Euan Macdonald isolates ideas, making them manifest with simple gestures and through simplifying the visual field. For You Are My Nebula, his solo exhibition at the CAG, Macdonald presented a 16mm film loop of a nebula captured through the telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles. Unlike the human eye, which cannot translate colour at such distances, film and video cameras can read the multiple colours particular to nebulae. Yet Macdonald still chose to forget the awesome spectrum of color, portraying the cluster of stars in black and white. He removed information not just to represent how the human eye sees, but to draw attention to the means of representation in order to create a lull between spectacle and sublime understanding. As part of You Are My Nebula, the CAG co-published a limited edition artist bookwork with Verlag Fur Moderne Kunst, Nurnberg that consist of an amalgamation of stills and drawings.
If we look up into the winter sky on a clear night, we are looking far back in time. The starlight that we see now has traveled a vast distance to reach us on planet Earth, which is a mere speck in our Milky Way galaxy.
Some say the sound of the musical saw has an oddly human quality, but others think it’s like a mosquito trapped under a paper cup. The sound of the saw has been compared to violin music carried through the forest on the wind, haunted-house music, a combination of flute and oboe, and pained ghostly cry.
You are My Nebula/You are my Sunshine, a bookwork by Euan Macdonald includes two texts, one by Shevill Mathers, an amateur astrologer, and the other by Bill Bingham, an amateur historian. What resonates in the words of both Mathers and Bingham is not the particularities of what they say, but how they approach their subjects. There is little irony in the way they present their interests: Mathers writes on the Orion Nebula and Bingham on the history of the musical saw. They are amateurs who acquire knowledge for the love of it. As such their texts often reveal their personal infatuations, wander into poetic descriptions, state their preferences or detail their experiences. Conveying factual information is still a quintessential aspect of each text, but it is also essential for Mathers and Bingham to voice their personal investment. Scientific and historical details blend into particular anecdotes, building parallels between fact and experience.
In this manner the texts function as metaphors for Macdonald’s You are My Nebula, a 16mm film of the Orion Nebula. For this work Macdonald transferred black and white video documentation taken through the telescope at the Southern Cross Observatory in Tasmania onto black and white film. The short loop was projected on a small self-supporting silver screen in an otherwise empty and dark gallery. The footage of the nebula is a record of the star’s light pattern that traveled hundreds of thousands of kilometers before it could be visible through the telescopic lens. It is a view into a distant past. Macdonald amplified this elapsed time by filtering it through the nostalgic lens of antiquated technology. Like the texts in his bookwork, Macdonald presented factual information through a personalized and specific representation that uses science and technology as a means to convey a particular experience – one that plays out cosmically. There is romance in gazing at the stars and being in awe of nature, but there is also the indeterminacy of the unknown.
Mathers, Bingham and Macdonald all draw representational time lines that, in a matter of fact manner, pivot between objective and subjective. Each involves an occupation with a subject and articulates the experience as a point from which to present a certain understanding. But it is this sense of understanding that is also presented as unobtainable. In the work of Mathers and Bingham, this unobtainable is translated through romantic sentiment and personal narratives. Macdonald more consciously plays with the tropes of representation, using form and material to create an aesthetic gesture that offers understanding while also questions the line between certainty and uncertainty. He represents the desire to understand, choosing not to depict what it is to know but instead how to imagine understanding.
Macdonald comically plays out this relation to the known/unknown in Mosquito Under A Paper Cup in Vancouver, a sculptural work that borders on slapstick. He randomly places several white paper cups on a plain household table. As the title implies, under one of the cups is a mosquito that the artist fabricated to scale out of gold. The viewer is denied the simple chance to glimpse it or to discover if such a mosquito exists. The connections between the three distinct works in this exhibition conveyed an existential condition, rendering both an inquiry and acceptance of the indeterminate, marking a tangible area between knowing and unknowing. – Jenifer Papararo