Review: Todd McMillan “No More Light” at Grantpirrie

by Alex Wisser

This review was originally published on DAS500 on June 4, 2011

If the sublime had a logo it would be the flat line of the horizon. As a graphic form it signifies that unverifiable, unreachable limit to our perception, indicating without describing ‘the beyond’ of the very means through which we apprehend it.

This is something of which Todd McMillan is obviously aware, and even if you are unfamiliar with his oeuvre, no more light, recently shown at Grantpirrie in Sydney, declares its subject unequivocally, composed as it is of four videos – three of which are dominated by horizon lines. These videos are projected onto the wall through four overhead projectors that line the middle room like squat robotic sentinels hunched in locked surveillance of their own projections. The cut corner square images are rendered hazy and sepia toned through the translation of the projectors, referencing early photography in a semiosis of romanticism and nostalgia.

These images, and the temporality they suggest, compete with the nostalgia of the slightly less antiquated technology producing them. The projectors emit their own sense of the past. Their production of virtuality, which is dependant on the far too tangible technology of textured glass and block cut sheet metal, projects the viewer into their own past to whatever bored, pained or confounded experience of high school classrooms these objects are the familiar of. The images, seen in this context, seem like reference material for the illustration of certain Romantic poets: Donne or Keats or Shelly, compounding the temporal contradiction with something more metaphysical. How could these clumsy machines produce an equivalent of the great poets of the sublime?

The answer perhaps can be found in that classroom where, without visual aids (beyond those provided by language), some underpaid public servant first confounded and bored you in an attempt to introduce you to this very same sublime. Subjected as you were (keen perhaps, or intimidated), the idea of the sublime was born: the idea of a beyond that was at once immense and humanly fulfilling, poetic and intensely meaningful. Perhaps it was no more than the beyond of the banality of that classroom: the idea that out there somewhere there existed a world capable of sustaining the states of intensity that these poems and your teacher seemed to promise but failed to deliver.

McMillan suggests that in failing to communicate the sublime, your teacher succeeded in tethering you to it: presenting it by making you present to your boredom, confusion, and distraction (i.e. everything that was not beyond). There is the suggestion that this is the experience of the sublime. Not great emotion, but an awkward silence, the banality of detail, a sense of one’s own corporeality illuminated by the indifference of the universe to it. If this seems pessimistic or disappointing, I don’t think this is the artist’s intention. His work considers the conditions under which we experience the beyond with a rigor and sincerity that insists that it is there and well worth pursuing.