Unfolding Marco Maggi
by François Cusset
Folds, lines, slits, elbows, holes, pointed pencils. Shadows forming letters, shaping memory, even writing. The work is paper on paper, white on white, with shadows and ambiguities unfolding in between. Rigorous shapes and local symmetries develop against the background of a neat geometry. What there is, is what there is. No leftovers, no hidden truth, no suggested meaning: “Messages,” as Marco Maggi likes to say, “are for messaging services.”
You may see circuit boards, precise maps of impossible cities, schematics for electrical engineering, or the distorted presentation of a complex nervous system, but do not infer from your inner associations that such things are actually being represented, allegorized, or referred to here. It is the other way around: these things are what Maggi’s drawings and paper carvings make possible, what they render to be real.
Such drawings and cuttings come first, and form the only matter, the only thing that matters. They do not open onto a larger system, a world of reference or an available discourse. They only open onto more folds, lines, slits, elbows, holes, pointed pencils, ad infinitum.
This is why the most complex, delicate and elaborate in Maggi’s works always feels like the most simple, both at first sight and as an afterthought. For it comes first, it stands on its own, triggering an extraordinary feeling of wholeness, exhaustiveness, fullness, despite (or precisely because of) the many clefts and tiny cuts ceaselessly cracking that very whole, that purest of all surfaces.
No wonder that the fold is the organizing principle here, as well as the mag(g)ic force. The fold, as Gilles Deleuze showed us, is the most ambivalent of all phenomena. It carries forth the undecidable, it creates the ambiguous. It splits the surface into two incommensurable (or incompossible, in the philosopher’s lingo) halves. Indeed the fold is what encompasses, or wraps, and escapes or diverts at the same time. The fold is what dissimulates and reveals.
The fold is the very principle of multiplicity, triggering it constantly. Though it provides evidence of unity, it does so, much in the same way that a borderline not only separates two lands, but bonds them together at the same time. The fold is of another nature, it pertains to a scale other than what our logic and knowledge have taught us. It is neither outside nor inside, neither very large nor very small, neither movement nor motionlessness. It is a combination of all of these qualities.
The fold is our only access to the infinite, suggests Deleuze, who has always been eager to show us that the microscopic (our cells for example) and the vastly cosmic (our galaxy and beyond) are two dead ends for whoever is truly in search of the infinite.
In The Fold, Deleuze’s strange take on the metaphysics of Leibniz and the artistic principles of the Baroque could shed light on the singular endeavor of Marco Maggi. In both cases, it is about accelerating forms while slowing down our gaze. It is about assuming the absence of a center without falling into the trap of nihilism. Both confront totality face to face while paying due respect to every bit of singularity.
In both cases it is about a useless and heavy soul that needs to be taken out of the windowless room of our mind where literally everything is possible. A powerful sense of lightness ensues, both as a relief and as a bright sight, as agility and clarity, opening onto an infinite spectrum of possibilities – provided they remain light, agile, contingent.
Forget the reinterpretation of cultural history Deleuze had in mind when writing The Fold, somewhere between Renaissance mannerism and high modernism (even if Maggi participates in both). Just remember the time structure of a fold, its ode to the present, or to a quasi-present; so close, yet unattainable. Now keep in mind the more existential conclusion of Deleuze: “to inhabit this world is to develop an art of intervals.” It is to find the present, that enlived essence of time, in intervals only. Yes, the fold is where the action is. Welcome to a brand new world.
What you find in museums, galleries, books, classrooms, cosmologies and even political platforms deals only with the vast scale, the larger picture, the brightly exhibited, the strictly hierarchical (or at least the duly prioritized). Everything about value – what counts, what is worthwhile, what signifies. In other words, the exact opposite of intervals, small surprises, and insignificant details. Traveling through Marco Maggi’s deceivingly nonchalant desert means losing sight of such arguable priorities, losing a center and the reassuring presence of an absolute.
Traveling through Maggi’s world requires a chance taken at the slow, meaningless and infinitesimal, along with their economy of means and radical ethics. Because some sort of radically egalitarian ethics were built in these works, to the extent of removing scales and hierarchies, and blurring the border between the significant and its opposite, amounting to a decree of ontological equality. Everything is worth everything else, nothing supersedes or overshadows anything else, and the petty or the anecdotal might very well become the only two pillars of reality.
Such a decree derives from a true critical commitment, a genuine desire to stop or slow down what, in our world, has become utterly dysfunctional. It comes from a distaste with the overinflation of meaningless meaning and uninformative information.
“The more we know, the less we understand,” in Maggi’s own words. Conversely, Maggi’s egalitarianism is driven by a subtle preoccupation with the precarious, hardly visible, and imperceptible. A preoccupation with anything you might not have noticed in the first place but which could very well change your life – or at least, if you pause for a second – reshape your gaze.
In short, Maggi’s aesthetic is less an exercise in neo-minimalism, than an ethic of precision. Less a nostalgia for modernist purism than a politics of slowness. Less a disappointment with over-information than a specific type of care for inscribing, staging, archiving and displaying the insignificant.
In Maggi’s world, the insignificant becomes a notion that does not carry a value judgement but rather an objective description: the insignificant is what has no pre-given significance. To approach the precarious, the unnoticed and the slow one needs to use what Deleuze would call “small perceptions”. Small in the sense of modest, invisible, prediscursive, daring and yet specific.
What is happening on the walls, within the voids of these paper surfaces, is the inversion of a well-established order. An order which, for millenia, has imposed on us the notion that any traces, whether in writing or carved at the core of our public space, should be reserved only for things of importance. They should qualify what deserves to be inscribed.
As a logical consequence, the insignificant is defined as that which leaves no trace, no memory. It is what has vanished, and with it the instant of its short-lived relevance. Memory is about the event, the meaning, the special. Biographers of Franz Kafka describe in minute details his romantic relationships and depressive phases. They describe his passionate friendships and his breakup with the Jewish community, his ire at his publisher, and his fear of death. But how could they recount his daily shopping, bar jokes, tiny neuroses, and laundry habits, if these left no traces whatsoever? No traces left either in his diary or in the memory of witnesses eager to prioritize significance.
Marco Maggi takes on the very paradox of inscription and traces and magnificently overthrows it. He does this by carving and cutting the insignificant into a trace, the vacuum into an archive, the shadow into an alphabet, the detail into a cosmos.
Paper is the best of all materials to do this, as paper has invaded our world, has infiltrated every aspect of our present. Even the chronic financial crisis we live in, recalls Maggi, is about paper, the excess of paper: nothing paperless here, as we are confronted with an invasion of papers, from bankruptcies to loans to new contracts, with death and debt by and on paper.
Beyond matter, what is happening on the walls is also a “certain process of unknowing,” a “very precise form of confusion,” a “committed type of uncertainty,” in order to “better take charge of the vacuum,” to “befriend emptiness, to impose a pause to the destructive forces of the day” – to quote a few scattered words from the artist.
But Marco Maggi is no Robin Hood, and his demanding work carries no explicit moral or political stance, no sentimental surge for or against anything. His complex circuits and freeplays with paper and shadows, or with bow strings and pencils, actually exclude, and actually exclude, and thus emancipate us from the affective and ethical blackmail constantly made to us vis à vis anything – the obligation to cry, to be moved, to be outraged, to take sides, to always sort out the good from the evil.
Here, instead of a preacher-like indignation comes a more straightforward disappointment. Instead of an utter loss comes a vague feeling of being a bit offside. And instead of grand utopias comes a deliberately unambitious hope which Maggi calls “hypo-hope.” High precision and low profile, in a nutshell, or grand subtlety and subjective bareness. Indeed, the Maggi paradox is that of a nearsightedness – but at a distance.
A familiarity deprived of any déjà-vu, a proudly unsentimental proximity. Something like an objective intimacy: a strange form of structural closeness, of disembodied interiority, as if someone had kept intimacy (the only antidote to art’s silly solemnity) but had removed any trace of subjectivity and affectivity from it. Thus what we are left with is a familial relation with details, but for people without a family, or without the illusion of a satisfying whole.
The objective intimacy at stake here is just for us, for all of us, exhausted modernists, late history survivors, lucid humans who feel sorry for what there is. And remember, the whole is nothing, details are everything: it is only at that scale that things can actually happen, that they may change, vary and transform us and the world. The only revolution might be a tiny one. Tiny revolutions might be the only ones. What they require is obstinacy, desire, local skills, and a profoundly political take on the insignificant. But such revolutions are rare, rare enough to be worth noticing.
Paris, March 2015
François Cusset is a writer, intellectual historian, and professor of American Studies at the University of Paris Nanterre, he teaches critical theory at MACBA Barcelona, Spain and ECAL Lausanne, Switzerland. Among his books available in English are French Theory (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and The Inverted Gaze (Arsenal Pulp, 2011). He has published two novels, Anywhere out of the world (ed. P.O.L., 2012) and Days and days (ed. P.O.L., 2015).
