From Nothing to Everything

Fiona Jack, Everything (2022)

A large-scale artwork featuring the word ‘everything’ has lit up the 110-metre-long, 13-metre-high light wall on Bledisloe wharf’s The Lightship, an installation by artist and acting head of Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, Fiona Jack.

Everything, made up of seven panels and nearly 8,500 LED lights, references Jack’s first major public work in 1997, Nothing, in its typography and imagery, an artwork in which 33 billboards were displayed around Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland 25 years ago.

Nothing played with the language and style of advertising. The billboards promoted, for instance, “Nothing, for the person with everything”, “Nothing, Beautiful just the way you are” and “Nothing, what you’ve been looking for.”

In Nothing, Jack was exploring the increasing dominance of billboard space, then an emerging kind of real estate in Auckland’s central city, owned and controlled by advertising companies for the promotion of ideas and products. The billboards were so convincing that they prompted enquiries on where to buy Nothing – artwork turned advertisement, advertisement turned artwork.

Jack had been thinking about that previous work, and the changes in Auckland she has witnessed since, when she was invited to create an artwork for The Lightship, a site for contemporary art launched by Ports of Auckland in 2020.

This prompted her to reflect on the interplay between ‘nothing’ and ‘everything’.

“In the 1990s I was really interested in concerns about globalisation and consumerism and that period of massive growth. The ‘Nothing’ billboards were a reaction to what I saw happening around me.”

One of the key people who influenced her in the 1990s was Naomi Klein, her writing on branding and corporate capitalism. “Recently I’ve been reading her book on climate change, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which triggered the use of ‘everything’ in this artwork.

Nothing was a foil for the desire and the consumerist tendencies at the heart of modern economies, she says, “while ‘everything’ is about the much bigger threat of climate change – everything is changing, and everything needs to change, but most of us aren’t doing anything, at least not enough, about it. But ‘everything’ is a grandiose word – everything is really something.”

Fiona Jack is an artist who works in ceramics, textiles, photography, posters, videos, and now, digital video. Her projects have often involved working with local communities and are driven by socio-political issues.

Everything will be accompanied by a stand-alone podcast, which will be able to be listened to wherever the listener is or activated as a self-guided audio tour for a walk from Karangahape Road (where the Nothing billboards were located) to Everything on Bledisloe Wharf. It will feature conversations with the artist and others, drawing attention to changes in Auckland in the time between ‘nothing’ and ‘everything’.

Everything is on display from 9 February to 30 March 2022.