Refusal. Silence. Waiting. Boredom. A blank book. An empty canvas. Nothingness has generated over a century of visual art, literature, music, and film, which has challenged the boundaries of aesthetic practice and philosophical thought. At once historically grounded and completely free-form, this class will engage with the concept of nothing in artistic practice in modern and contemporary art and literature.
In his 1918 Dadaist Manifesto, Tristan Tzara announces, “I write a manifesto and I want nothing.” In 1959 John Cage continues this line of thinking in his “Lecture on Nothing,” declaring, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it.” Samuel Beckett begins Waiting for Godot with the words, “Nothing to be done.” Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist white-on white paintings “reached a desert in which nothing can be perceived but feeling,” he wrote in 1927, while later, in 1951, Rauschenberg applied layers of pure white paint to canvas, claiming that they contain “the plastic fullness of nothing.”
What is the status of nothing? How does form exist without content? What do the aesthetics of withdrawal yield? Why is it so appealing? We will watch movies about nothing, read empty books, consider empty galleries, and analyze their makers’ provocative claims. After exploring the aesthetics of nothing, the course will culminate with musings on dreams and sleep.
LORI COLE is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Center for Experimental Humanities at New York University. Lori has also taught at Brandeis University, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. She has written criticism for Artforum since 2004 and has published extensively on the intersection of visual and literary modernisms, Latin America, and print culture in Cabinet, The Journal of Art Historiography, The Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, The Global South, and The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines. Her book, Surveying the Avant-Garde: Questions on Modernism, Art, and the Americas in Transatlantic Magazines, is forthcoming from Penn State University Press.
In addition to her research, writing, and teaching, Lori has experience working in the arts. She was a Helena Rubinstein Fellow in Critical Studies at the Whitney Independent Study Program from 2002 to 2003 and a Joan Tisch Teaching Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art from 2010 to 2012. In 2012 she was also a Junior Fellow at the Frick, where she researched the history of collecting photography. Prior to starting graduate school she held positions at the Dia Art Foundation, Paula Cooper Gallery, and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
Lori is committed to public programming around her research interests and has organized the day-long symposium ‘Print Culture: Past, Present, Future’ at Brandeis in 2013 and a three-part series ‘The Magazine as Medium’ at Cabinet in 2015. She currently co-runs the Global Modernisms Group at the NYU Center for the Humanities.