pencil on wall
Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the MCA Foundation, 2013
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.
Born 1973, Melbourne. Lives and works Melbourne.
Tom Nicholson explores the visual languages of politics and propaganda with a focus on the relationship between actions and their traces. Nicholson was trained in drawing at the Victorian College of the Arts, a tradition that greatly informs his practice, which also includes performance and interdisciplinary projects.
Nicholson’s work has featured in numerous solo exhibitions including Comparative monument (Ma’man Allah), Milani Gallery, Brisbane; Cartoons for Joseph Selleny, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2014); Proposition for a banner march and a black cube hot air balloon, with Raafat Ishak, Shepparton Art Museum, Victoria (2012); Drawings and correspondence, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne (2011); Camp Pell Lecture, with Tony Birch, Artspace, Sydney (2010); After action for another library, Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Auckland, New Zealand (2008); After action for another library, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne (2005); Melancholia (Documents after five actions, Berlin), Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (2003)
Selected group exhibitions include The National: New Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2017); Dissenting Voices, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth (2016); Maju Kena, Mundur Kena (Neither forward nor back): Learning in The Present, 16th Jakarta Biennale, Indonesia (2015); Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013); Sonic Spheres, TarraWarra Biennial 2012, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville (2012); Rehearsal, 8th Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2010); Zones of Contact, 15th Biennale of Sydney (2006); NEW04, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2004)
Nicholson’s work is held in the collection of numerous public institutions throughout Australia including the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne