Patricia MacKinnon-Day's forte seems to be working in difficult and unpromising contexts such as shipyards, graving docks, engineering works and railway-sidings. Her very practice "relies upon her visual interpretation of the previously unknown industrial environment. Like an anthropologist, she seeks out the ways in which meaning comes about in such places", to quote Mary Griffiths in her Inland Waters catalogue for the Whitworth Art Gallery (2001).
MacKinnon-Day thinks she is best described as an installation artist and strongly identifies with Nichola Oxley’s characterisation of installation work in her book Installation Art:
…the activation of the place … suggests a highly localised, highly specific reading of the work, and is concerned not only with art and its boundaries but with the… fusion, of art and life. Oxley claims that by so doing (laying claim to territory beyond the private sphere, the artist is widening control that he/she has over the display of the work.
The artist exerts greater control as against the curator, one imagines, but that is to grossly underestimate the difficulties of work as process in public situations and the degree of negotiation, social skills and pragmatism involved. As MacKinnon-Day has written of her approach in an artist’s statement:
Much of the work I have produced relies upon being inspired by a particular situation outside my studio space. I believe that artists are in some way like scientists on a quest for truth. I feel as an artist the need to look closely and honestly at a situation – explore the subtext, build up knowledge and facts, find out how things work.