/ARCHIVE — 2012
NATE MCLEOD’s PERPETUAL PASSAGE invites viewers into an immersive space – a space that draws one in and seems to infinitely stretch the Project Room in both directions. As the viewer moves through the space the work appears to transform, creating a dialogue between artwork, exhibition space, and viewer. Expanding upon Théophile Gautier’s concept of “l’art pour l’art” (translated as “art for art’s sake”), the artwork does not provide extraneous information and the viewer is left to consider this three-way dialogue and the experience of viewing the artwork.
NATE MCLEOD is an interdisciplinary artist, arts administrator, and Editor of Fresh Bread Daily, an arts & culture publication and website dedicated to the arts scene in Calgary and beyond. He holds a BFA from the Alberta College of Art & Design.
/WHOSE MARGIN FADES FOR EVER AND FOR EVER WHEN I MOVE: NATE MCLEOD’S PERPETUAL PASSAGE
We maneuver through the physical world on a daily basis, acknowledging and processing visual phenomena and negotiating boundaries and objects with ease. Perpetual Passage by Nate McLeod is exceptional in reminding us that the way we understand our world, visually, spatially, and temporally is more than automatic.
Perpetual Passage is foremost a visual event. A hanging hallway, suspended in a small room, functions first as sculptural form. Viewers are invited to walk around and into the art. From a distance, the interior of the passage appears to be a monochromatic black. As one enters, the walls reveal evenly spaced black stripes upon a background that shifts from pink to white. The work’s significance develops through each viewer’s process of interaction with the art and by way of the multiple, accumulating sensory experiences.
P e r p e t u a l P a s s a g e
A deeper understanding of McLeod’s Perpetual Passage requires an awareness of the passage of time and the history of art, which remains ever-present in our engagement with contemporary art. McLeod picks up two historic threads in visual art. The first is combined optical and kinetic investigations explored by artists like Yaacov Agam and Jesús Rafael Soto, who utilize three-dimensional painted stripes to cause subtle and dramatic changes according to shifting viewing perspectives. The second is appropriation of halftone dots of mechanical printing processes and stripes of static noise in digital media, initiated in the late 1960’s by Alain Jacquet, Sigmar Polke, and Gerald Laing. Their works show figurative images competing with graphic dots or stripes for dominance of the visual field, such as Jean-Pierre Yvaral’s famous example of wall art Saint Vincent de Paul (1987), installedat the Square Alban Satragne in Paris (still viewable on Google street view, type: 105 Rue du Faubourg, Saint-Denis).
McLeod weaves these threads in Perpetual Passage. The stripes present information about themselves, black industrial plastic, evenly spaced elements -- the syntactic aspect. The background evokes an evening sky, a pink that shifts to white -- the mimetic aspect. Thus, the art is in a constant visual tension as the dominant image flips between the stripes and background just as the Rubin Vase flips between the vase and the faces 1. Viewers cannot fully settle on one reading.
When McLeod discusses Perpetual Passage he frequently utilizes binaries: unbounded versus enclosed space, industrial versus hand-painted, reflective versus matte, finished surface versus raw materiality. His conceptualization reflects the tension between the bi-stable structure of black stripes and shifting pink described above. He disallows viewers any reconciliation between the contradictory elements of the work. Instead, McLeod prefers we concede the constantly changing nature of the art and the fact there can be no one, ideal viewing position.
The title of this essay is taken from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson. The full passage reads, “I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.” 2 As with Tennyson’s poem, McLeod’s art investigates the notion of time. They lead us to speculate on our passage through life, bounded by our less than solid decisions and heading toward an as yet unseen future? But McLeod’s art is seen and the seen fades as the viewer moves. A viewer’s engagement with Perpetual Passage is an exercise of duration combined with unstability.The walls were black, the walls are striped. and the passage continues dimly into a perpetual distance, leaving viewer and in the case of Tennyson reader behind.
This is exactly how McLeod frames the contemporary global art world, a world defined by plurality and shifting criteria. The individual situates one’s self in relation to it, but one recognizes one’s view is incomplete. There is negotiation and there is no end to negotiation - the perpetual passage
1 The Rubin Vase, developed by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin around 1915, is a an ambiguous figure/ground diagram that may be perceived as either a vase or two faces.
/CHRISTOPHER WILLARD is a Calgary-based visual artist and writer. Check out his art at www.meghanfish.com. He is also Head of Painting at the Alberta College of Art + Design