Henry Wallis, ‘The Room in Which Shakespeare Was Born’ 1853
Henry Wallis
The Room in Which Shakespeare Was Born 1853
Tate
James Webb, ‘Mont St Michel, Normandy’ ?exhibited 1857 or 1866
James Webb
Mont St Michel, Normandy ?exhibited 1857 or 1866
Tate
Susanna Duncombe (née Susanna Highmore)
The Ghost Scene from ‘The Castle of Otranto’
Tate

Much of Zobernig’s work is about finding or occupying voids, loopholes or fissures running through the ideologies of modern and post-modern art. In all forms of media his approach involves a process of reduction, emptying out the contents of a work or idea before re-evaluating both material and conceptual components.

Zobernig’s final statement is the visually arresting Gallery 5, in which he installs his own work alongside specific historic Tate collection works to reconsider art and the void. As in the Heron Mall, the artist reinvents the space by lining the room with green Trevira Television TS chroma-key material, also used as a void for cinematic special effects.

It is a theatrical trick providing a backdrop to assess these works on the artist’s own terms rather than those of the institution. The Room in Which Shakespeare Was Born 1853 by Henry Wallis is Zobernig’s starting point; a sparse interior which appears like a stage set, where the action has happened and the traces of it are gone. The work can only be about the absence of the subject in its title, and the viewer is given few features in compensation as the room, and consequently the painting’s composition, is so sparingly furnished.

The Ghost Scene from ‘The Castle of Otranto1757 by Susanna Duncombe has the same theatrical atmosphere, in this case actually portraying a scene from a play. The edginess of this moment appealed to the artist, but the figure of the ghost plays with the idea of a presence returning from the past but not in solid form. This resonates with the idea that Zobernig’s works might act as ghosts of, or surrogates for, extracted elements of art history and its accompanying critical subtexts.

Barbara Hepworth’s Pierced Form 1963–4 is all about the hole. It is perhaps difficult to appreciate today the significance of Hepworth penetrating the solid block in 1932, but in doing so, she brought new dimensions to her sculpture: space and consequently time.

The monumental Mont St Michel, Normandy c.1857 by James Webb, in contrast, is a painting about sculptural mass. Charged with Romantic drama, the painterly style of the mount shifts from formless bulk to architectural detail, evocative of the tensions within Eduardo Paolozzi’s Cyclops 1957 in Lower Gallery 2.

Zobernig’s own voids here are white monochromes, again loaded with references to twentieth-century art, from the suprematist ideologies of Malevich to the minimalist light projections of American artist James Turrell. Zobernig’s twist keeps one monochrome in a state of flux between projection screen and painting. In the other, through a perverse process of addition and erasure, he ironically paints a canvas of chroma-key material — the televisual void — with a blank white square.