Alastair MacKinven (born Clatterbridge, UK, 1971, lives in London) has an obsession with the body - its limits, idiosyncrasies and various behaviours. In his 8mm film All the Things You Could Be by Now if Robert Smithson's Wife Was Your Mother (2007) he transferred a pile of dirt from one area of a lawn to another, remaking the 1979 work Star Crossed by Nancy Holt (who was Robert Smithson's wife) MacKinven embedded a large pipe in the pile, undressed, then passed naked into the pipe and came out, wrapping himself in a silver blanket like a newborn child. Like the title, the work refers to conception, birth and supposed transformation; the artist's bare body becomes a base from which MacKinven questions art's myths, and in particular its associations with the transformative.
MacKinven's exhibition for Nought to Sixty entitled Et Sic In Infinitum Again employs the so-called 'Penrose stairs' - familiar from the M.C. Escher's 1960 lithograph Ascending and Descending - which connect into each other in an impossible loop. MacKinven has made a series of paintings of the stairs, surrounding the canvases with the kind of handrails used to help the elderly and infirm. Installed incongruously in the gallery space, these handrails are perhaps guides to viewing: ridiculously corporeal aids for a supposedly intellectual activity.
In these and other projects MacKinven treats the body both as something mystical, to be revered in its complexity, and as something problematic, a site of antagonism that must be regulated either through pseudo-Conceptualist scientific discourse or by adolescent shock tactics. Both these strands are evident, for example, in a soft-focus photograph from 2006: the exoticism of the subject matter (it is an image appropriated from National Geographic of a naked girl getting out of the water) and the crudeness of its title (Default Masturbatory Stimuli).
Similarly, for a recent performance at the Camden Arts Centre MacKinven glued his hand to the floor of one of the galleries. He then sat there waiting to see how long it would take until the institution's attendants offered him help - brought him a glass of water, for example - or tried to unglue him from the floor. This piece, which clearly plays with notions of institutional critique, was given a different spin in its title, Cut Off My Hand to Spite My Cock (2008), shifting the emphasis from a public investigation to a private act. Issues such as trust, vulnerability, violation and shame - are all relevant to his practice - as they are to many canonical works of art and performance of the 1970s, works which MacKinven often references.
A series entitled Critical Theory, shown at the Art Basel fair in 2007, is constituted by a group of paintings in MacKinven's trademark grey palette. The paintings depict different star ratings: from one (poor) to five (excellent). He asked his gallerist to sell them at prices that accorded to the rating, so that a 'one star' painting would cost less than a 'five star' one. Throughout his practice MacKinven's base humour satirises the value systems of the art world, whilst wryly deflecting to a more corporeal practice of involuntary evaluation.