Irrig 2005 is a short colour video with sound by the Canadian artist Christina Mackie. The central subject of the video is a yellow mechanical water jet that appears in the middle-foreground of the scene and is set against a backdrop of green fir trees, sloping yellow-brown earth and a clear blue sky. Water projects upwards from the nozzle of the jet, the body of which rotates throughout the film. The short duration of the work means that the jet does not complete its full rotation before the video’s end, at which point the film, which is shown on a continuous loop, immediately begins again from the start. The video is accompanied by sound recordings of the water’s projection and the revolution of the jet mechanism, and these sounds intensify the impression of the movement of the water and resonate throughout the space in which the work is displayed.
Mackie filmed the footage for Irrig in Canada in 2005 before editing it in her London studio that same year. The work’s title is taken from the first part of the word ‘irrigation’, and the video’s footage shows part of the complex and highly regulated system that is used to irrigate the farmland around the Fraser River in British Columbia, the region of Canada in which Mackie grew up. The art critic Emma Mahoney has interpreted Irrig as an example of ‘the concept of repetition, echoed by natural forces and cycles present in nature’, which she claims is an ‘important reference point in Mackie’s practice’ (Hayward Touring 2005, p.34). Like the natural processes of irrigation caused by an area’s geographical characteristics and its climate, man-made irrigation systems follow cyclical patterns, and the short duration and looping of Mackie’s video could be seen to reflect the repetitive structure of the method of irrigation that it depicts.
In 2005–6 Irrig was displayed in British Art Show 6, a touring exhibition that began at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and continued to museums in Manchester, Nottingham and Bristol. It was exhibited alongside another work by Mackie in the Tate collection, Shakeman 2005 (Tate T12352). Shakeman is a sculpture made from Canadian red cedar wood, plastic and fabric, and presents a geometric representation of a male figure sitting on the floor. The work can be adjusted using a pulley that is adhered to the adjacent wall and connected to the figure of the man by long strips of coloured fabric. Often created in several different media, Mackie’s works, such as Irrig and Shakeman, have been described by Mahoney as a new form of hybrid artwork that the critic terms ‘assemblages’:
Christina Mackie’s assemblages consist of elements of sculpture, painting, drawing and video, which come together to form a whole. Her hybrid compositions are physical expressions of abstract lines of enquiry which appear to originate in the landscape, particularly that of the West Coast of Canada, where she grew up.
(Mahoney 2005, p.34.)
While Irrig makes reference to the Canadian landscape through direct footage of its processes, Shakeman does so using another, equally direct technique – by taking wood from the landscape and forming a moving sculpture from it. Both works also point to the ways in which humans interact with and in some cases control natural phenomena. The curators Suzanne Cotter and Sandy Nairne have discussed the intersection of scientific investigation and creative expression in Mackie’s work, stating that:
In not dissimilar ways [to scientists] she likes to manipulate elements from her environment to give poetic form to less tangible notions and experiences shaped by our knowledge of the world.
(Modern Art Oxford 2004, p.9.)
Mackie studied at the Vancouver School of Art in her native Canada before continuing her art education at St Martin’s School of Art in London in 1976–9. However, her work was not exhibited until the 1990s: she participated in her first group show in 1994 (The Curator’s Egg, Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London) and her first solo exhibition was held at the artist-run gallery City Racing in London in 1998.
Real World: The Dissolving Space of Experience: Katie Grinnan, Wade Guyton, Christina Mackie, Bojan arcevic, Paul Sietsema, Hiroshi Sugito, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford 2004.
Emma Mahoney, ‘Christina Mackie’, British Art Show 6, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Touring, London 2005, pp.34–7.
Rhea Dall and Christina Mackie, ‘A Constant Drift’, Mousse Magazine, no.36, December 2013, pp.176–83.
Supported by Christie’s.