Trained at the art school in Cardiff, Wales, Alistair Macintyre is a British-born artist now resident in Iceland. He has held solo exhibitions across the country at venues including the Reykjavík Art Museum, the Art Museum of Kópavogur and Ketilhúsið in Akureyri. He continues to show outside Iceland, most recently with contributions to the Codex 2019 International Artists´ Book Fair, San Fransisco, and the 2019 Artists´ Book Biennale at the Arnolfini, Bristol. His work is represented in public and private collections in Iceland, the U.K and North America.
About the work
The ice-melt works operate somewhere between sculpture and drawing. Really the flattened remains of de-fleshed objects in the round, they allude to the paradox of the material world, and draw as their primary source from the metaphysics of landscape. Made from ice, but often shattered into explosive configurations suggestive of volcanics and seismic collision, these ultra-heavyweight drawings take on the aspect of the Icelandic terrain: flood, fault- line, bedrock and glacier sit on the paper surface as rusting fossils pressed flat by time and gravity. Coming to rest as a sediment of moraine, the result is spontaneous cartography – mapped by the elements themselves, using the most minimal of palettes: ice and iron.
My interest in the massing and unravelling of nature’s architecture, as an endless cycle of collapse and rebirth, is of interest to me primarily as an intensification of time. Central to the process is material change and transformation, as solid and void exchange roles, and free-standing forms - like the land itself - strive to become flat. More recently, however, viewing the work has inevitably been conditioned by our growing realization that the earth´s systems may be irrevocably breaking down, as starkly exemplified by the shrinking of the ice-caps. The ghost presences of extinct forms stranded on the surface of the drawings, therefore, begin to take on the role of contemporary commentary.
Ice has been my medium of choice since pursuing a formative winter residency with the Reykjavík Art Museum during the mid-90s. For me it represents all matter, unique in that, as “stuff”, it spontaneously self-destructs almost immediately, collapsing the geological time-scale, and making deep time – implicitly – available in the studio, as a dynamic to harness.The chemical process of oxidization, and the resultant skins of patina that form over days and weeks in standing pools of meltwater, compound the time reference, prompting material transmutations that push the work towards alchemy.
As accumulations of heavy sediment, the finished drawings are strongly textured, with a surface crust that stands out in relief. Although compressed onto the paper, they are actually spatial manipulations stripped of the third dimension. As brittle, flattened skins of time, I like to think of them as grimy window panes to be broken through, an introduction to something we don’t yet understand – but which, intuitively, we all have an inkling of, which quantum physics is spiralling ever closer to, and which most world religions have suspected for millennia: that time is a deception, and that at some point, one way or another, we will step outside of it.
TIME FROZEN, TIME THAWED
I work with void and vacuum.
American land artist Michael Heizer, and British sculptor Rachel Whiteread, have both in their different ways, explored the idea of taking nothing and doing something with it – making it tangible – and before them Italian Impressionist sculptor Medardo Rosso. The ice-works are really just gravity-fed floor pieces - without the floor and without the ice. They carry the memory of both, though physically they are no more than an emptiness wrapped in a scab of iron dust, the moraine within the ice that comes to rest on the paper when, in the fullness of time, the ice has melted. Days later - or weeks, depending on the season – the iron develops a permanent patina of rust that re-freezes the vanished form in time.
There are close parallels between the ice-melt process and elements of photography. Just as the photographic image emerges with time in the developing tank, the dark metallic forms within the ice begin to come into focus, as it gradually sheds its cloudiness and becomes transparent. Later, deep in the lingering meltwater pools, time invokes chemical change to produce a slow metamorphosis. Left behind is a rind that, like the photographic image, traps the span of its exposure, and with it the physical/spatial world rendered flat and pictorial.
The white veining that breaks up the rusty patina of the ice-works operates rather like the veins of white paper that invade a peeling old photograph when the emulsion wears off. The eye still penetrates the image, but the cracks in the surface reinforce the knowledge that it remains an illusion – itself both an encapsulation of time, but also a perishable objectprey to time´s destructiveness: time consuming itself by the tail.
I very much like Henri Bergson´s notion of „real time“, the time of actual experience that transcends the mechanics of mere chronology, but which can co-exist with the time of the physicists. Since the days of Bergson, of course, physics has made time even stranger, stretching it, bending it, punching holes through it, and paradoxically nudging it closer to a time-beyond-time alluded to by most world religions.
The early Gnostics, long since branded heretics, believed in the primacy of pure spirit – the rest was dross – and that the world of matter, (with a heavy nod towards Plato), was just a crude facsimile of the truth. Conceptually they ripped into the physical world with iconoclastic zeal. What they were excommunicated for – seeing it all as a kind ofgrand deception, or veneer – seems to me rather unfair. Who knows, perhaps they were closer to the heart of things than their persecutors?
Two of the works on show are second exposures, several generations later, of Eadweard Muybridge´s pre-cinematic sequences of people in motion, which showed for the first time in human experience the simple act of a child running, and a sprinter at full tilt. Fed through the glacier, the figures, (both from 1887), come to rest on the paper as ghost images of photographs re-exposed to time.
The interludes between figures, and between episodes in the sedimentation process, are the unseen moments, pregnant with the next visible event. If the absent presence of the ice points to a fullness in reverse, the invisible moments are a prelude to something about to happen. The flow patterns work much like growth rings on a tree, geological strata, or the froth marks on an empty beer glass – the spontaneous contours of growth and collapse.
......the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.
T.S. Elliot, Quartet No 1; Burnt Norton