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Alastair Mackie's Copse

The British artist has made an artificial woodland in his new exhibition by balancing bare pine trees on factory-made table legs

Alastair Mackie lives and works in Cornwall and it’s his rural upbringing that has continuously had an influence on both the materials he uses and what he wants to portray in his work. Often denoting the struggle between man and nature, his process is labour intensive but the results are often simple yet powerful, highlighting Mackie’s investment of himself in his work in order to achieve the most effective outcome.

This sentiment is demonstrated perfectly by the artist in his new exhibition, titled ‘Copse’. Open now at All Visual Arts, London, the show features Mackie’s full-scale artificial woodland made of 27 bare pine trees balanced on top of factory-made table legs. Upon viewing, there’s a fusing of these elements together as though the tree’s base has been whittled into a delicate, ornate table leg. A sense of ambiguity is created as a result, a feature in much of Mackie’s work, whereby the inside and outside collides, where the wild and civilized are directly challenged. We speak to Mackie to find out the process of making his woodland and his views on our relationship with nature.

Dazed Digital: Can you elaborate on the work you’re including your new exhibition, ‘Copse’? What was the inspiration behind it?
Alastair Mackie:
The piece is a site-specific installation made in response to the large open space at All Visual Arts. The idea was to create a kind if pseudo forest, each tree caught in the same transitory state of metamorphoses, halfway between what it was and what it is to become. 

Initially inspiration came from the legs of a dining table I have at home. Elegantly turned, they played on my mind and I decided to use the process of ‘turning’ wood in an artwork. By chance I heard that pine trees were being thinned from a wood near to where I live. Two and two were put together.

DD: What was your process in creating your synthetic forest? How was it produced?
Alastair Mackie:
30 of the straightest trees were kiln dried for two months. I found a carpenter with a large-scale lathe and started some tests. A suitable leg was designed and the lathe was re-engineered to manage oversized irregular objects. The trees were turned. 27 survived. 

DD: While the title, ‘Copse’ means a small group of trees, it’s interesting to note the word is similar to ‘corpse’. Was this allusion intentional, what with the references that can be made about the destruction of nature, and how the artificial woodland isn’t ‘alive’?
Alastair Mackie:
That was a happy coincidence! Used intentionally. 

DD: A lot of your work has been centred on the struggle between man and nature, how do you see this battle? Is it something we can overcome, or will industry etc. take over completely?
Alastair Mackie:
I see my work as more of an open observation of our irresolute relationship with nature. I like to think that we are as much part of the wild as the birds and the bees, only we’ve evolved to think that we’re not. I have no idea what the outcome will be - perhaps we’ll find some kind of accord, but something’s got to give. 

DD: Your work has often been called ‘ambiguous’, is this something you enjoy, people working out what your intentions are? Or is your work created solely for you?
Alastair Mackie:
I enjoy ambiguity in artwork. To not necessarily understand something, but to have it play on my mind - to want to search is really interesting. It doesn’t happen all that often, but occasionally I experience a piece that will stay with me like that for years, something I can’t shake from my head. With works like this I think you can find things way beyond the piece. It’s as if the artist has planted a seed of an idea. I would be very happy to think that my work does this for others.

DD: What projects are you working on now/after the exhibition?
Alastair Mackie:
I’ve recently moved back to Cornwall, where I grew up, and have started to work on what I hope is the beginning of a new body of work, a new phase - something for next year.

'Copse', 18 Nov- 16 Dec, All Visual Arts, 2 Omega Place, Kings Cross, London N1 9DR