewing a set as a bag—an empty bag undoubtedly still exists. Darling (2004) explains that the empty set is not nothing, but rather "the set of all triangles with four sides, the set of all numbers that are bigger than nine but smaller than eight, and the set of all opening moves in chess that involve a king."- Wikipedia

 

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. -Journal, 5 Aug, 1851

 

The more you look the less you will observe. -Journal, 13 Sept1852

 

FERNANDO PESSOA

To see the fields and the river

It isn’t enough to open the window.

To see the trees and the flowers

It isn’t enough not to be blind.

It is also necessary to have no philosophy.

With philosophy there are no trees, just ideas.

There is only each one of us, like a cave.

There is only a shut window, and the whole world outside,

And a dream of what could be seen if the window were opened,

Which is never what is seen when the window is opened.

 

GILLES DELEUZE

Bring something incomprehensible into the world!

 

Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with landsurveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.

 

Philosophy, art, and science are not the mental objects of an objectified brain but the three aspects under which the brain becomes subject.

 

SLAVOJ ZIZEK

There is not just the interplay of appearances, there is a Real— this Real, however, is not the inaccessible Thing, but the gap which prevents our access to it, the “rock” of the antagonism which distorts our view of the perceived object through a partial perspective. The “truth” is thus not the “real” state of things, accessed by a “direct” view of the object without any perspectival distortion, but the very Real of the antagonism which causes the perspectival distortion itself. Again, the site of truth is not the way “things really are in themselves,” beyond perspectival distortion, but the very gap or passage which separates one perspective from another, the gap … which makes the two perspectives radically incommensurable. The “Real as impossible” is the cause of the impossibility of our ever attaining the “neutral” non-perspectival view of the object. There is a truth, and not everything is relative— but this truth is the truth of the perspectival distortion as such, not a truth distorted by the partial view from a one-sided perspective.  -Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, 2012

 

The gap that separates the knowing subject from the known object is inherent to the object itself, my knowing a thing is part of a process internal to the thing, which is why the standard epistemological problem should be turned around: not “How is my knowledge of the thing possible?” but “How is it that knowledge appears within the thing as a mode of the thing’s relating to itself?” -Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, 2012

 

CARL SAGAN

Absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.

 

SØREN KIERKEGAARD

Experience has shown that it is by no means difficult for philosophy to begin.  Far from it.  It begins with nothing, and consequently can always begin.  But the difficulty, both for philosophy and philosophers, is to stop. -from Either/Or, Vol.1, 1843

 

 

Maurizio Cattelan, , Untitled (Denuncia), 1991 (Police report of stolen invisible artwork)

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1929

Vasilisk Gnedov: Poem of the End [Поэма конца]. In: Smert' iskusstvu [The Death of Art], Petersburg, 1913.  more here

Première communion de jeunes filles chlorotiques par un temps de neige (First Communion of Anemic Young Girls In The Snow) Alphonse Allais, 1883

Marche funèbre composée pour les funérailles d'un grand homme sourd (Funeral March Composed for a great Deaf Man) Alphonse Allais, 1883

Listen on YouTube here.

Erwin Schulhoff, In futurum, 1919, is a silent piece composed entirely of rests.  Listen on YouTube here.

Joseph Kosuth -from Ten Definitions of Nothing, 1969

In 2009, the Pomidou Center in Paris, exhibited a retrospective of empty gallery spaces, VIDES.  It documents 51 years of empty exhibitions by 9 different artists (or artist groups):  Yves Klein, Art & Language, Robert Barry, Stanley Brouwn, Maria Eichhorn, Bethan Huws, Robert Irwin, Roman Ondak, and Laurie Parsons.  See more here.

Comments (now closed)

 

  • "First this, then that, and that this never stops", Howard S. Becker

    Janice Wall

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  • bodhi dharma: vast emptiness and nothing holy about it.

    elyzabeth

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  • "Buddhas say emptiness
    Is relinquishing opinions.
    Believers in emptiness
    Are incurable."
    ~ Nagarjuna

    Lloyd Brown

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  • "Origination is always the destination."
    Philosopher (name?) in response to the question, 'Do you then believe in God?' I like it.
    Great poem, Karen (below)

    ja  https://flic.kr/ps/2vxbN3

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  • from Walter Thommes

  • Sich mit den Federn anderer schmücken is this. Eine Schau aus nichts zu machen is that.

