‘The Nothing That Is’ was a significant showcase of artists who are connected to North Carolina in some way, either as residents or through their friendship and affiliation with curator Bill Thelen, the owner and director of Raleigh’s experimental Lump Gallery, now entering its 20th year. The title of the exhibition quoted a Wallace Stevens poem in which a man standing in snow endures an emptying of self so that he may bear witness to ‘the nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is’. Although the works in this ‘drawing show in five parts’ addressed the medium as a method or metaphor, they also conversed subtly with the exhibition’s theme, the paradoxical notion of nothing as a quantity and a concept.
In the first gallery was a salon-style hang devoted to drawing as a manic form of repetition. Co-curated by the artist Jason Polan and subtitled ‘DDDRRRAAAWWWIIINNNGGG’, he and Thelen convened a group of artists who are as comfortable in art galleries as as they are in the world of punk rock, ’zines and comic books. Comics are the point of origin in the bug-eyed goons of Stefan Marx or the dense graphite renderings of Ryan Travis Christian, demented kaleidoscopic homages to the early black and white animations of Ub Iwerks.
A 2013 untitled drawing by the Raleigh-based Mollie Earls had an altogether different take on repetition. Covering a strip of newsprint with a thick hatchwork of mascara, the work at once rehearses drawing as an obsessive form of mark-making while also commenting glibly on so-called feminine hysteria. Works by other North Carolinians featured prominently in this gallery. These included the illustrations of David Eichenberger (ubiquitous in local packaging designs and in Durham and Chapel Hill’s independent newspaper), a portrait miniature of musician Roky Erickson by the Raleigh-based Lincoln Hancock, who regularly makes musical subculture the subject of his work, and a few visceral drawings by Lavar Munroe, a UNC Chapel Hill course instructor who recently represented the Bahamas at the Venice Biennale.
‘The Nothing That Is’ pointed to a thriving US art scene beyond Los Angeles and New York. Pedro Lasch’s Crumbs: Drawing on a Limited View of New York City’s Cultural Wealth (2000) – featured in the exhibition’s downstairs gallery, entitled ‘Conceptual Approaches’ – wryly alluded to the notion of artistic centres and peripheries. Constellations of pastry crumbs and international phone calling cards found on the surfaces of formica tables in New York museum cafes, these 15-year-old photographs document the meagre offerings of an artist on a budget. Other conceptual approaches to drawing include Becca Albee’s Radical Feminist Therapy 1993 (2015), a facsimile of annotations from one of her college textbooks. The layers of exclamation marks and comments bespeak the emotional labours of reading, placing Albee amongst artists and writers such as Frances Stark and Lydia Davis who also explore this experience. Drawing is again a performative engagement in Amy White’s Further Adventures in the Realm of the Static and the Vital (2014), in which the Carrboro-based artist superimposes found texts and signature marks on a series of delicate hand-modelled ceramic tablets, thereby adding life-force to a medium whose unpredictable cracks and fissures already bespeak material autonomy.
Reinvigorating the questions of authorship and erasure posed by Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953) and evoking both the land art of Richard Long and the tale of the sorcerer’s apprentice, Swept (2015), by Raleigh-based Kellie Bornhoft, automates a broom to brush a patch of live sod repeatedly until it dies. The violence of mark-making was even more evident in works by elin o’Hara slavick another professor at UNC, and North Carolinian artist Lauren F. Adams. Luring the viewer in with beautiful cartographies of US-led military airstrikes rendered from above, o’Hara slavick’s complex abstractions are, in a way, a form of treachery. Adams, on the other hand, uses the conventions of staid museum display to focus on the unreported entanglements between Southern decorative art objects and the history of the slave-trade and colonialism. Like the rest of the works in this exhibition, here the aporia of knowledge is a potent space that allows the most important statements to manifest.