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Tom Nicholson

Untitled wall drawing  2009-2012

pencil on wall

dimensions variable

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the MCA Foundation, 2013


About the Artwork

Tom Nicholson’s Untitled wall drawing is a matrix of painstakingly handwritten words telling a geo-political history of the twentieth century. The words describe the creation of global borders in the twentieth century, starting with the federation of Australia in 1901. The rhythmic greyscale of Nicholson’s pencilled text, barely gracing the wall’s surface, can be installed at different places, in accordance with precise instructions. As such, it is linked to conceptual and minimalist art, most notably the wall drawings of the American conceptual artist, Sol LeWitt.

Untitled Wall Drawing works across twin understandings of time and space. It encompasses the changing spatial boundaries of the world in the space of 19-metres of wall, and traverses 100 years of geo-politics in three weeks of intensive labour. As a drawing, it calls into play the idea of line as a shared element in both writing and drawing.  It explicates the ways in which line gives form to things; whether through the crafting of words or the drawing of borders, both of which – as Nicholson shows – create the shape and futures of new nations.

Nicholson’s chronology traces the shifting sands of global borders and the nation states they delineate – in which natural, geographic, cultural or linguistic borders can be overwritten by a new line on a map. Using lead pencils of different thicknesses, Nicholson’s dispassionate inscription belies the bloodshed, loss, genocide and trauma of nations dissolving, uniting, partitioning, invading, surrendering and reconstructing. Tracing the aftermath of colonisation in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Untitled Wall Drawing presents the distribution and exercise of power as one in which the pen is mightier than the sword, abstracting the messy redrawing of borders into a clean legal language of agreements, treaties, mandates and rulings. Still growing as borders change, Untitled Wall Drawing presents a monument to the geo-political manoeuvrings of the twentieth century that shaped the world of the twenty-first.

Multiple iterations are necessary because I rarely find a way to resolve a project that satisfies me the first time round… to generate a new form and/or a new understanding of the work by trying a different configuration

Tom Nicholson quoted by Anneke Jaspers, ‘Tom Nicholson’, Das Superpaper, issue 22/ Parallel Collisions, February 2012.

Tom Nicholson

– About the artist

Born 1973, Melbourne. Lives and works Melbourne.

Learn more
– Other collection works by the artist

– View also


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