Nathan Piquette-Miller

by Matthew Kyba

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To define Nathan Piquette-Miller’s work is to enter into a visual journey of pure aesthetic sublime. After recently completing his Oculus Sinister (2016, shown at OCAD University), his signature style of surreal images, engrossing audio, and tranquilizing non-narrative structures all pioneer a contemporary take on the experimental film genre. Since the video format became a popular medium for media artists in the 60s (due to the democratization of the medium and decreasing cost of ownership), experimental video has taken on every issue and topic imaginable. Artists like Stan Brakhage and Jack Smith are best known to have introduced challenging and important themes that reflected artistic auto-ethnography for their time. Identity politics have been a popular issue within time-based media for a while, but Piquette-Miller instead undertakes the investigation into the sensorial realm and gallery/viewer relationships.

His immersive installations that often include projects, screens, and large light boxes beckon the guilty pleasure of full affective experience. His Oculus Sinister work is described as


a series of interplays which leaves the creation of meaning in the hands of the viewer. Entering the doors of the gallery, the viewer encounters a new landscape, a return to nature, a cerebral space devoid of a fixed position in space and time. Combining lens-based media with multi-faceted sonic works, the interplay creates an environment that is eerily transcendent. They are a witness to a relationship between two screens, reflecting and interacting upon each other. The eye is not sentient, rapid eye movements happen so quickly that they are many times overlooked or appear to be seamless, like waves of sound and light blending into a smooth continuous tone. This macro view of the eye shows it moving at astonishing speeds to survey details of the scene it faces, hyperactive as it takes in the surreal images, it’s pupil dilating in awe, horror, or attraction.”

In true artistic fashion, Piquette-Miller combines elements that are both attractive and repulsive, creating a dialogue that focuses on the relationship between binary images and moods. The extreme closeness of the eye is placed beside the far-reaching landscape view of water and urban development. The “liminal” setting that Piquette-Miller creates is highlighted through the viewer’s location between the two large projections of the work, literally in-between the images.


The partner screen sits directly across the room from the gaze of the eye, encouraging it to utilize it’s power of imagination to stimulate grandiose ideas and visions. A fragmented narrative transports across ambiguous space and time, exploring the vastness of the large bodies of water as the camera rises high into the sky facing down upon the water in an aesthetic of massive scale, delves deep into the dark basement of the subconscious, and uses the complexity of nature to trigger an emotional impact from that which is beautiful. Ambiguous characters sparsely appear in the fragmented narrative, leading the audience to ask questions as to their identity and role, their presence creating a tension which balances out the attraction of the natural images.”


His other works like {in dreams} mimics sleep paralysis with nightmarish visuals and slow, almost trance-like scenes. Urban decay beside a hooded figure in a forest is meant to slowly perturb the viewer. Overbearing audio resonates throughout the exhibition, infecting the images and mood to add an eerie environment. “Waves of sublimity emanate from the surreal imagery and commanding sound, evoking an atmosphere of dreams and imagination.” It is here that Piquette-Miller finds the most effective way at viewer engagement: through beautiful but uneasy visuals. Again, his use of the attraction/repulsion binary is at work, unnerving images fantastically shot and colorfully rendered.


Piquette-Miller also investigates the gallery setting as a contemporary petri dish for experimentation. Works such as Mycrophobia (2015) act as testing grounds for viewer reaction to abject fear and perturbation. He describes it as


It is up to the viewer to decide between aversion or attraction, like moths to the glowing lightbox frame which responds to the presence of the audience, immersed in a space which uses massive projections of phobia-inducing subjects, magnified hundreds of times larger in scale. The elements of the installation use electronic presence to confer life upon the organic forms of the on-screen media, giving the glowing frames and flickering projection an ethereal (yet commanding) occupation of the white-walled, darkened space.


The metaphor of the moth and light is interesting as it perfectly encapsulates viewer engagement to much of his practice. We are predetermined to seek out light in the darkness, our eyes are biologically and socially trained to seek the mimicking of flames. The enticing lightboxes on the floor that show detailed pictures of microscopic insect details invite us inwards to peer into the biology. As the LED lights change, so too does the image and subsequently the mood of the room.


Nathan Piquette-Miller expertly uses basic human fascination with alluring visuals juxtaposed beside unsettling images to confuse and question predispositions towards contemporary aesthetics. The push-pull element, content at once both attractive and repulsive, remains a key dilemma in his practice. The contemporary experimental video, a vehicle usually reserved for identity politics, auto-ethnography, and biographical documentation, is here utilized instead to freshly showcase the relationship between viewer and image.
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