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Jonas N.T. Becker: A Hole is not a Void

Artist Residency

Framed black-and-white photo of a dirt road running diagonally across the composition with tall, partly tree-covered rock faces to the right.

See new photography, video, sculpture, and installation work by Wexner Center Artist Residency Award recipient Jonas N.T. Becker in their largest museum exhibition to date.

This exhibition focuses on themes of land, labor, and extraction and represents Becker’s ongoing work connecting issues in Appalachia to broader questions of environmental injustice and inequity. Born in West Virginia, Becker explores how systems of power place value on the body and the landscape and how private interests exploit both across generations. Viewers are asked to consider the literal removal of mountains in Appalachia, global economic dependence on mining resources, and the inextricable relationship between the personal and the political.

Viewers first encounter a series titled Blank Topographies (2017–present), which confronts established systems of value for land in the United States, highlights the historic relationship between property and inequity, and opens space for alternative systems of value. Becker refaces topographical relief maps of the country’s most expensive mountaintop acreage. They paint the surfaces white and strip them of common value markers, such as city names, natural resources, and cultural landmarks.

An adjacent installation of the series Better or Equal Use (2020–present) depicts former mountaintop removal mines that were redeveloped for public use under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Utilizing a self-devised photographic printing process, Becker incorporates coal dust from these locations to produce images that represent what the sites have become—including prisons and big-box stores. The installation also features sculptures made of coal and a large-scale floor work that recreates the original topography of a mountain that no longer exists, having been flattened by mining activity.

A separate gallery presents the photographic series Thank G-d for Mississippi (2009–10). Created by suspending a camera over various edges and cliffs that are common sites of fatality in West Virginia, the photographs consider the personal impacts of larger socioeconomic issues. Departing from the long history of documentary portraits of poverty in Appalachia, the photographs put the viewer in the subject's position, offering a view you could only achieve after deciding to jump. 

Class Struggle, a short film made with support from the Wexner Center’s Film/Video Studio, also premieres in the exhibition. The project explores the transmission of politics across generations, focusing on Becker and their mother playing the 1978 board game Class Struggle, a socialist version of Monopoly. Through their conversation, Becker’s mother considers the impact of her involvement in the political movements of the 1960s and 70s, ultimately resolving that the teaching she instilled in the next generation is her greatest legacy.

Becker’s short film Holographic Mountain will screen in The Box through August 31. 

IMAGE CAPTION
Jonas N.T. Becker, Better or Equal Use: Coalfield Expressway on former Bull Creek Mountain, 2020/2024. Coal, gelatin, dichromate, and paper, 20 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Two white topographical relief maps of mountainous terrain hang on adjacent white walls. One is seen from the front and the other is seen in profile.

Jonas N.T. Becker, Blank Topographies, installation view as part of Earthly Observatory at Art Institute of Chicago Galleries, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo: Evan Jenkins.

An aerial view of a turquoise blue pool of water framed on two sides by wooden boards and an outcropping of partially submerged gray rocks.

Jonas N.T. Becker, Thank G-d for Mississippi: Bull Run, WV also called Blue Hole, 2009/2024. Fujiflex digital C-print. 55 x 44 in. Courtesy of the artist.

About the Artist

Jonas N.T. Becker chevron-down chevron-up

Jonas N.T. Becker has exhibited internationally, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; FotoFocus Biennial at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati; the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago; Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles; and Lancaster Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California. Awards include the Magnum Foundation Counter Histories Fellowship (2022–23); Lucas Artist Residency Fellowship at Montalvo Art Center, Saratoga, California, (2016–19); Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art, Switzerland (2015); and Six Points Fellowship (2011–13). Becker is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a 2023–24 Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme External Fellow at Ohio State. They live and work between West Virginia and Chicago.

 Learn more about the artist.

Jonas N.T. Becker: A Hole is not a Void is organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts and curated by former Head of Exhibitions Kelly Kivland and former Curator Lucy I. Zimmerman, with support from Curatorial Assistant Jonathan Gonzalez and Curatorial Intern Madelyn Thompson.

EXHIBITIONS 2023–24 SEASON MADE POSSIBLE BY  
Bill and Sheila Lambert  
Carol and David Aronowitz  
Crane Family Foundation  

FREE GALLERIES MADE POSSIBLE BY  
American Electric Power Foundation  
Mary and C. Robert Kidder  
Bill and Sheila Lambert

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR FREE GALLERIES PROVIDED BY  
Adam Flatto  
CoverMyMeds  
PNC Foundation

WEXNER CENTER PROGRAMS MADE POSSIBLE BY  
Ohio Department of Development

Greater Columbus Arts Council

The Wexner Family 

Institute of Museum and Library Services

Ohio Arts Council, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts 
CampusParc

Ohio State’s Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme

The Columbus Foundation 

Nationwide Foundation

Vorys, Sater, Seymour, and Pease 

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

Mike and Paige Crane

Axium Packaging

Nancy Kramer 
Ohio State Energy Partners  
Ohio History Fund/Ohio History Connection  
Larry and Donna James

David Crane and Elizabeth Dang

Bruce and Joy Soll

Rebecca Perry Damsen and Ben Towle

Jones Day  
Alex and Renée Shumate

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Jonas N.T. Becker: A Hole is not a Void