Void gallery in Derry~Londonderry invite an array of theorists, curators and artists to fill a space – or not

Partition at the Void Gallery in Derry~Londonderry was always going to be divisive. The result of two days' worth of discussions involving an assembled group of international 'theorists, curators and artists', Partition is about the art of process, of grinding an idea down. It is literally reductive, about searching for an allusive, elusive essence.

The exhibition is broken into two separate spaces: Room 1: Debate and Room 2: Exhibition – a literal divide, and neither are in the Void gallery either, but upstairs in Gallery 1 of the City Factory, presumably because there is more space.

And after their exhausting and exhaustive two day discussion, what did the esteemed assembly of theorists, curators and artists decided to put in Room 2? Nothing. Literally nothing. But of course, nothing is nothing – even the void is made of stuff. So what you end up with is a sort of nothing by degree.

On one side of a partition wall, things are kitted out for what appears to be a business seminar (we can neither enter nor see through into the blocked off half of Gallery 1). Here there are desks, chairs, bottles of mineral water. The chairs are grouped in a loose circle – you can imagine a NATO session playing out, a table-thumping Tower of Babel.

On the desks are the telephone directory-sized transcripts of the two-day round table discussion, which took place on July 16 – 17, 2013 (a stenographer was present throughout), and a speaker playing a recording of the dialogue. I am unlucky – the sign tells me that I’m listening to day one.



The speakers – anonymous as disembodied voices, despite the place cards littering the tables – are fresh and chatty, bristling with ideas: they are having fun. It’s like day one with the jury; it’s new and exciting, sequestered with these strangers. But I would have liked to have heard the end of day two also, when the voices were presumably broken and husky, the atmosphere fractious and peeved; the clock ticking and a consensus not yet reached.

Except it was reached, in the end. The first contribution on the first day – from Mark O’Kelly, artist and lecturer in fine art at Limerick Institute of Technology – states that 'there is an automatic assumption that something should go in room 2'. This is immediately refuted by Paul Sullivan, architect and director of Static Gallery, Liverpool, with, 'No, I don’t think so.'

The debate rages for two days, but doesn’t really go much further than that. The rest is sound and fury, or at least sound and joshing after-dinner aphorisms.

When Stephen Wright, professor of theory at the European School of Visual Arts in Paris, states that the gallery presents 'the presence of an absence rather than the absence of a presence', you can tell that the rest of them wish they’d thought of it. (Mind you, you would expect Wright to be handy with a one liner.) But it’s fairly self-evident: each empty space is its own empty space. This empty room is separate and distinct from any other empty room.

The blocked off white room is shown on a mounted television. It has its partition wall, some high windows and a pair of pillars. The assumption is that it is a video continually monitoring the room, but it might just as easily be a still. There is no access to the room, and I imagine that’s the point. To enter the second gallery would change it, puncture its emptiness. It is inviolate, immutable; that’s the point of it, if it has a point. Or not.

Wittgenstein’s notions of the slipperiness of language are mentioned: 'It helps you realise the gibberish you are spouting for the gibberish it is!' Somebody trots out, 'It’s Occam’s beard as opposed to Occam’s razor,' and everybody laughs.

Eventually I start to become seduced by all those pleasant, well educated voices with their lightly worn erudition. Then there is the confidence of the participants. No one stammers, no one loses their train of thought. The theorising is fluid and relentless, and it’s nice to eavesdrop on these delightful people building their house of ideas.

Ultimately, however, the gallery stubbornly remains an empty white cube. I last two hours and feel grateful for this snapshot of a conversation I wouldn’t have been able to contribute to. After two days of it, I would be throwing desks around with my shirt off.

A fire alarm goes off and I’m escorted from the building, away from the empty white and out into the pouring rain. I’m the only person, barring members of staff, who has to leave, as I’m the only gallery-goer here on Thursday lunchtime. True to its ideological essence, the building is totally empty; a void. At all costs.

Partition runs in the City Factory until August 31.


Images by Paola Bernardelli (2013), courtesy of Void & Static gallery.