I was intrigued when I read about a recent retrospective exhibition of "Voids" at the Pompidou Centre, where 9 empty rooms were devoted to 50 years of works of nothing, all by artists who had the same idea... that nothing is the best way to say something. To further explore this idea I sought out Adieu Piltdown, a conceptual artist who has dealt with nothing for three decades. I sat down with Adieu in her barren Brooklyn studio and we discussed nothing in particular.
FSH: Adieu Piltdown, you are originally from England?
AP: Yes, I was born in East Sussex. My mother was a stupid French girl who fell in love with a footballer from the hamlet. We moved to London when I was 16. I attended the Royal Academy of Art, but found it a bit like treading through muddy water. Nothing was going on, but I didn't notice. The professors all pushed me to do something important, but I didn't understand the concept. So I did nothing, and perhaps not surprisingly, considering they were academics, nothing pleased them. It was at that time -- this was back in the '80s -- that I found nothing was my true artistic calling.
FSH: When did you move to the United States?
AP: I left England in 1990. I realized early on that nothing at all rattled the British, and that to be successful I had to go across the pond where nothing mattered. I've lived in New York City now for many years, and I've discovered that nothing really excites New Yorkers. This city has a long history of championing nothing in art, nothing that is really good. Ask any visitor to the city who tours the galleries, "What did you see that you liked?" The answer is always, "Nothing."
FSH: As an artist who creates nothing, how have you been able to manage a career in the arts?
AP: It has been easy to build a career for me. The accent helps! And look at how often art critics write about nothing. It is their favorite topic. In all the major art journals of the last thirty years almost every other article utilizes fancy jargon and quotes French philosophers in order to wax poetic over nothing. And curators get really excited about nothing. As a group I've found they've got nothing in the cupboard to inspire their imaginations. I think if curators had real curatorial freedom (I mean absent the pressures of a museum going public that finds nothing absurd) every exhibition would prominently feature nothing as its main subject.
FSH: What about sales? How do you make a living on nothing?
AP: Take a look at the biggest collectors of art across this planet. My boys in the billionaires club love to fill their warehouses with nothing, and the dearer it is, the happier they are. The super-rich love nothing, and I give them what they want.
FSH: But I was under the impression that your work was a critique of late capitalist society. Not true?
AP: [Laughs] You are so cute! Nothing can deliver a real criticism of capitalist society, and nothing is in and of itself immune from criticism. Our capitalist consumer society values nothing greatly, and in my art I work with nothing, I consume nothing, I produce nothing. I promise nothing, and I deliver nothing. Nothing is perfect in our world.
FSH: Conceptually nothing has been with us for what seems like forever. The Pompidou Centre exhibition went back fifty years and proved a lot of artists have been doing nothing for their entire careers. It also has come to the point that nothing is now every art student's last resort when they wake up on final crit day and realize all they've got is nothing to talk about. Will our infatuation with nothing ever end?
AP: As long as the art going public finds nothing outrageous, nothing will survive. Luckily for artists engaged with nothing the public's thirst for outrage in the face of nothing is unquenchable. I believe that nothing is necessary for the average art lover to be satisfied in life. Nothing fills the void.
FSH: Then is nothing the same as a void? The title of the show in Paris indicates as much.
AP: No, not at all. The void is deep, mysterious, profound. It can be very scary. I avoid the void at all costs. Nothing is just the absence of something. A room filled with nothing leaves nothing to the imagination. And there is nothing to loose, which you can't say about the void. Nothing, on the other hand, is completely safe.
FSH: I have a severe headache.
AP: Oh, wait a minute. I have something for that... [Adieu Piltdown rummages through her oversized black purse for a long moment then pulls out nothing]. I hope this helps. It always works for me.