Alastair Mackie (British, b. 1977)
Sometimes infecting the white cube with a contagious wilderness, sometimes teasing out the animal buried inside the human, Alastair Mackie's sculptural interventions relentlessly challenge the conventional limits separating nature and culture. For the installation Copse (2011), Mackie has set up a series of wraithlike trees, the base of their trunks turned to resemble banal table legs. The piece embodies a forest sprouting from the dry wood of mundane furniture, and yet the prosthetic domestic appendices appear to sustain the trees, to unite them with the ground. There is palpable yet unresolved tension. As in most of Mackie’s works, Copse’s ambiguity is also its strength.
Mackie grew up on a farm in Cornwall and the materials he uses often bear the mark of his countryside upbringing. Mice skulls collected from owl pellets — the small parcels of indigestible bits rejected by the night birds — have long played a key role in his artistic lexicon. Untitled (Sphere) (2000-2010) combines the gothic horror of a collection of bones and the minimalist precision of a geometric assemblage, the playfulness of a toy ball and the gravitas of a memento mori. Wasp nest pulp is another of Mackie's materials harking back to his first encounters with the natural world. But again and again the artist defeats the expectations coming with such a signifier of the untamed. In his hands the paper pulp becomes a human heart, a dollhouse, or blank sheets of paper.
Mackie’s complex practice is often labour-intensive, but the result is almost always disarmingly simple. The effort that has gone into the making of the pieces seems to resonate in the background, granting Mackie's work an indefinable profundity. The artist brings order to nature's chaos. He turns it into reassuringly mundane, quantifiable and usable materials — as if striving to make sense of his role and position within his own environment. Mackie reconciles the formal with the conceptual in a generous body of works that challenges the deep-rooted separation between animal and human, and exposes the clichés still hampering our understanding of man’s relationship to the natural world.
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