BY Jennifer Higgie in Reviews | 06 JUN 98
Featured in
Issue 41

Christina Mackie

BY Jennifer Higgie in Reviews | 06 JUN 98

If something is boring, said John Cage, make it so boring it becomes interesting. Christina Mackie's deceptively straightforward video and sound installation 3/2 wait (1998) seems to have taken Cage's credo to heart. Imagine standing by the side of a very ordinary, very busy road. For once, however, instead of being irritated, you're transfixed by the endless stream of traffic. It's one of those moments of awareness you could describe as either heightened or dislocated (depending on your mood), when the space around you dissolves and reassembles until your environment begins to reveal something more interesting than the sum of its parts. You keep your eyes low, so any kind of interaction with the drivers, or with other pedestrians, is out of the question. The noise is overwhelming and unfriendly, but the specific nature of your concentration allows you to move beyond the superficial trappings of frustration into a realm of detached observation.

Occasionally your gaze is transfixed by the tarmac, as speckled and pretty as an Olitski. Then it shifts, microscopically until it engages with the flash of light on moving metal. These are the images Mackie shows simultaneously on the two video screens. After a while it becomes apparent that the two are peculiarly and subtly disjointed, almost, but never quite the same. It's a viewing experience that feels a bit like how I imagine being trapped in an eternal, inviolable non-space might feel.

Surprisingly however, it's not so much an unbearable as a mesmerising experience. Perhaps it's because Mackie side-steps her subject's gloomier qualities to concentrate on its texture and rhythm, as if she's let her mind skip around the idea that maybe, inside all that visual and aural cacophony, there's a numb kind of beauty. She reinvents, or at least re-animates a moment of urban malaise by keeping both her own and the viewer's field of vision literally and metaphorically on edge. She doesn't allow your concentration to wander from the periphery - cars zoom into the frame with the staccato rhythm of a thousand edits, only to disappear just as nervously, leaving you with the sense that although the whole world seems to be well on their way to destinations you have no access to, at least the patterns they create whilst getting there are interesting. The three speakers fill the space with the sounds of infinite and distorted combinations of engines.

Perched on top of the monitors, a rather absurd transparent car phone occasionally rings. Alone in the gallery, it's hard not to feel that it's ringing for you. I didn't answer it, but apparently if you do, you hear someone hang up. If this is an aesthetics of alienation, it's an alienation tempered by a both a kind of resigned immersion and detachment within the structures that helped create that alienation in the first place. 3/2 wait appears to be not so much about an inability to interact with other human beings, as about how impenetrable the physical structures that surround us can appear, but also how, if looked at in a certain light or with a certain objective intensity they can be refigured into something more ambiguous and compelling than their more obvious delineation might suggest.

Jennifer Higgie is a writer who lives in London. Her book The Mirror and the Palette – Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women’s Self-Portraits is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and she is currently working on another – about women, art and the spirit world.