On a residency at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, Eric N. Mack installed big reds, holey oranges, droopy blues, filamented purples: another outfit or posture for the desert body of light and air. Swathes of textile stretched from wall to wall, draped, gathered, suspended, stitched, and woven. Everywhere, metal skeletons—antennae, clotheslines, umbrellas—and cardboard keeled over in support.
Mack held an open studio for visitors, but passersby could see his workings through a shopfront window he left uncovered, partly to invite such unplanned looking, partly because—Mack is a painter—he thinks about surface in relation to light.
Lots of pink, some yellow, a found patchwork quilt. I don’t know if Mack thinks about material as such, at least not in the way that would give “found” a special meaning. He thinks about composition, or color and shape pitched together by a kind of situatedness or sense of the work as its own good neighbor, open to resonance and contrast and chance yet purposeful in how it meets itself and the atmosphere. In sculptural parlance Mack’s work is assemblage. But Mack is (the writer Mahfuz Sultan has noted) more interested in styling or the activity of the look.
Can resistance be luxurious? Mack’s work is both, does both. Its many surfaces—textures, patterns, reverse sides, detailing—give a maximum amount of information in an abstract language. So much of it is transparent and still the work keeps something for itself.
Then the time changes and the work is a sundial. Then the scene changes and the work is a lens. Mack is relaxed about describing his work as having use. He calls it a scrim when it crosses the gallery window or a shelter for the body of a model in a photograph. Mack dressed an abandoned gas station in Coachella Valley with membranous Missoni fabric and called it Halter (2019). When this work was vandalized, the violence foreclosed the time the work had to complete itself but not its use, meaning its ability to anticipate a possibility of transformation.
Mack approached his 2023 work in the atrium of Venice’s Palazzo Grassi as a kind of resurrection for Halter. Working with a large team and a high degree of predetermination, he installed textiles in a dramatic sequence of swoops and peaks in white and pink and green on a large metal mobile, with a drift of pale greens and yellows and sinewy navy under that. At one point the shape looked too much like a pirate ship but then Mack thought of Vivienne Westwood or work that, like Westwood’s, Mack says, “shifts with the air.” At this scale, improvisation became even more important. Mack was working to not discount what moves were available based on those he’d made already.
This turn-taking with environment, down to the tiny textile scraps in glasses of water in Scampolo! at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin, tells me something about how Mack finds form. Nothing is ruled out in a composition. Mack uses the phrase “uneasy harmony” to describe how his work comes together and stays together, and how this coming together and staying together depends on a kind of homeostasis of dependence and difference. The floating scraps look like specimens or “moments,” Mack says, from a future work’s self-image. Are they preserved or dissolving? Every scampolo (remnant) is suspended in options.
Amelia Stein is a London-based writer, editor, and teacher.