Gustav Metzger may be on to something. Working in collaboration with London Fieldworks, a modest exhibition at WORK Gallery in King’s Cross, Null Object comprises sculpture created around the idea of an artist attempting to think about nothing. At a time of year when all minds are in overdrive, perhaps we can all learn something.
The German-born proponent of auto-destructive art, Metzger’s exhibition is contained in one small room in what could even be seen as a thought bubble. Three sculptural works are exhibited. The main large work, consisting of a block of 145-million year old Portland stone, encapsulates a void created by a robot having carved its insides out. The other two much smaller works are created by the same bespoke software, formulated by London Fieldworks and led by the Metzger’s continued attempts to clear his mind. The rest of the space is shared by a video projection and two drawings appearing to be diagrams documenting the process of the robot and its ostensibly benevolent carvings.
For an artist who has previously questioned the status of machines in the 20th century, seeing the mechanical arm of Nazi attacks on his country, indeed, his own family, the Null Object seems to portray a more detached attitude to the relationship between man and machine. The video projection occupying a large wall is strangely neutral toward its role within the process of creating a void, either physically or metaphysically. The role of London Fieldworks here is to tame some of Metzger’s more visceral ruminations on the horrors of the relationship between man and machine, like Acid Action Painting (1961)or Falling Trees (2009). The drawings included, extended on the idea that this Null Object is part of an ongoing process, rather than a solid resolution or reflection on the very bold forms that are displayed within it. They seem to be illustrations or documents of the process, however there is something about their very graphic quality that suggests a more speculative response to the physical outcomes of the exercise.
The exhibition has a latent quality, leading one to the conclusion it is wrong, in this instance, to expect the punch that Metzger’s work often offers. His is a very subjective view on cybernetic augmentation, because, by his own admission, the work was only in the smallest sense ‘his’. The donation of his brainwaves avoids being arbitrary, with the accompanying publication by Black Dog Publishing providing more context for the works and the process in general, with essays from Bronac Ferran, Hari Kunzru, Nick Lambert and Christopher Tyler. There is a refreshingly casual feel about both the space and the work of Null Object, which could become monolithic –always a concern when dealing with voids. Instead, there is the feel of an idea in process and a productive attitude to expanding on it. Metzger sat down and tried to relax whilst making his cerebral donation, in order to get the most out of this exhibition its best to follow his lead.