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Shakeman 2005 is a large sculpture made from flat pieces of Canadian red cedar wood and plastic that are slotted together to form a geometric representation of a male figure. The wooden figure is a zigzag shape and is shown as if sitting on the floor with his bent legs pulled towards his chest. His head is indicated by a long piece of wood that projects upward from one end of the zigzag, and three holes – one large and two small – have been cut into this part of the wood and filled with blue and white plastic to form eyes and a mouth. Long, narrow pieces of coloured fabric are attached to the figure of the man: these extend vertically upwards and are draped over a metal bar that is suspended parallel to the ceiling, before looping towards the wall and connecting to a black winch. The fabric and winch together form a pulley system that can be used to manipulate the figure’s position, as if he is a puppet. When encountered in a gallery space, this creates uncertainty on the part of viewers as to whether or not they are permitted or expected to adjust the pulley system – which they are not – and therefore the figure’s position. This highlights the potential role of the viewer as both spectator for and participant in the work, while also suggesting that the final form of the sculpture is not fixed and may appear different each time it is seen, even though the composition is in fact very similar each time it is displayed.
Shakeman was created by the Canadian artist Christina Mackie in her London studio in 2005. Mackie constructed the sculpture from found objects that she collected in Canada, including the red cedar wood that is native to that country. She stated in 2012 that in her work she is ‘interested in what happens to materials after they’ve entered my zone of influence’ (Mackie in ‘Sculptors Discuss Sculpture’, Frieze, issue 147, May 2012, pp.210). The title Shakeman may refer to the relationship between the fabric and the wooden figure, which could be ‘shaken’ into different positions by the act of pulling the fabric strips.
Although Shakeman can be considered a figurative sculpture, Mackie presents a contemporary approach to this traditional creative genre through her use of found objects and movable parts and the sculpture’s resulting alterable qualities. The curators and art historians Suzanne Cotter and Sandy Nairne analysed this element of Mackie’s work in their 2004 group exhibition Real World at Modern Art Oxford, which placed Mackie among a group of six artists working at the turn of the millennium (including Katie Grinnan, Wade Guyton, Bojan arcevic, Paul Sietsema and Hiroshi Sugito alongside Mackie) whom Cotter and Nairne saw as readdressing the relationship between sculpture and ‘real’ space. In the catalogue to the exhibition Cotter and Nairne suggested that these artists each challenged the notion of the fixed art object:
The sense of something that is in the world with us, physically as well as visually, is overlaid by an equally strong sense of something that is constantly in flux, moving between image and object, between form and surface, between imagined and real.
(Modern Art Oxford 2004, p.5.)
In light of this description, Shakeman could be seen as both a definite presence – an effect created by the sculpture’s blocky, colourful shape and large scale – and a changeable form that displays its own potential for alternative appearances via the visible pulley system. In this sense, Shakeman is characteristic of Mackie’s sculptural practice since 2000: for instance, in another work by Mackie in the Tate collection, Falling Boundary 2004 (Tate T12320), painted shapes are suspended from a wire coat rack and acrylic paint pools together underneath each one, suggesting the work has only recently been finished and allowing the viewer to witness the artistic process – in this case, the drying of the paint.
Writers on Mackie’s work often focus on its visual complexity and its ability to challenge viewers’ understanding of their physical environment. As the art critic Rhea Dall has said of the artist
[Her] itinerant installations are often arresting as idiosyncratic ‘geological’ matrices or palpable tests of human perception. Mackie’s practice meanders between the real and the imagined in an investigation of qualities of earthly ‘matter’, tracing figuration and testing current production conditions.
(Dall and Mackie 2013, p.176.)
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. In 2005–6 Shakeman was exhibited alongside another work by Mackie from the Tate collection, the 2005 video work Irrig (Tate T12471), 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.
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, reproduced p.35.
Rhea Dall and Christina Mackie, ‘A Constant Drift’, Mousse Magazine, no.36, December 2013, pp.176–83.
Supported by Christie’s.