Adriano Pedrosa, 2008
“Examining a ream of the best-quality white paper proves that it is impossible to find a single absolutely white, silent sheet in 500 examples.” - Marco Maggi
The great movement of the 20th century is velocity. Speed radically transforms landscape, city, architecture, and things; and, if it does not banalize them, it visually simplifies them. Thanks to the invention and disseminated use of the automobile, people travel rapidly across the city and their gazes scan streets and highways at high speed. Their visual and perceptive experience is completely transformed. On account of the swift motion, the individual can no longer perceive the finishing and decorative details on façades of pre-modern houses and other buildings, for example. Facade and landscape must be simplified so they can be captured by the gaze that fleetingly scans them. The modernist architecture and landscape design of straight lines and flat surfaces are to a great extent a response to acceleration. Within this scenario, the swiftness and the banalization of gaze and visuality pose a threat to aesthetic decadence. The risk: an architectural design and an urban planning might appear that will introduce large cartoon- or caricature-like façades which can be understood and appreciated at a single glance. Speed is also given a compelling impetus in such media as television, the Internet, and other globalized networks. The amount of events must also supply the media?s daily consumption, thereby spawning news production rather than reports. Going against the grain, in this case, we have ancient, modern or contemporary art. Notwithstanding the unbridled multiplication of art works, shows, fairs, collections, museums, and biennial and triennial exhibitions, art insists in demanding a slowdown, a pause. (Possibly the exception is Andy Warhol, who to a certain extent incorporated multiplication and acceleration in his work; but one needs time and dedication to fully understand this.).
The work of Marco Maggi (Montevideo, 1957) opens trenches in this clash with speed. “Paper is my purpose. Time, plus focus, is my preferred medium,” the artist stated. His work consists of finely traced, accurate, delicate and subtle drawings (at times rendered without graphite or ink) of intricate patterns that albeit being abstract and geometric, relate to architectural designs, networks, landscapes, maps or grids, whether they be real, imaginary, fabulous or idealized. Maggi?s drawing resorts to different media that include graphite on paper and graphite on the passe-partout of the picture frame (such as in San Andreas Fault, 2008); dry point on aluminum foil, which in turn is framed (such as in Slow Foil, 2008), or framed in slide mounts (such as in Sliding, 2008) or yet framed on the foil roll itself; making incisions on acrylic (such as in Slow Shadow, 2008, in which the light shining on lines incised on the transparent plexiglas frame casts fine shadow lines on the blank paper), or on piles of paper. By and large, Maggi?s works are small (even the large installations that he creates are made up of numerous piles of paper that can hardly be distinguished from the distance); they are patiently made with precision and careful attention to detail. There are no sudden, violent, expansive, or expressive gestures. Although there is excess. In this context, one needs to view the works from up close to understand the small and vast micro-universe that they contain. Not by chance, Maggi?s works are difficult to reproduce or record in photography. One should strive to view them live and to inspect their surface, line, cut, shadow, relief and transparency.
Maggi asks us to slow down. The reference comes up more obviously in two of his titles shown in Sao Paulo: Slow Foil, and Slow Shadow. It also comes up in Sliding, a work made up of photo slide mounts, thus evoking a photogram or still, i.e., the suspension of the cinematic movement. The slowdown also appears in a more oblique, though penetrating manner in a series that the artist has been developing since 2005 named The Ted Turner Collection—From CNN to the DNA. The title is an ironic reference to celebrated U.S. media tycoon Ted Turner, the highly influential developer of the television news station Cable News Network (CNN) that revolutionized the market of news fabrication, broadcasting, and consumption. With this series, Marco Maggi intersects different speeds in life, in the media and in the globalization of art. In his own words, “From CNN to the DNA, I focus my attention on reading surfaces without the minor hope to get informed. Every day, we are condemned to know more and understand less.” In the works of this series, Maggi appropriates reproductions of works by modern masters Jasper Johns, Sol Lewitt, Lucio Fontana, Kasimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and Robert Ryman—, turns the work with its back to the viewer, adds piles of paper to it, and then slits its surface, creating small paper reliefs and sparsely revealing filaments and fragments of hidden masterpieces. The overall result boasts characteristics of a nearly all-white minimalist grid, except for the small color fragments and filaments of the appropriated works. The title of each individual work relates to the perverse realm of the media, in which much is shown but little is actually seen: Complete Coverage. Maggi has brought to Sao Paulo, “complete coverages” of works by Gerhard Richter and Warhol, as well as foundational characters of the Latin-American modernism that include Lygia Clark, Jesus Soto, Helio Oiticica, Lygia Pape and Mira Schendel. In this specific context, the white grid structure for the works brings to mind a few reliefs of Pape?s “Grupo Frente” series (1954-56).
