The graphic work by Alexey Lunev “There is Nothing” became an iconic artwork of the Belarusian art a long time ago. It is a critical symbol, sometimes even a caricature of the system of Belarusian modern art in the 2000s. The phrase “There is Nothing”, painted on black, became a household name.
Initially, the sheet of paper with the words “There is Nothing”, was a part of the polyptych “Black Market”, that was created in 2009, especially for the group large-scale exhibition “Belarusian pavilion of the 53 rd Venice biennale” in Minsk. The curators, Ruslan Vashkevich and Lisaveta Mihalchuk, while arranging the exposition, were conceiving it not simply as a demonstration of the state of the Belarusian contemporary art, but also partially, to be able to draw the attention to the problem of a long-term absence of a National pavilion of Belarus in Venice. It finally had an impact on the Ministry of Culture. The National pavilion was organized for the first time in 2011, and then, after a break, it took place again in 2015.
This artwork, presented at the exhibition, consisted of 9 graphic sheets of paper with big texts painted on each of them. There were three almost identical sheets of paper with a phrase “THERE IS NOTHING”, and 6 sheets of paper with other inscriptions (BLACK MARKET; KOSHT-KONT; JERU-SALEM; MYASA; GESHTALT, and HEUTE). The narrative of the graphic series is based on the story of stealing the apostle Mark’s relics from Egypt. This story had impressed the artist, and, as a result, it was embodied in his artwork. The Venetian merchants Buono and Rustiko saved the relics of the saint from the desecration in 828, and the relics were brought on the ship heading to Venice from Alexandria, where at that time the Islam expansion led to the process of destruction and displacement of the Christian culture. In order to save the relics, and to bring them on board, the merchants had to use a trick, which involved giving a bribe, and putting the body of the Saint Mark into the basket filled with pork. The Saracens during the process of customs were squeamish to touch the pork, and the relics were saved. The day of bringing them to Venice became a national holiday.
Some time later, “There is Nothing” started to be exhibited as a separate artwork in a gilded frame, as it happened at the final exhibition of a big project, that was analyzing the last decade of the contemporary Belarusian art “Zero Radius. Art Ontology of The 00s” that took place in Minsk in 2012. Exactly in the form of the single statement of a double negation, through the social critical realism that is lying on the surface, a conceptual irony erupted, that sends us back to the traditions of minimalism and to the questions of objectless, abstract art.
Text: Sergey Shabohin, KALEKTAR ©