Gary Spicer, Blue 2016. Etching/Digital.

Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts (LICA), 14 July 2016

My research starts with the questions, why do I keep returning to sites of Holocaust memory and how can drawing be used as a tool to excavate a past personally unlived? I have recently been to a conference which chimed with these questions’ intention of probing the unknown and the seemingly immaterial. The Materiality of Nothing symposium at LICA extended conversations initiated at their 2015 Dark Matters conference. How we encounter the immaterial and how this might be negotiated in practice were analysed from an artistic perspective as well as scientific.

Anna Lovatt began the conference with a detailed and insightful analysis of Richard Tuttle and the Void of Lessness. Tuttle, an American post-minimalist artist known for his small, subtle, intimate works has described his work as an attempt to ‘create something that begins at ground zero or is connected with ground zero’. The theme of ‘shimmer’ was introduced and became a leitmotif for the day

Liz de Freitas’ paper (read in her absence by an adroit Charlie Gere) took us into the realm of ‘speculative mathematics’. She argued that philosophy should have invested more in the speculative materialism of science rather than focusing on the transcendental and the elusive. This was dense and challenging stuff. Further contributions speculated on theory and its role in explaining and predicting, and offered thoughts on the contingency of art and how through physics we can detect the invisible world. A presentation on the geo-philosophical notion of ‘the shape of the air’ by Bronislaw Szerszynski explored the idea of correlationism and how we relate to objects.

Charlie Gere began his paper with a description of a recent visit to a Japanese garden in Eskdale and to Sellafield, the nuclear fuel reprocessing site. Gere traversed art, language and culture to consider how that which is beyond signification, be it beauty or horror, can be effectively defined and articulated. He used the examples of  Auschwitz and Hiroshima  to suggest that language is doomed to fail in the face of such phenomena.

Rebecca Fortnum’s paper, Apophasis and Art, was an investigation into language, image making, reading and looking and what cannot be said. She related this, via her own practice, to the tradition of painting and to discourses of silence and so returned the discussion to the realm of creative art practice.

The symposium concluded with a discussion sparked by objects and drawings brought by delegates (including myself) that were examples of things used to ‘think with’. They included journals, sketchbooks and three-dimensional pieces that facilitated the investigation of ideas about the unseen or the manifestation of nothing.

As featured in the Manchester School of Art, Research Degree Programme Newsletter Autumn 2016