View of “Christina Mackie: Color Drop,” 2014.


Christina Mackie is best known for her layered sculptural installations that evoke the natural world, often probing the relationship between the empirical and ephemeral. Her current exhibition at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, which runs through June 29, takes color and light as its central subject. On June 16, the London-based artist will present a installation at Basel Unlimited. A solo exhibition at the Tate Britain is slated for the spring of 2014.

WHEN MY LAST PROJECT CULMINATED in objects derived from ancient pestles and mortars for grinding pigments, I began to think about paint and color as a conceptual tool and archaic human device. We mine color from our surroundings to use for our magical purposes, and separate things out from the world, refine things, make of color a technology. Thinking about the history of the creation of colors led to my latest show where color is the explicit subject.

The works on tables and panels explore the process of dying, grinding, and evaporation. Panels with carved dips have been coated in chalk, and watercolor pooled in the indentations evaporated leaving sediment. In an allusion to alembics, dying, and sublimation, glass objects contain onionskins and bark held in place by paraffin. They describe the process of connecting the color of one material with the substance of another material. Pottery objects made of different clays with semiprecious rock grinders reference the process of making fine powder color from minerals.

I use these highly worked materials to talk about color as a substance and also the concept of color as a force, and the way that it is embodied in the behavior or qualities of objects in the material world. Force is something that can be deduced from observation and also can be represented. What sets things in motion? The world is in a transitory state of animation, the visible manifestation of invisible forces.

The second part of the project is the large filters. Light is filtered by objects to reveal specific colors, and a filter stands between us and the world. In the three large central filter objects, I wanted to capture the idea of filtering and also illustrate the insubstantiality of light. The height of the nets draws the eye up and simultaneously casts the viewer down in scale and to a level symbolic with the base, as though the net were trawling from a surface far higher than where we stand.

Everything has to be prepared beforehand, all details thought out in advance, and held in mind. The whole filter weighed just a few ounces. Ropes, swivels, and pulleys allowed the raw net to be dipped into large pans of dye and pulled back up the thirty feet to the ceiling. The show changed over time as the dyes dried differently in their large dishes, the black intensity ending up crystalline or lichen-like or pale as a salt pan. Around the pans, large polished shards of colored glass reflect and consolidate the dyes. Until I do the action, in this case dipping, I don’t know what effect will result; it’s not something specified beforehand, rather a suspicion and a curiosity about what that invented place might feel like.

— As told to Allese Thomson