UC Berkeley alumna Sabine Mackey discusses calendars, co-ops and her creative process

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Name: Sabine Mackey

Age: Old enough to have been a practicing artist for more than two decades

Hometown: Somewhere on the East Coast — she values her privacy.

Current residence: Kingman Hall

What’s inspiring her: Fashion, travel, co-ops at UC Berkeley and beyond.

Who she is: A Berkeley-based artist who, over the last 23 years, has created monthly calendars with individual pictures representing each day. She draws these images to represent the best thing that happened to her on a given day.

Her voice: Sabine Mackey arrives totally prepared. As I rush into the Daily Cal office, fresh off of a predictably late 52 line bus from Downtown, I turn into a cubicle to see Mackey waiting patiently, surrounded by a large black portfolio, stacks of papers and a big suitcase filled with who-knows-what.

As I scramble to open my laptop, we start talking — just banalities at this point. She mentions she lives in a co-op, and I do as well. We briefly discuss Cloyne Court, which she knew in its pre-substance-free days and which I had just moved out of. Then Mackey launches into a story that I wasn’t even prepared to discuss but that ultimately sets the tone of the interview. Like I said, she came prepared.

Mackey had recently returned from a trip to New York, where she visited the Manhattan offices of Guinness World Records in an attempt to register her 23 years of calendars as a new world record.

“I waited 3 1/2 years and decided on a whim to fly New York and see what happens,” Mackey tells me. The trip was successful, by her measure. While Guinness couldn’t add the record formally to its roster, it sent Mackey an emailed letter of recognition for her art. “They said, ‘We have decided that this is art,’ and, ‘What you’ve done is made art,’ ” Mackey says.

Mackey’s monthly calendars — the original focus of our interview — are large, colorful creations on paper, with each day designated as a square filled with a unique drawing. The pieces are colorful and dynamic, with characters weaving in and out of the weeks and months. The medium is simple: black and blue ballpoint pen, colored pencils. Watercolor would be too messy, Mackey tells me.

The subjects of her drawings are the best things that happen to Mackey on the given date: “Every day there’s this tiny little thing, and it’s absolutely perfect. It happens every day.”

Mackey is originally from the East Coast and came to Berkeley as a re-entry student in the mid-’90s. She initially studied history but has made electrical engineering her lifelong educational pursuit. Her start with the calendars is also closely tied to this pursuit: She began her calendars the night she began studying electrical engineering.

“I came to the Bay Area to become a smart, resourceful, really cool woman that was smart and amazing, knew everything and was peace-loving,” Mackey says.

We speak of her time in the co-ops, where she started living as an undergraduate. Our conversation is punctuated often by an exuberant “as a co-oper!” in response to any type of question I ask. According to Mackey, the co-ops have been a crucial part of her life, providing her with support and resilience over the years of her education and artistic endeavors. The co-ops themselves are also sites of her work: from the 15 murals in Casa Zimbabwe to a new one in Lothlorien’s dining hall, depicting a couple.

Mackey’s former home, Casa Zimbabwe, or CZ, is home to one of her major works. It’s a 22-page biographical graphic novel on the life of Granville Woods. Woods, whom I had never heard of before, was the inventor of the wireless telegraph and an early patent holder of the third rail. As Mackey explains this to me, she is quick to clarify various points and technical details.

“I’m artistically stretching the word ‘wireless’; an EECS major will say there can’t be one wire to be wireless,” Mackey explains to me. She brought a few pages to the interview, but the rest are hanging at CZ, and they are stunning — full of color and art-deco-like characters. I comment at some point that the book is the perfect intersection of many of Mackey’s points of interest: electrical engineering, history, art. We don’t dwell on it long, but rather turn to yet another topic.

Mackey is also interested in fashion — particularly its intersection with electrical engineering.

“I love the geometry of it, the calculus of it,” Mackey says. “I’m particularly interested in dresses with stepper motors built into the dress. The stepper motor is activated by remote control signal, and the dress unfolds and changes, origami-like, into a completely different dress.”

She then suggests that I look up fiber optic fashion and that I find a YouTube video of a certain designer whose name she can’t think of. I do a quick Google search until we figure out it’s Hussein Chalayan, a Turkish fashion designer. A few days later, I look the video up and slowly descend into a internet hole of these “transformer dresses.” They’re truly mesmerizing.

Mackey typically practices her art at an unspecified location on Telegraph Avenue but has considered moving to a studio, which would allow her to live with her work. It would also be a place for anyone in Berkeley who wanted to visit her — and a place to showcase the notice from Guinness World Records, she adds.

“(They) put it well when they stated, ‘This is art. This is magnificent art.’ ”

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].