The exhibition parts from Yves Klein’s photo collage from 1960, in which he jumps off of a rooftop into empty space. His leap into the Void is the perfect metaphor for the new artistic sensibilities that were in the air all over the world in the 1950s and 1960s. Many avant-gardes of that time longed for a new beginning after the disasters of the War and hoped to contribute to the recovery of the world through their creativity. They wished to detach themselves form the burden of (art) history, to make tabula rasa and go on a quest for the essence of art. The most important quality all these Post-War avant-gardes shared was their fascination for the all-encompassing dimension of the Void, a hopeful, shared space full of possibilities. The Void is a space in which creativity is born, a kind of non-space outside time, inconceivable yet defining who we are and how we act in relation to the other.
On November 27th, 1960, Yves Klein takes a leap into the void in front of the camera and shows NASA and the world that lunar expeditions do not necessarily require expensive technology: man can simply lift off and fly into space.
After the disasters of World War II a clear necessity was felt in the (art) world to redefine the old concepts of time and space that had been shattered. Artists from all over the world longed for a new beginning and hoped to contribute to the recovery of the world through their creativity. Zero in Germany, Nul in the Netherlands, Nouveau Réalisme in France, Azimuth in Italy, Suprematism in Russia, Gutai in Japan, Abstract Expressionism, Hard Edge and Post-Painterly Abstraction in the United States… This is but an incomplete selection of international avant-gardes that, in the 1950s and 1960s wished to detach themselves from the burden of (art) history, to make tabula rasa and go on a quest for the essence of art.
Some would look for this essence in the quasi scientific deconstruction of physical processes of movement, light and color, the elements, sound, etc. Others would explore the act of creation itself and stress the direct experience of the artwork. But the most important quality that all these Post-War art movements in East and West shared was their fascination for the Void – also referred to as Nothingness or Emptiness – both on a philosophical and an experiential, sense-based level. The Void is considered to be an all-encompassing dimension; it is a hopeful, shared space full of possibilities in which the harsh duality between subject and object is abolished in favour of a paradoxical intuition of the mutual. It is the space in which creativity is born, a space outside of time, a kind of non-space, inconceivable yet defining who we are and how we act in relation to the other. The Void proved to be the ideal background for the artists’ desire for tabula rasa.
Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void is the perfect metaphor for this new artistic turn. In order to enter creative space, the artist must let go of the security of his own physical and psychological limits. He must question what is self-evident and in so doing dare to transgress the borders of the rational. He must levitate and transcend above himself until his body and soul merge with the resourceful emptiness that surrounds him. Only when an artist has the courage to dissolve into empty space, into the Void, will he be able to create something genuinely new, essential, yet undogmatic and potentially meaningful to all.
The same hard task that Yves Klein imposes on the artist, he imposes on the viewer. Two years before his historic leap, Klein had already initiated his famous event-performance Le Vide at Galerie Iris Clert in Paris. For about two weeks visitors were queuing every day for hours outside the gallery only to find an empty space within. With this exhibition Klein wanted to share with his audience what was most valuable to him and to many of his contemporaries: the ever vibrating energy in the Void, elusive and invisible yet physically and emotionally destabilizing to whomever catches a glimpse of it. The Void must be activated. It requires direct interaction on the part of the viewer; only in this way can it penetrate their awareness and make their sense of time and space porous. For Klein art was far more than an aesthetic or cerebral exercise. It was an immediate, shocking and emotional experience of the here and now that put humanity into a new perspective.
In the 1950s and 1960s the necessity to artistically activate the Void was felt all over the world. For instance, at the same time that Fontana made a literal cut through the canvas to let the Void enter art – a quick and simple, yet irreversible act – Shozo Shimamoto let chance create holes in his newspaper collages and Saburo Murakami physically ran through his own artworks. It is striking to note how similar sensibilities operated concurrently amongst artists in East and West without there being any communication between them.
From that point onwards, the possibility of activating the Void through art has continued to be an important concern of contemporary artists. Naturally, this idea wasn’t entirely new. An exploration of the history of the iconography (and anthropology) of the Void would go far beyond the scope of this introduction, yet it should be mentioned that the idea of Nothingness/Emptiness pervades art history. It seems to touch upon the very fundaments of art; it might even be cautiously suggested that the Void is its fundamental premise. The first traces of the Void can be found in a Spanish cave named El Castillo, where 40.000 years ago, someone left a negative imprint of his hand. In their poems, Christian mystics sing the praises of the luring abyss, in which they crave to lose themselves, so that their body and soul can merge with the divine. The representation of a black hole is found in many medieval cosmological manuscripts. Buddhist monks contemplate the empty circle, the representation of Nothingness. The wound of Christ in his side is often figured within representation as an abstract, a black mandorla that evokes the immensurable.
The historic examples are countless, and the art of today continues to inscribe itself in that same tradition. Artists like Anish Kapoor follow the trail of the Void and make works that have the ability to activate this charged Nothingness in the mind of the viewer, who, upon contemplating and experiencing art, is made to feel part of a larger whole. Whatever the guise of the Void, its image has the power to draw viewers in, to absorb their entire being and to transform them from within.
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