[STUDIO]

Writings & works on the PSU MFA Studio Lecture Series by the students of the MFA in Contemporary Art Practice: Studio program.

Posts tagged Euan MacDonald

Mar 14

A Broken Contract

When watching a film it’s usually safe to say that there will be an event or something will happen.  This expectation is part of a wider set of expectations we unconsciously bring with us when watching films. In a sense, there is a “contract” between the audience and the filmmaker. The rule that something will happen in the film is one of the most basic, unstated rules of this contract. Video art is not excluded from this contract; regardless of its status as art and not as a Hollywood blockbuster, the understanding and expectations inevitably carry over.

For example, when I watched Pipilotti Rist’s Ever is Over All for the first time, I wasn’t surprised that the video wasn’t straightforward, that it was slowed down slightly, or that it was projected as a split screen with two separate stories being told. All of the basic film rules were still intact; in effect I watched a video and something happened. That something might have been beautiful, unoriginal, contrived or wonderful but that does not change the fact that the basic rules of viewing a video have not been changed in this viewing.

It is this very unspoken and unconscious rule that Euan MacDonald’s video House (everythinghappensatonce) challenges. The single view shot is of a body of water and a dilapidated boathouse that seems to teeter on the edge of falling into the water. The eventual demise of the house seems to be the impending narrative that will be told throughout the piece. This however is not the case. Instead, initially the viewer might actually suspect that what they’re seeing is a still-life, a photograph or some other non-time-based-art. This is because for much of the thirty-minute piece, absolutely nothing happens.

After a good amount of time watching the virtual still life, without warning, a boat speeds across the screen. This occurs so quickly and without preamble or conclusion that it almost seems to be a technical glitch. And while this does constitute as something happening in the video, the fact that so much of the piece focuses on nothing happening calls into question the entire contract of the viewer and the video. MacDonald seems to be pointing back at the viewer’s inherent assumptions. He begs the question, why does anything have to happen at all?

Not only is MacDonald challenging what we expect to see in videos, he’s challenging our relationship to how time is shown in videos. Traditionally we have come to expect time to be condensed in video form (think Rocky montage), but this piece seems almost to elongate and slow down time just by being shot and remaining in real time.  By “slowing” this time down and challenging our assumptions of something happening, MacDonald challenges our relationship to video. This challenging stance changes everything about the critique of this video. MacDonald is playing with our expectations as viewers, our unknown contracts we have with video and our relationship to time in video. 


Mar 7


Jan 18

A Littler Ramble (2012), brings a probably not quite full scale replica of Euan Macdonald’s replica of a mountaintop onto the vacant lot at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Lincoln Street. Realistically rendered by a general contractor with a dumptruck full of asphalt the day before, the mountain’s summit is surmounted by actual snow from a local cloudburst. The work takes its title from a short prose piece by Robert Walser (1878-1956) recounting a trek in the mountains easily projected onto the landscape around Portland. “I walked through the park blocks today,” the account begins. “The weather was damp, and the entire region was gray. Woe, woe is me.” The ending asserts the power of the mundane: “We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.” The artist has added the suffix “-r” to the end so we know that it is in fact littler than probably a real mountaintop, and probably even Euan’s real one—which he has never seen in person and just kind of guessed about the dimensions, scale, and appearance of (after Euan’s original non-attempt to recreate Mt. Rainer).

A mountain encountered inside a parking lot used to store construction equipment temporarily is clearly out of the ordinary, but the piece asserts itself as a commonplace despite its uncanniness. The ordinary is expressed as if extraordinary.


Jan 17

Here is a rough version of Euan MacDonald’s lecture


I was unfortunately unable to attend any of the events focused around Euan MacDonald’s visit to PSU. While listening to the recorded interview between Mr. MacDonald and classmates the conversation around the comment “Conceptual Art is pointing at things” interested me. MacDonald did not wish to frame his work as pointing but rather isolating content. This lead to a discussion of his piece SCLPTR that is a shot of a truck, with the plates reading SCLPTR, hauling a large statue of Buddha. He took the video while riding in another car and by the manner in which its shot seems as if he came upon it by accident. By editing and slowing down the video he claims he isolates that content that is being shot. You are given the chance to understand what it is you are looking at beyond the initial humor you instantly identify. He talked at length about the commercial qualities of religion playing out in the video.

When I saw the clip online it brought to mind something I had seen on YouTube not too long ago. In the video an elderly man sits in a lazy boy on the back of a moving truck dozing off as he speeds down a highway. Looking not much different then the Buddha statue, the videos both invoke a humorous response. What I thought about is if I slow down the video as MacDonald did with his and placed it side by side does it isolate content that then can be ingested the same as his video. I leave that deconstruction to you. 


