PAUSE: Practice and Exchange
Euan Macdonald’s work captures quotidian life through a unique lens, reflecting unseen nuances of mundane activities. He uses video, drawing, and installation to develop evocative content out of ordinary subjects. YBCA commissioned a new work by Macdonald titled 9,000 PIECES; the result is an intriguing and thoughtful single-channel High Definition video shot at a musical instrument factory in Shanghai. The factory manufactures high quality pianos for export around the world. The video records the intricate mechanisms of a piano being vigorously tested by a machine designed to determine the endurance of pianos. As with some of Macdonald’s early videos, 9,000 PIECES subtly points to questions about the sustainability and speed of fast changing economies and globalized societies.
In 1998 I had the pleasure of meeting Euan Macdonald and seeing an installation of his work that left a lasting impression; I was struck by his simple but brilliant videos that seemed to capture quotidian life through a unique lens. His work encapsulated the nuances of everyday life using digital video and its accomplice, the “loop.” At that moment, Sampling — the act of appropriation and/or looping being a reconfiguration of an original recording — had become common practice in contemporary electronic music production. The act of Sampling or Remix culture, as noted by music writer David Sanjek, is a cultural practice profoundly blurs the line between creators and consumers of culture, turning listening itself into a platform for creative production and performance. This type of practice opened the door to future ways of working with music and image, thus changing a status quo in creating, recording and mastering by democratizing accessibility to music and video production. Access to new digital software gave artists the choice to work independently and reduce the need for expensive and exclusive music and media studios.
Incorporating the digital loop, Macdonald’s seminal work, the 1999 video Brakestand, depicted a 1970s BMW spinning its wheels and burning rubber — the car endlessly going nowhere fast. This early video work is marked comparisons and associations with the writings and cultural theories of Paul Virilio, especially his work on speed and its association with the acceleration of history. As Barbara Fisher points out in her essay, Speed Still or Still Speed — “Warning of the dangers of exhausting temporal and spatial distances due to the effects of remote control and instantaneous long-distance telepresence technologies, Paul Virilio saw the threat of a permanent inertia. As if describing Brakestand’s paradox between absolute standstill and extreme speed.”
In 2000 I attended a talk by curator/writer Ralph Rugoff at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, where he discussed current contemporary art movements and artists at the forefront of the California art scene. He ended his presentation with his favorite new find — a series of Euan Macdonald videos. That same year Euan was included in the popular group exhibition Art 010101: Art in Technological Times at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His contribution to that exhibition was the video Two Planes, a digitally superimposed, duplicate image of a passenger jet shadowing the original. The video demonstrated his ability for producing evocative content out of ordinary subject matter. Flying across a vast open sky, the doubled image of the jet gave the work a haunting significance.
Now in 2011 YBCA has commissioned a new work by Macdonald titled 9,000 PIECES. This provocative and beautiful single-channel High Definition video was shot at a musical instrument factory in Shanghai where high quality pianos are manufactured for export around the world. The video records the intricate mechanism of a piano being vigorously tested by a factory machine designed to determine the endurance of pianos. As with some of his early videos, 9,000 PIECES also subtly points to questions about the sustainability and speed of fast changing economies and globalized societies. After years of following Euan’s insightful and significant body of work, curating 9,000 PIECES at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts brings my experience of his work into full circle, with extraordinary enthusiasm and enduring respect.
Euan Macdonald, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1965, lives and works in Los Angeles. He has had numerous solo shows in international museums and galleries including Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto; Kunstbunker Kinstverein, Nuremberg; and University Art Museum, Long Beach; as well as major group shows, Treble, 2004, Sculpture Center, Queens, NY; Irreducible, 2005, The Wattis Center for Contemporary Art, San Francisco; Seville Biennale, 2004; Gimme Shelter, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; Fresh, 2000, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY; and 010101: Art in Technological Times, SFMOMA, 2001. The artist is represented by Galleria S.A.L.E.S.
YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
The San Francisco Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Adobe Foundation Fund
YBCA Exhibitions 10–11 is made possible in part by:
Meridee Moore and Kevin King, CEC ArtsLink and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Free First Tuesdays
Underwritten by Directors Forum Members