Visions of 'emotional landscape' seduce Beck's judges
Christina Mackie's understated sculptural installations - objects such as wooden slats, tree trunks, or crystal balls - have won her the Beck's Futures prize for art, the ICA's younger, more adventurous answer to the Turner prize.
The 20,000 award was presented to Mackie at the ICA in London last night by Richard Hamilton, one of British pop art's founders.
Her work explores how objects change their nature and meaning according to how they are placed in relation to each other. She talks of creating an "emotional landscape" or an attempt to "describe a sensation".
One of the Beck's judges, Wolfgang Tillmans, winner of the 2000 Turner prize, said her work resisted "the conception that art has to be 'about' something or illustrating an idea".
Unlike the conceptual art by many members of the Young British Artists, or YBA movement, where works can often be illuminated by description or by enunciation of an idea, Tillmans said Mackie's work was "harder to talk about and pin down.
"That's the wonderful thing about art - it can speak, but in a non-literal sense," he said.
Jens Hoffman, ICA director of exhibitions, said of the Oxford-born Mackie's work: "The decision of the panel confirms that a work whose nature is subtle, discreet, personal and quietly forceful can command prominence even within the 'society of the spectacle'."
On the lawn in front of the Tate's neoclassical faade three architectural structures loll about like the sober institution's badly behaved drunken cousins. Pitched at angles that render them functionally useless, Christina Mackie's ´┐ŻLarge Huts' adopt an attitude of the discarded, displaced or uprooted. The bases look like crudely finger-sculpted plasticine worked on at a giant scale, whereas the structures that emerge from them obviously reference the real world, perhaps quoting an architectural vernacular from some far-flung equatorial forest or beach in the southern hemisphere.
The colonial past of the Tate invariably brings socio-political readings to the work, although Mackie's persistent tendency to submerge her reference points in a convolution of imagery and materials does not let prescriptive meanings overrun. The huts signal a departure from her usual delicately tangential installations, however.
While their physical robustness is obviously a necessity of outdoor public sculpture, it also establishes an emphasis on a single stable image rather than the fragmentary aesthetic that we generally associate with her work. Although these forms retain the mystery of their origins (unless we read the explanatory commentary), they simply make sense as objects. There are some inventions that, like fur teacups, are most definitely strange, yet they tap a mysterious vein of familiarity.