Jan 11
Spoiler Alert. 
Past, present, and future Euan portraits. 

Spoiler Alert. 

Past, present, and future Euan portraits. 


To paraphrase Euan Macdonald during his lecture, The Tower is “the ugliest piece of public art ever created.”  Utilizing the plans of the CN Tower, Euan created for the Toronto Sculpture Garden an exact replica of the top 20 feet of the building, a section that (perhaps reasonably) blends in to become a nearly detail-free portion of the building.

To paraphrase Euan Macdonald during his lecture, The Tower is “the ugliest piece of public art ever created.”  Utilizing the plans of the CN Tower, Euan created for the Toronto Sculpture Garden an exact replica of the top 20 feet of the building, a section that (perhaps reasonably) blends in to become a nearly detail-free portion of the building.


I am interested in dynamics of change- the effects of time and chance on pictorial and social conditions. My work tries to question the appearance of things, beginning with the presupposition that their images are inherently deceptive and that they are connected within a network of relationships based on illusions.

Euan Macdonald, 2009. (via)


Euan’s A Little Ramble was, as he mentioned in the lecture, originally intended to be a recreation of the top of Mt. Rainer, much the same way he had with Toronto’s CN Tower for The Tower. He balked, however, deciding that no one knew or cared what the top of the mountain looked like, choosing instead to have the set designers create an entirely fictional mountain to fit inside Western Bridge.

Xu Zhen in 2005 set out to do the same thing as Euan had initially, but with a rather more lofty goal than mere recreation and a higher target in mind.  As part of an installation that includes a chunk of rock that looks every bit the part of what one imagines the top of Mt. Everest to look like, Xu posted a video purporting to be him sawing off his height from the top of the mountain and carrying it back down with a team.

From the Tate:

8848 Minus 1.86 combines these elements in an ambitious work focusing on Mount Everest. The British claimed in 1856 that the summit was 8,848 metres in height, a measurement that despite new and conflicting data still officially stands. In May 2005, Xu Zhen led an ascent on Everest, and to test the veracity of the measurements, succeeded in removing the summit of the mountain, reducing its height by 186cm, Xu Zhen’s own height. Various official and independent surveys since have consistently shown that Everest is not as high as had been thought, pointing, perhaps, to evidence of global warming, or a shift in the tectonic plates, though its cause still remains unproven.

What would have happened if Euan had actually scaled Mt. Rainer?  Or is the blatant falseness of his gesture somehow more real than the questionable reality of Xu Zhen’s?


Euan Macdonald - Healer, 2002
The power of belief is in question: is psychic healing a kind of trickery that any savvy New Yorker is trained to dismiss? Or, can viewers allow themselves to believe that they are witnessing a magical moment; that this mild-mannered woman is actually emitting psychic energy that has the power to heal? As Giorgio Verzotti notes, “Macdonald’s art seems to question the real meaning of things, beginning with the presupposition that their images are inherently deceptive, indeed that they are all connected within a single network of relationships based on illusions.”
[via The 59th Minute]

Euan Macdonald - Healer, 2002

The power of belief is in question: is psychic healing a kind of trickery that any savvy New Yorker is trained to dismiss? Or, can viewers allow themselves to believe that they are witnessing a magical moment; that this mild-mannered woman is actually emitting psychic energy that has the power to heal? As Giorgio Verzotti notes, “Macdonald’s art seems to question the real meaning of things, beginning with the presupposition that their images are inherently deceptive, indeed that they are all connected within a single network of relationships based on illusions.”

[via The 59th Minute]


Euan Macdonald. Natura, 2002. video 3 1/2 mins.

Euan Macdonald. Natura, 2002. video 3 1/2 mins.


Thoughts on Euan MacDonald’s Lecture

  1. He spoke about moving from painting to video. Sarah and Euan both seemed to sort of want to avoid the can of worms that is painting.
  2. Euan spoke about shooting stuff and holding on to for a long time, using it later. I like to do that.

A Little Ramble

Robert Walser (1878-1956) recounting a trek in the mountains.
“I walked through the mountains today,” the account begins. “The weather was damp, and the entire region was gray.” The narrator limits himself to the observable, giving little indication of his interior state. The ending asserts the power of the mundane: “We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.”


“Macdonald quietly unsettles the viewers faith about what exactly is - or is not - happening in the picture he or she is looking at. … These pockets of uncertainty are enhanced by Macdonald’s deliberately style-less or impersonal approach to making images.” Ralph Rugoff, “Responsiveness Testing,” 9,000 Pieces, published by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 2010

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