- By Sophie Arni
The Bratislava Kunsthalle is making global art history by showcasing a truly innovative case of mounting a cross-cultural exhibition. Curated by Berlin-based curator, Elisa Rusca, Into the MU develops the idea of mu, the Zen Buddhist notion of void, into the tying thread of an exhibition of contemporary artists from three continents.
Mu is the absence that occupies a volume. It’s a negative presence, essential to the existence of the positive. It’s the parergon to the ergon. Mu denotes in more art historical terms, the pictorial tool used across East Asia painting traditions to create perspective. Into the MU presents works from artists who have abstracted, interpreted and appropriated this notion of void into new mediums. The result is striking: one sees a sculptural installation by Myriam El Haïk (b.1973, Rabat, Morrocco)’s Toy Toy II!, made of intricately cut single pieces of plastic, laid out next to a partition of music. Each piece refers to another note in the John Cage musical sheet. Technology allows for this 3D printing effect, which puts the viewer into an empty middle ground between the plastic’s constructed materiality and the music notes’ imaginary immateriality. The void is also felt in Dušan Zahoranský (b. 1972, Havirov, Czech Republic)’s video work, with a more political undertone. He projects the famous Slavín monument of the Slovakian capital on alternate screens, playing with the viewer’s conceptions of surface, light and object – while creating an empty space between the presence and absence of history. The concept of mu seems thus adaptable to many different cultural, social, historical and visual contexts. To take away the cultural Zen connotations of mu and its associations to East Asian art history was a risky move from curator Elisa Rusca. To commission works by Arab, European and American contemporary artists based on a century-old aesthetic philosophy might be criticized as appropriative. But Rusca did a splendid job at reviving this art historical tool and making it relevant for our globally interconnected 21st century.
Instead of taking from the toolkit of Western philosophy and aesthetics, she looked eastwards and found a notion highly applicable to our current society of spectacle.
Instead of taking from the toolkit of Western philosophy and aesthetics, she looked eastwards and found a notion highly applicable to our current society of spectacle. As she writes, “Into the MU explores the concept of emptiness and the relevance of its formless shapes in a contemporary context that seems to be constantly and desperately looking to be filled.” Objects, images, signs and symbols give us an overwhelming amount of information in the Age of Cyberspace. One should perhaps stop, take a minute and explore the empty 0 of the 0101 code, the flip side of our Facebook newsfeed, the absence of public art statues, or the programming behind our Spotify music– the void that holds the network our digital scaffoldings. As Rusca writes, “the mu embodies the slippery spaces in between the infrastructure’s knots, created a new point where to start looking at reality.”
Other artists in the show include Nathan Baker (b. 1979, Michigan, USA) and Ciarán Walsh (b. 1980, Carlow, Ireland).
Photograph credits: Adam Sakovy, Kunsthalle LAB Bratislava.