When early humans ceased their nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers and settled down to cultivate the earth and produce food, they believed that the success of their labours was dependent on deities who would oversee the fruitfulness of their crops. To this end, rites of great significance were held to propitiate the gods.
In Britain it was believed that a spirit lived amongst the crop and that at harvest time it retreated before the oncoming reapers, taking refuge in the last of the standing corn. Workers sometimes displayed fear of it, wielding scythes blindfolded and cutting it by throwing their blades from a distance. The last sheaf was often given a name, personifying it as an animate being, and its fall was marked with a formal ceremony and display.
The sheaf was then fashioned into an effigy believed to contain the spirit. This 'trophy' was taken into the farmer’s home and kept safe indoors throughout the winter, and only returned to the earth with the coming of the new season. Giving the spirit a refuge during the dark and cold winter months was believed to ensure good luck for the forthcoming crop. In some cases the trophy was ritualistically burnt at the end of the winter as a way of releasing the spirit.
As the earliest cultivated crops in human history, cereals continue to be among the most important food sources for us today, though the culture around them has changed dramatically. In recent years wheat production levels have not satisfied demand triggering a shortage in supplies and price instability. With a predicted world population of 9 billion in 2050, its demand is expected to increase by 60% while its vulnerability to climate change leaves us precariously exposed.
Following in the footsteps of countless generations, Mackie has collaborated with some of the last few who keep this tradition alive to make a body of work spanning sculpture, video and work on paper that preserves and explores this human relationship with the land.