Not This Title, Not That

Axle Contemporary makes something out of nothing

Around this time last year, this issue sang the praises of Axle Contemporary’s The Renga Project, an outdoor installation/performance gambit that brought together some 100 artists and poets. Since then, the gallery on wheels unleashed Economologies, a social critique and experiment in the GoFundMe age; a celebration of rudimentary tools; and with help from the Institute for American Indian Arts, a blood quantum drive that then turned into both a site-specific installation and Bela Lugosi’s wet dream.

Opening Friday and on view though June 7 is Not This, Not That.

"It's the translation of a word that comes from Sanskrit, which is 'neti neti,'" Axle's Matthew Chase-Daniel says of the name. "It's a concept that's in Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient Greek philosophy and contemporary philosophy and has a bit to do with the impossibility of explaining the ineffable…so as we try to describe perfection or beauty or love or God—or any of these terms that we have come up with—we inevitably fail, because in the description, you lose the thing you're trying to describe. That's what this show is about."

The exhibit's theme? Nothing. Walls inside the roving step-van will be bare, and it'll be up to the beholder to determine the significance of the art (or lack thereof).

Partner Jerry Wellman says the project has been "on the back burner" for some time.

"In a certain way, it has something to do with how do you talk about nothing? Does nothing even exist?" he muses. "All these ideas about nothing—as many people know—have implications in science, physics, mathematics, obviously with the zero. It's been written about by numerous poets, been used as a springboard for creativity by many artists, musicians and philosophers. One thing led to another, and we created this exhibition."

And lo, Not This, Not That was conceived.

"I almost hesitate to tell people what it is," Wellman says, "because I don't know if they'll get the full impact." The exhibit is a stark contrast to February's Axle Indoors, wherein the pair took over Peters Projects' walls (and floors) inside their sprawling 8,000-square-foot compound.

Chase-Daniel is quick to point out that the exhibit is double-pronged. Along with the blank walls, the pair launched a website,, which is populated by quotes from notable thinkers as well as images of other artists like Yves Klein and Marcel Duchamp, who at different points in their careers were also intrigued by the subject.

"The purpose of this show is something that Jerry and I—as you move along as artists—you're always creating new work, and there's always this sort of conundrum in creating something that expresses what you want to express," he continues. "So we decided to do a show that explores that without describing it too much, but bringing it up so other people can see it and think about it and hopefully, like with all art, that inspires people and creates meaning for them in some way."

Even recognizing the endeavor's "absurdity," Wellman wishes people move past the venture's Emperor's New Clothes façade and dig deeper.

"It's been on our register of projects that we've been wanting to do for quite a while," he says. "If they think that, I'd like for them to investigate why they would think that, because this is a very conceptually oriented exhibition, and it is meant for you to think about things."

Chase-Daniel chimes in, "It's a combination, like a lot of out shows, of inspiration and amusement. There's a degree to which the show is a little bit ridiculous and funny…we like to keep stuff lighthearted and immediate, and I think that is a healthy way for people to interact in this day and age, and I also think that there's also a lot of depth and a lot of history to it."

"Here, this is for you," Wellman says with a smile as this interview comes to an end. He hands me the hefty exhibit catalogue. Every page in the volume, as you can imagine, is blank.

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