236 Pender St East,
07 Mar–06 Jul 2024
07 March, 2024
T. +1 604.683.7395
25 April–23 May 1998
Curated by: Reid Shier
Euan Macdonald, exhibition at Or Gallery, 1998.
Actuality is when the lighthouse is dark between flashes: it is the instant between the ticks of the watch: it is the void interval slipping forever through time: the rupture between past and future: the gap at the poles of the revolving magnetic field, infinitesimally small but ultimately real. It is the interchronic pause when nothing is happening. It is the void between events.
– George Kubler, The Shape of Time, 1962
We were meeting to drink and talk. A few of us had gathered already when Euan arrived. He entered the kitchen and offered no greeting, instead emphatically asking the room-at-large, “Have you ever looked up ‘hole’ in the dictionary?”
No one answers.
Euan swings his hand up, finger and thumb separated about two inches. “The definition’s THIS BIG and they still can’t tell you what it is!!”
Like the dictionary, Euan Macdonald approximates a version of “hole,” the question of how to speak of a “lack of.” Admittedly, there is a sense of pathos operating in Macdonald’s Blockheads, a series of paintings on vacuformed plastic. Their only facial signatures are simple unpainted ovals for eyes and, gathered together, they appear to be full of holes, including their flat and vacuous ;brain cavities.” It may at first appear that their only remark will be a mute stupefaction. They appear to be representations of pure inertia. Nothing much is happening and nothing much is bound to happen. So it would seem but, as usual, that’s not the whole story.
Despite the literal appearance of holes or gaps in the physical forms of the Blockheads, the question of space becomes tangential to the question of time. The “hole” becomes the “moment” and there is an interesting formal signal in Macdonald’s Ball video that cues this. The piece could not be more simple, banal or innocuous. A yellow ball bounces up. And down. An endlessly-repeating loop of the “quintessential bounce,” the vertical motion of the ball serves as the de-facto googly-eyes of the Blockheads, replacing any “pre-millennial angst” that might be read in their gaping faces with something more like anticipation. It’s a fabulously cheap virtual trick to accentuate and insist upon a recognition of the moment, a naggingly-pleasant metronome to mark the “interchronic pause” when nothing is happening but everything is about to.
In The Shape of Time, George Kubler writes that “man’s native inertia is overcome only by desire” and Macdonald incorporates this idea of desire – and its seeming implausibility – into the broader predicament of remaining ever-in-the-present. In Two Planes, we are presented with a large-scale model of two smooth white planes, one atop the other, attempting to engage in improbable humpage. As ludicrous as it seems, we can’t deny the insistence of the gesture and hence the possibility that these two DC-class planes might eventually get it on. But it hasn’t happened yet and we are vexed along with the planes, caught in the moment of perpetual desire.
A few years ago, Macdonald had been painting small figures on flying carpets. He has come back to this reference in spirit with Two Places At Once, two small paintings with casual grid lines suggesting an aerial view of the urban landscape. Macdonald’s lines don’t depict a stark urban grid but are instead loose and easy, referring back to the smooth edges of the Blockheads. This simple depiction places the viewer within a perspective too distant for content or narrative, in a place where the only option is a consideration of the moment, the present, and all the possibilities still before us.
Two Places At Once also explicitly introduces the notion of simultaneity to this rumination on time and actualizing the moment. The idea that “actualized moments” are happening elsewhere at the same time (or perhaps ought to be happening) diminishes the possibility of a singular perspective and a cynical reading, replacing this with an expansiveness and generosity. The video Interval furthers this idea of simultaneity by again presenting two distinct perspectives, this time in a single still shot.
The shadows of two palm trees cut across a section of four lane highway, with cars passing intermittently in both directions. It’s a short loop of just over two minutes, but within that time a casual optical shift occurs. Two narratives unfold atop each other within the image, as thought it were a double exposure. This is provoked in part by the glaring sunlight – which washes the entire image in a perfect light and deepens the shadows of the palm trees – and their gently swaying motion with its unabashedly hypnotic quality.
The effect is entirely convincing and then, part way through the video, the traffic vanishes and no cars are to be seen. During this brief interval, the reference to simultaneity disappears and we are forced to address only the shadows. They continue swaying, a motion which now serves to evoke the sensation that we have entered a suspended moment, the interchronic break when nothing happens. It only lasts a few seconds and then the simultaneous action renews and the “dialogue” of the shadows and the lanes of passing cars become universes unto themselves once again.
Looped repeatedly, the interval becomes increasingly more apparent upon each viewing until we begin to anticipate its appearance. Its urgency is quiet but insistent: the only actuality we can ever really know is the one happening right now, the glorious void between past and future, happening all the time and everywhere.
The pause that refreshes.
Curator, Koffler Art Gallery,
North York, Ontario