Nothing to see here
Brad Thiele’s master’s thesis leaves plenty to the imagination
It’s a few minutes before noon on Wednesday, and artist Brad Thiele is perched near the top of a ladder, scribbling furiously on a seemingly blank wall at 1078 Gallery. He’s nearly five hours into his third 14-hour work day and will continue like this until Dec. 1.
“I started over in that corner, and I’ve been going up and down the walls, top to bottom and then back again,” he explained, waving his arm toward the “finished” part of the wall, which looks exactly like the unfinished portions. There is literally nothing written there, and for the duration of Thiele’s installment the art gallery’s walls will remain devoid of any perceivable art.
“I’m writing the word ‘nothing’ throughout the whole space, on all the walls and also on the floors,” Thiele said. Just hand-sized, really small, with a Sharpie marker, but with the butt end of it, so it’s kind of a perceptible nothing.
“The title of the project is ‘Nothing Really Matters,’ so it teeters on the futility of that statement, but also the optimism of it really mattering a lot. I wondered how that comes about, and guessed maybe by really spending a whole lot of time doing, well, really nothing. So in this type of setting there’s really nothing to physically take away, except maybe just your response to it … maybe.”
The last “maybe” is delivered with a laugh, raising the question of whether Thiele is putting everyone on. The installment is serious business, though, part of Thiele’s thesis project to obtain an MFA from Chico State, and he had to acquire special permission to do it off campus. It is also an extension of his past work, much of which he said deals with wordplay and the nuances of language. His dedication to the project is also very real, and he waxes passionately about the philosophical questions his work is exploring.
Still, he also sees the humor and what some might call absurdity in what he’s doing: “It feels like the action is really serious,” he said. “I’m intent on getting all this work done and covering the whole space within this time, but it’s really kind of silly at the same time, because there’s nothing to show for it.
“But it is there. You just can’t see it.”
Thiele also said he realizes it pushes the limits of some people’s perception of art, but that is part of his point. It is also why the exhibit culminates in a reception, so that people can come in and see the process and talk about, well, nothing. He’s willing, even anxious to talk to people who might call BS.
“I’d laugh, not at them, but laugh, because it’s somewhat true,” he said. “Art, the way it’s presented, is made out to be this very special thing only available to a small group of people, and I don’t necessarily agree with that. The thing I like about exposing the process is there’s a conversation. You can interact with people, and they can interact with you, and both ends can gauge what’s happening. You may not understand each other completely, but you can maybe get on some sort of similar plane.
“I’m not necessarily saying that this is art, but I think these activities are important to address. I’m using words to subvert and change things in this context, and exploring how it can be done in other contexts. You have to be able to interact with people rather than just say, ‘Look what we made.’”
Even the staunchest critics can’t deny Thiele’s physical and mental commitment to the project. After only three days the plastic of his Sharpie is wearing down and the work is already having physical and mental effects.
“It’s kind of tedious,” he said. “The repetition allows for a lot of things to just pop into your head. It seems like the things coming as I’m focused on writing this word over and over, as legibly as possible, are really intense, like vibrant and emotive in a way that makes you able to embrace the thought and then have it go away. And then it’s really boring, too.
“Within a couple days the up and down is going to get really tiring. I’m eating, I went and got groceries, because I don’t want to collapse, and I’m trying to get enough rest because I’m up on these ladders, at night, for long hours. I’m finishing on the ground so there’s no risk of falling over, but being on your knees on concrete that whole time is a different type of strain.”