Ruth Barker

Placement and Meaning


Niall Macdonald’s recent work is a concise examination of the relationships between location (placement) and meaning, expressed through the application of cast plaster forms, semi-precious gemstone crystals, and plaster sprues. Testing the ground between what is intuitive, what is random, and what is pinpointed formulae, these sculptural collages reveal a complex landscape of mathematical and philosophical reference points.

[crystals] is a sequence of X cast plaster plains bordered by minimal steel frames. On each rectangular expanse a pattern of coloured gemstone crystals is placed, painstakingly aligned to precise co-ordinates. Assembled in series the crystals stud their plaster cast fields with absolute certainty: these locations are fixed and unequivocally permanent. And yet there is deliberate ambivalence here: the application of gemlike crystal gewgaws to a virgin plaster field is determined by the artist’s gridding of data from a random point generator employed in Monte Carlo casinos. Used in high-risk stakes to win or lose millions at the gaming tables, the data represent the single moment of pause in a world of fluctuating numbers. Reflecting the hundredth of a second at which the random point generator is frozen so that the patterns within it can be seen, Macdonald’s work hints towards the ineffability of chaos even as we try to find chart order. The human mind reads pattern in places that have no pattern, and finds meaning in the change alignment of stars. We believe we can beat the numbers as we clutch our point generator, our lucky rabbit’s foot or magic 8-ball, or as we place our blind faith in the mystic powers of glittering crystals with uncertain providence.

Quantifying such patterns (random / not random: how would we know?) is often the work of theorists who apply statistical analyses to points and locations. Mapping the relationships between time, place, and placement they find order embedded within the poetry of co-ordinates. Here then are models for Macdonald’s collaged propositions: systems by which artefacts may be placed, read and, by their reading, reveal order and predictability (Where are the stars? When will the telephone ring? How much will I lose?). And yet this lawfulness, Macdonald reminds us, is only ever an interim condition. In Dimensions Variable, Macdonald presents a fragile moment of coalescence within an infinite slew of time. Here, unworked plaster components, some of which are the merest of subtle fragments from the artist’s casting process, discover a critical and temporary harmonic atop a platform of cast plaster housebricks. Their status is liminal, fleeting, and conditional. Assembled by the artist within the Liste booth, this work exists in this form only for the duration of this presentation. The elements have emerged from within the flux of a live creative practice and will return to orbit the artist’s studio in Glasgow, recombining and rearticulating themselves in other, future, iterations. Each chance meeting is unique, and none of them will last forever.

We devise systems to help us perceive the order we crave within a universe, Macdonald suggests, that is constantly in motion. Ideas, objects, and circumstances constantly come into alignment and then slip from it again, existing just for a moment in a state of scintillating consonance. [crystals] and Dimensions Variable are snapshots of ephemeral coalescence.