September 21-November 2, 2019
Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver, BC
by Helena Wadsley
The new location of Catriona Jeffries in an industrial area of East Vancouver has high black fencing hems in the courtyard, with a stretch of busy train track just metres away. Installed in the far corner across a stretch of beige gravel is Christina Mackie’s audio piece, her first work in this medium. She recorded the grinding, squealing and clanking sounds of the trains that trundle past frequently. The only difference between the real and the recorded is that the audio piece plays at regularly timed intervals. The mimetic sounds pull at memory in an affective way; the recognition of the sound as it becomes more audible conjures up images of station platforms on dark nights in the mode of a romantic film set. It is haunting and surprisingly delicate, which also sums up the large installation waiting inside.
When I walk into the gallery, my gaze is drawn upwards, my neck bending back to see the towering cones of Colour Drop. The fabric is membrane-like, so delicate it is almost not there, visible only for the colour each is dyed—red, blue and yellow. The windsock-like forms hover over circular, parched puddles of textile dye. At the beginning of the exhibition, the shallow pools were half full of the liquid dye, the colours matching the silk and nylon fabrics of the cones. On the final day, the blue and yellow have dried up completely, giving the tray of blue dye the appearance of ice on a puddle—sharp shards cracking the surface, a visual record of time passing. The pools have the feel of topographical images of mining residue, evoking the sense that nature has been altered. The red pool never fully dried, and one half of it is like viscous blood. The cones were inspired by Mackie’s childhood when she accompanied her marine biologist father on expeditions and observed similar forms in the nets he used to collect plankton.
Perception changes over time, hence we often remember visceral images as if they were larger than life. The way we experience art, as with everything, is mitigated by memory, intuition and reason combined, while Mackie’s interest is in the perception of colour. She presents colour that is created by the light that filters through it, whereas we are more accustomed to seeing colour when light is reflecting off a surface. That the viewer can be expected to experience only visual perception feels limiting conceptually because perception is tied with personal experience and memory. The cones also refer to the processes of making colour, especially as Mackie has deliberately chosen to use dyes rather than pigment or paint, and more specifically, dyes that are no longer used, evoking the past as historic as well as nostalgic. As with the audio of the train rolling through, my perception of these large-scale works is scrambling memory with pure visual experience.
In the Token series, Mackie pays homage to clay, approaching it with what seems like a child-like naivete. Some of the pieces appear crudely formed. This and the Chalk series are wall sculptures constructed in layers. In Chalk, the layers of chalk gesso invoke the surface of white lard. The dyes sink into the porous gesso, but the colours remain brilliant. The stoneware works have an imperfection which is balanced by the allure of the glazes, taking me back to the desiccating pools of dye, crystallizing on the narrow points of the silk as well as the pigment poured onto the layered chalk panels. The glazes, the dye pours on chalk, and the dye in the trays illustrate the different processes of applying colour. Both ceramic glaze and dye can be completely transformed by heat, oxygen, or time. Mackie re-creates dyes that are no longer used, referring to a different type of time passage, an extinction of materials through the evolution of new ones.
Minimalist sculptures are self-referential, with strong attention to materials and form and how these interact with the space they occupy. They tend to be geometric, pristine and repetitive forms. Mackie has three cones, dipping into circles. The primary colours reflect on how we see colour when light is filtered through it rather reflected. On the other hand, post-minimalist art, which included feminist art that celebrated textile-based techniques and organic forms are alluded to in the fabric cones and in the torn strips of cloth that wrap around some of the ceramic pieces. Mackie’s work contains these contradictory elements, subverting a patriarchal history of modern art by giving equal attention to the materials and processes, and allowing imperfections of the hand to remain visible. The Token series conveys the potential of clay as a formalist medium, but its vigour is in how Mackie has pushed the potential of glaze as a medium, like a glue. The shapes impersonate the spills of dye over chalk, which in turn refer to the pools of dye and the nuggets of glass. As I leave the gallery, a train is chugging past, its clanking and wheezing referring me back to Mackie’s audio piece and the obfuscation between reality, simulacrum, and memory-affected perception.