With its heavy craft paper, embossed insignia, blue foil print, holographic security sticker, and heavy wax seal, this envelope screams importance. It looks like the love child of a raven-borne letter on Game of Thrones and a shiny new credit card. In fact, what you’re looking at is Nothing–a $15 mailer that promises absolutely nothing inside.
Nothing is the basis for a new Kickstarter campaign that’s raised over $6,000 to date. The name is a bit of a misnomer, since Nothing is technically a hand-numbered, one-of-a kind envelope designed by Jason Markow, who is better known for illustrating and creating wall art for many celebrities. Developed over 10 months and eleven prototypes, it’s painstakingly produced on a letterpress. You could classify it as boutique stationery. The twist is that when this package arrives at your door, there is nothing inside. While it starts at $15, you can order in bulk and get 10 for $120. As the campaign puts it, “It’s the perfect gift for the person who has everything.”
When I first came across Nothing, I thought it was the sort of get-rich-quick scheme that gives Kickstarter a bad name.
“It has been met with more confusion than anything else I have done. Even though the finished object is the exact same raw materials (ink and foil pressed on a vintage letterpress) I’ve been met with some funny questions, but the most striking of which has been: ‘What are you going to do with the money?'” writes Markow over email. “In 8 years of selling letterpress prints no one had ever asked me that, but because this project centered around the idea of showcasing ‘nothing’ it feels like some people just can’t shake the notion that the value lies in the story itself.”
Nothing is a cunning commercial project, but it actually began with a very personal revelation for Markow.
“After a year of mystery symptoms and escalating testing, I had just been diagnosed with a rare, progressive, and (currently) incurable form of lung disease called Interstitial Lung Disease. Not understanding the gravity of my condition at the time of my diagnosis, I asked my doctor what I could do to cure this and her response was ‘Nothing.’ That word hit me like a ton of bricks. As I started to understand the gravity of my situation I sort of snapped. I suffered a multi-week anxiety attack in which I couldn’t get out of bed,” Markow recounts. “Thanks to the patience of my wife, and endlessly streaming episodes of Bob Ross on Netflix I was able to find my footing once more, and knew it would help me move forward if I took the power of the word ‘nothing’ back. This project is the result.”
Indeed, Nothing is as much an art project as a Kickstarter product.Through that lens, Nothing is modern-day Dadaism, the early 20th century art movement that responded to a post-WWI society that lacked meaning. Marcel Duchamp was the leading Dadaist, best known for his Readymades. These were everyday objects, like urinals and bicycle wheels, stripped of their function by being taken from their normal context and hung in galleries. Readymades were a commentary on society and consumerism, and a statement on what constitutes an object versus a piece of fine art, demonstrating how an object hung on a wall can transcend to the status of art. The idea–and Dada itself–served as the basis for pop artists like Andy Warhol a few decades later. While Markow didn’t have Readymades in mind when he made Nothing, he’s since decided that the term fits.
In any case, whatever Nothing means to you, it is available to be ordered on Kickstarter through the end of the month.