Alastair Mackie at The Economist Plaza and the Reykjavik Art Museum
The Economist Plaza
25 St. James's Street,
London, SW1H 1HA
Until April 17th, 2009
Reykjavik Art Museum - Kjarvalsstadir
Flokagata 105, Reykjavik
Until April 13th, 2009
An imposing male chimpanzee has been causing pedestrians in St. James’s to do a double take as they march to work past The Economist Plaza. However the chimpanzee perched on the railing isn’t an escaped resident of the London Zoo Ape House, it’s a hyper real bronze sculpture cleverly crafted by Artist Alastair Mackie. Mackie explains the reason behind the choice of subject matter for his first major outdoor sculpture commission for the Contemporary Art Society and Joe La Placa’s All Visual Arts:
"The chimpanzee is more closely related genetically to humans than to gorillas or other apes, and here we find our closest living cousin sitting within the fabric of this busy urban plaza, quite inconspicuously but resolutely staring back at us."
Mimetes Anon is a reference to a synonym for the chimpanzee which was formulated in the 1820’s fusing the Greek word for ‘imitate’ (mimetes) with Anon, meaning at an unspecified time in the future.
Mackie’s chimpanzee surveys the plaza, looking down on his kingdom and suggesting the fragile boundary between man and beast, providing a snapshot of what could have been if the great evolutionary leap forward hadn’t happened. A fitting subject in the year that marks two hundredth anniversary of the birth of evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin. However Mackie says that the association with Darwin was purely coincidental, and the seed of the concept for Mimetes Anon was planted when as a student at City and Guilds he was interested in traditional modeling techniques. Mackie had always wanted to produce a figurative outdoor sculpture in bronze, and the Contemporary Arts Society commission was the perfect opportunity to create a bronze sculpture, which introduced a powerful slice of nature into an urban setting. The exaggerated size of the chimpanzee lends the sculpture an apocalyptic edge, and the photo realist technique brings to mind a Ron Mueck figure. ‘Mimetes Anon’ creates the feeling of an “apocalyptic city after mankind has been wipe off the planet and taken over by animals”. Mackie’s sculpture has an air of Tim Burton’s surreal ‘Planet of the Apes’ mixed with the classical expertise of a Degas bronze. This fusion of traditional processes and contemporary sensibilities is what makes Mackie’s oeuvre so refreshing and innovative. A sense of humour is the icing on the Mackie cake, and his clever association of the giant primate guarding The Economist building in a well-known financial district of London, is an ironic association between primates and city workers in a time of financial meltdown.
For Mackie’s recent exhibition at the David Roberts Foundation Not Waving but Drowning, he examined forms of nature in other innovative ways, using unusual natural materials including mouse skeletons and hornet nests for a “very base exploration of boundaries that separate us from nature.” Mackie found a wasp nest in Cornwall and became fascinated by the process of wasps chewing the wood before regurgitating it in order to create a paper nest. Mackie located wasp museums in Canada and New Mexico and bemused his postman by having over 300 wasp nests delivered through the post! A wood fibre technology expert at Brunel University collaborated with Mackie on the project, and together they discovered a way of creating fibreboards from wasp nests. The end result was a dolls’ house made of wasp nests, an ecologically friendly process which perfectly captures the zeitgeist of our eco-aware era.
The prolific Mackie is also exhibiting in a group show ‘The Art of Chess’ at the Reykjavik Art Museum until 13 April. For Amorphous Organic (2008), Mackie was inspired by prehistoric insects at the Natural History Museum to create chess pieces by casting insects into a resin amber mix. Mackie then set the pieces out on a table based on a geological viewing table, in a clever twist on the classic chess table. This intriguing young artist is certainly a rising star in the art world firmament.
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Lee Johnson is a London-based critic, Artist Project Manager and PR. Lee graduated from University College London and Bologna University in History of Art & Italian. Lee began her career at Sotheby's, and went on to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Timothy Taylor Gallery. Lee is now a freelance Project Manager and Publicist for Artists including Alison Jackson and Sacha Newley. Lee also writes regulary for Kultureflash and Art India magazine, and is a Contributor to Saatchi online TV.