Euan Macdonald (1999)
“Euan Macdonald,” Parachute, no. 95 (July – September 1999), pp. 47-48
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Euan Macdonald: Recent Work
Centennial Gallery, Oakville
December 18, 1998 – February 7, 1999
Euan Macdonald's installation of drawings and paintings was supplemented by three single-shot, looped videos. Or rather, Macdonald's presentation of his videotapes was surrounded by a series of cartoon-like drawings and minimalist paintings. Within one exhibition of work, you could hardly ask for a greater contrast of medium—or of value associated with each—the currency of video and its spectacle status overwhelming the capacities or appeal of the traditional medium of drawing (or painting). Hence, the ambivalence of association or issue of hierarchy proposed above.
Yet, in this exhibition, drawing and video complement each other, not, however, because of any truth to medium, one being able to depict what the other cannot. Rather, the two are in dialogue in the installation (which is of one), and this dialogue is set in motion by the viewer. Drawing and video enter each other's orbit, so to speak, with a subtle push-pull, more than a violent attraction and repulsion (although they represent opposing states), that torques each medium at a different pitch of rotation. Each medium seems keyed to a different speed, and not necessarily one associated with it. The buzz around video is reduced to a monotone, whereas drawing displays a bejewelled vitality. But as in any elliptical orbit, to choose this figure, the travelling object speeds up or slows down depending on its trajectory, so in the end we find that this contrast of velocity actually is enacted not only between the two media but within each as a countermotion.
Take Macdonald's one-note videos. Almost nothing happens in them. An action is sustained, then repeated in the looping of the tape. In the earliest, Interval, 1997, two directions of multi-lane traffic pass through the frame, the vehicles' passage determined by density or the rhythm of off-screen traffic lights. In the breaks between traffic, the shadows of two royal palms, which had been visible all along, but broken in the traffic's pattern, attract our notice on the blank screen. Traffic and shadows are phenomena we register but don't necessarily pay attention to, shadows even less so, being an absence of light only, and at an opposite extreme from traffic's impact and force of velocity. Here, in intervals, the shadows' images dominate the screen. The palms sway langourously, like slow metronomes, lulling us in their shadows' rhythm. There is no force of rupture here, as if beneath the pavement were the beach. Rather, the palms present a counterpoint to that of the traffic: their shadows almost seem to bounce off the pavement from the depth of the screen back towards us, instigating another temporal rhythm. That Interval is composed of a crane shot helps to place the viewer above the "action," distanced but entranced.
In Two Planes, 1997, we gaze up through the camera to follow the slow path of two passenger jets flying in tandem; rather, one plane has been computer duped to achieve the effect. The hand-held camera traces the meandering manouevres of the planes against a pure blue sky and records the low rumble of the planes' engines. But as we stand in front of the monitor in the gallery, we slowly register the sound of crickets at our feet—actually at the cameraman's feet. Because of our focus on the central visual image, we heard the drone associated with it. Now the audio track splits our attention between the near and the far, and thereby disconnects the senses of the eye and the ear. So doing, the track returns us to our bodies and secures us in our place. Our senses now dissociated, we once more turn our gaze to survey that uncanny image of the nearly conjoined planes, forever aloft and aloof.
Brakestand's title describes itself: with brakes on, a driver spins the wheels of his dilapidated BMW, going nowhere fast, like a pathetic cartoon bandit. This succinct video from 1998 runs contrary for a wearying fifteen minutes thanks to looping. Entropy is rigged; the artist plays god digitally with nature. But to what end? Because of the looping in all these tapes, the start of a shot, its "narrative" origin, is lost. Except in Brakestand, although one could miss it, if you entered this unvarying videotape other than at the first second. The car starts, and the brakestand persists, impossibly long. This entropic persistence, which also structured Macdonald's earlier videotape, Ball, has now to be compared to what happens in his drawings, and to the states they exemplify.
If the videotapes are one elliptical foci for the viewer, the drawings are another, and the viewer is thrown along an orbit slackening speed to focus on the interiors of individual drawings. (Slackening of speed and slackening of focus are in an inverse ratio in this exhibition.) The drawings are of two orders and emphasis in the exhibition. There are cartoon drawings of palm shadows passing over prone bodies. Then there are a series of drawings of fictional city plans, except these are cartoons too, like Saul Steinberg drawings or Situationist city plans turned back on themselves. These plans are anything but ordered, as they seem internally to convulse, or, unhinged from any grounding, to spin off into space.
Neither drawing nor video imply stable states. If the plan drawings suggest a rationality out of control, the videotapes assert an entropic outcome to it all. But since that entropy is rigged, the artist has cheated, and what he presents instead is an artificial state achieved through images of the real distended in time. The viewer participates in this state in his or her own time. The chaos of drawing, the entropy of video, so opposed seemingly to the essence of their genres, entrap the viewer in their circuit.