James Nizam: Apparent Motions
April 18 - May 11, 2019
By GENEVIEVE MICHAELS, May 2019
In the busy mundanity of day-to-day life, it’s rare to connect with the deeper rhythms of the spaces we inhabit. It takes quietness and contemplation to move from understanding the nature of the universe in a theoretical way, to internalizing our existence within it - we are just bodies among unimaginable millions of other bodies. In Apparent Motions, a recent show at Gallery Jones in Vancouver, Canada, artist James Nizam brings these timeless subjects into the viewer’s direct sphere of experience.
The show was most interesting to me for how immediate and visceral it rendered subject matter that most of us feel little connection to; we tend to intellectualize the macrocosm and our place within it in an abstract, textbook way. Experiencing this exhibition, I was immersed in my own volatility and insignificance, revealed through light, sound, and physical space in a diverse array of works.
The show was grounded by ‘Earth Spin Moon Orbit (Trace)’, a site-specific, durational work installed in the centre of the gallery. The work is comprised of a device that’s recalibrated daily to denote the moon’s location, which is then marked on the gallery’s surface. Over the course of the exhibition, a normally invisible motion is made visible. This is the motion to which the exhibition’s title refers: there’s an ‘apparent motion’ of the moon through the gallery, but it’s in fact the movement of the space - and viewer - itself that is being charted. Experiencing this work gave me a sinking, overwhelming sensation - momentarily, my surroundings seemed tiny and unstable.
In the ‘Drawing with Starlight’ series, another standout, Nizam relates to these distant celestial bodies in the only way humans have ever been able to - through light. Light, of course, is the basic medium of photography, and photography allows you to make space and time visible. For this series, Nizam shot long-exposure images of the night sky, and used a variety of in-camera motion driven zoom modulations to manipulate the final result. The images look clean, almost computer generated at first, but up close they have a layered, tartan-like texture; the lines reveal themselves to be made up of dots that correspond to each incremental motion of the camera’s drawing mechanism, their varying weights revealing the proximity of their star. Much like ‘Earth Spin Moon Orbit (Trace)’, the starlight drawings have an opaque coldness upon first viewing. When they are examined more closely, this gives way to a remarkable depth; regarding them placed me into a very specific contemplative space.
That space is one the artist also inhabited while creating the works. Shooting the photographs required Nizam to spend long stretches in dark and isolated outdoor locations. To me, this mode of experience, simultaneously outward gazing and introspective, meditative and frightening, defined ‘Apparent Motions’. As much as to the greater universe, the works made me feel connected to humans from other centuries and millennia; the stars must be the only objects of study we share with them. WM
Genevieve Michaels is based in Vancouver. She studied creative writing and art history at the University of British Columbia.view all articles from this author