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  • from Karen Chase:

  • Iceland
    You stand there north
    and cold in the sea
    hissing fire.
    On a bare table
    you set out a feast of promises
    hardly clothed at all.
    I never looked so hard at nothing.

    I walk back
    through your black sands
    gathering shadows
    humming for comfort.
    Struck by a lone flower
    I live in it all I can.

     

  • from Che Kuzov-Tsong: Where's the art?

     

  • from Julia Fjeldsted: I'd like to put a mattress in there and sleep.

     

  • from Alicia DaSilva and Charles Rencountre: Thanks- a restful show.

     

  • from Greg Manoff: Great Concept.

     

  • from R. J. Ward: "I got plenty of nothin', and nothin's plenty for me. "Jerry's right though. Page 207 is a killer.

     

  • from Jaff Noël Seijas: Neti Neti forever..................

     

  • You guys forgot THE FUGS!


  • “NOTHING” (from THE FUGS FIRST ALBUM, 1965, lyrics by Tuli Kupferberg)
    Monday, nothing
    Tuesday, nothing
    Wednesday and Thursday nothing
    Monday, nothing
    Tuesday, nothing
    Wednesday and Thursday nothing
    Friday, for a change
    a little more nothing
    Saturday once more nothing

    Sunday nothing
    Monday nothing
    Tuesday and Wednesday nothing
    Thursday, for a change
    a little more nothing
    Friday once more nothing

    Montik gornisht,
    Dinstik Gornisht
    Midwoch an Donnerstik gornisht
    Fritik, far a noveneh gornisht pikveleh
    Shabas nach a mool gornisht

    Lunes nada
    Martes nada
    Miercoles y Jueves nada
    Viernes, por cambia
    un poco mas nada
    Sabado otra vez nada

    January nothing
    February nothing
    March and April nothing
    May and June
    a lot more nothing
    July nothing

    '29 nothing
    '32 nothing
    '39, '45 nothing
    1965 a whole lot of nothing
    1966 nothing

    reading nothing
    writing nothing
    even arithmetic nothing
    geography, philosophy, history, nothing
    social anthropology a lot of nothing

    oh, Village Voice nothing
    New Yorker nothing
    Sing Out and Folkways nothing
    Harry Smith and Allen Ginsberg
    nothing, nothing, nothing

    poetry nothing
    music nothing
    painting and dancing nothing
    The world's great books
    a great set of nothing
    Audy and Foudy nothing

    fucking nothing
    sucking nothing
    flesh and sex nothing
    Church and Times Square
    all a lot of nothing
    nothing, nothing, nothing

    Stevenson nothing
    Humphrey nothing
    Averell Harriman nothing
    John Stuart Mill nil, nil
    Franklin Delano nothing

    Karlos Marx nothing
    Engels nothing
    Bakunin and Kropotkin nothing
    Leon Trotsky lots of nothing
    Stalin less than nothing

    nothing nothing nothing nothing
    lots and lots of nothing
    nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing
    lots of it
    nothing!
    Not a God damn thing

  • Michael Sumner

  •  

  • From Kathleen McCloud: "Listen winter, it's spring where is the shovel?"

     

  • We are just a terminal parasite. Gone.

    Brad Bealmear

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  • THE SNOW MAN
    Wallace Stevens

    One must have a mind of winter
    To regard the frost and the boughs
    Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

    And have been cold a long time
    To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
    The spruces rough in the distant glitter

    Of the January sun; and not to think
    Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
    In the sound of a few leaves,

    Which is the sound of the land
    Full of the same wind
    That is blowing in the same bare place

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

  • sent by Chuck Calabreze

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  • Loving the concept behind the show. Making one of apparent opposites is a delight, and beginning to see that full and empty, open and closed, something and nothing, are part of the same whole, is major progress in being a whole human being. I love Lao TZU, and I love the tao...embodying it through practice (tai chi and qigong) gives me equilibrium.

    rhea goodman

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  • Your pretentious installation positioned above significant visual name dropping looks like "something" to me.

    Ben Dallas

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  • Well Einstein talks about the "mystic emotion" as the "finest emotion" as the germ of all art and science. Is this what we feel when we are instinctively creating (that we are "imposed upon as beings to inquire but are surprised by our outcomes?) and what others feel in our work? It is really beyond the object but in another realm that something happens or does not? I am often "lost" and sometimes in confusion or awe as I work. But I do it anyway.

    Diane Rolnick

    • From Alexandra Eldridge: "He says it all."

       

    •  

  • Wow, that's everything about nothing.

    Dianne