Exhibition: The Large Huts, Christina Mackie
Sculpture Court, Tate Britain, 2 June – 28 Oct
I found a slug under my foot this morning on the way to the Tate Britain, which had resisted a little before giving way. The feeling of the soft resistance stayed with me uncomfortably as I trod around Christina Mackie’s The Large Huts in the Sculpture Court: three brick-orange pavilions perching solidly on lumpen underneaths as tall as the huts themselves and a good deal more substantial.
Their random, tossed-down arrangement suggests they’ve been abandoned in the middle of an oversized game of jacks whose correspondingly oversized children are temporarily distracted elsewhere. The huts would make perilously slanted hideouts for real-sized children too, but their bases have the thumb prints of the enormous hands of the maker, a clue to the multiple reworkings in the evolution of the work from the original Gadami Beach sun shelters in Pakistan to drawings to maquettes to the sculpture at the Tate.
I’m not sure whether you’d call the work ‘a sculpture’, or ‘sculptures’, or something else. There are three distinct pieces on the grass, but the Sculpture Court itself has such an imposing presence that if feels more appropriate to use the catch-all term ‘installation’, which offers more in terms of the way this work is received. You don’t leave anything out of your reading as you look around. Perhaps because of the obvious artifice of the construction, I found myself drawn to the bits that put pressure on the conceit of the work.
The Sculpture Court is a lawn, really, and I’m not sure how much thought they’ve put into the maintenance of the surface given the sensitivity of ‘installed’ works like this one. The provisional arrangement of the Large Huts is undermined by the trouble they’ve had mowing the grass up to the edges of each one. The effect of the long tufts of grass at each base is to displace scales of time as well as scales of space, the oversized children pausing their game for days or weeks between turns.
Other practicalities of the outdoor space impinge on the work in equally productive ways. Signposts have settled around the paused game that remind me of my physical relationship with the work. I could “touch or climb on the sculpture” – and since I’m not supposed to, would the surface squash or puncture under the weight of my foot? And would they tumble nicely as I clamber up the side of the base and over the balustrade? Once again the not-so-behind-the-scenes artifice of the work is brought into play, and in a way that’s more provocative in an outdoor space than it would be inside. One way or another when you’re outside, the incidentals – the unkept grass and the slug on the paving slab – are as real as the as the main events.