The game that Maggi proposes is replete with great concealments and strategic revelations. The viewer must take the time for careful observation. The reward may relate to Jorge Luiz Borges? Aleph, the small, brilliant and pulsating sphere that contains the entire universe. However, this is a silent, delicate and slow game. In this sense, here we have a subtle political vein, even if masked by the beauty and dazzle of the works. The slowdown is anti-modern, anti-progressive, anti-capitalist, anti-urban, and anti- globalization. Much like a contemporary Faust, the artist seems to say “This passing instant may stop”, but his wish will hardly come true. It is precisely this trace of resistance that makes art so fundamental for our daily life.
Translated from the Portuguese by Izabel Burbridge.
HOTBED AND OTHER STORIES
I do not work in the manner of a great man, in order to change history.I have no grand ideas; no ideologies, nor any great truths. I’m a small man working with normal things. I’m comfortable with my materials, my scale and my lack of educational messages. I’m not trying to transform you.This is not an aggressive discourse about the world. I believe in an alternative world with its own rules.
The myth of the artist as a hero, a creator, a Promethean figure transforming the world may be gone for good; it has become an anachronism as a result of the very changes that society has experienced. However, some people do not seem to be aware of this change in reality and many intentionally ignore it, in the knowledge that a heroic figure is necessary in order to underpin a complex art system (and, in more general terms, society), a structure that periodically revisits such a model. Of course, Marco Maggi’s words at the beginning of this article seem to provide us with a very explicit affirmation of the different attitude, which is at least possible, adopted by contemporary art. His works, naturally, also respond appropriately to the principles that bolster the phrases quoted above.
The first work we come across in this Turinese exhibition is Hotbed, composed of a series of perfectly aligned reams of paper forming a 7 x 7 grid, bringingto mind the mock-up of the downtown area of a possible city, with its linesof buildings and perfect forms, such as are usually found in the design of a project. White, unpolluted sheets of paper, the realm of the possible and an allusion to time, to the utopia intrinsic in the very concept of a project, of the rationalization of urban development. There are plain references to minimalism in Hotbed, to some of Carl Andre’s works, or the early works of Richard Serra; pieces that contained the same utopian drive typical of urban development projects of the time. However, there is also in Hotbed a subtle yet firm reversal of the ideal tension contributed by the very materials brought into play: the conceptual abstractions of minimalism are not achieved by means of cold industrial materials, but with “warm” matter, as full of psychological and cultural references as is paper. Maggi makes an analogous reversal when he uses industrial materials to add preciousness to the intimacy of the drawing, as he does, in fact, in another work placed in the next room, where the image is created by means of a refined engraving on ordinary aluminium foil used in the kitchen.
There is a further reversal created by Hotbed, perhaps even more evident,which moves Maggi’s work definitively away from the utopian ideas that form the basis of minimalism. The top sheets of the reams of paper display a seriesof tiny interventions; extremely subtle cuts on the surface that transform theflat summits of these paper columns into three-dimensional drawings. A small excrescence that reveals a totally different way of viewing this work. As in so many of Marco Maggi’s other works, here too, the relationship between micro and macro, between the global view and the search for details, is fundamental. Viewers are required to come close, to become comfortable with these images, and, at the same time, they need to move away from them in order to regain an overall view. Maggi forces viewers to move continuously, to approach and move away from the work, searching for the exact observation point which, in fact, does not exist, or comes into being only by means of these movements that enable us to capture the complexity of the installation. A further confirmationof this thesis may be found in the video D-ream, produced in collaborationwith Ken Solomon (exhibited in the gallery’s offices), in which the use of light underscores, once again, the many possible ways of viewing Hotbed (and, consequently, its many ways of being). That abstract dictionary which at first embraces us is not, therefore, entirely applicable, or at least, such a codification needs to address the loss of meaning it suffers when spectators approach the work. This orderliness, this absolute whiteness – which may also be understood as a response to the excess of information in contemporary society – givesway to the softness of a light and fragile intervention that creates shadows and mobilizes one’s gaze, insinuates questions and reveals its polycentric nature. And perhaps on this journey, our gaze itself loses its significance, in the pursuit of the tactile perceptions suggested in all of the works of this Uruguayan artist.
There is a further element which we should not fail to mention: time. Wehave already underlined the fact that viewers are denied any opportunity of encompassing the work at a single glance and how a greater length of timeto appreciate it becomes necessary. It may be unavoidable to reflect upon ‘wasted time’ as a result of a manic obsession with precision in works produced by means of old techniques, but adapted to a different context and to new demands. From being a co-protagonist, time assumes a leading role in the work exhibited in the final room. It consists of a video projection of the transformation process of an apple, filmed constantly over a period of weeks. The resulting images were then compressed into a few minutes and the degenerativeprocess is displayed in reverse. In fact, in the first shots, the apple is seen in its final stages and we gradually see it recover its colour, its juices, its function,its “youth”. Marco Maggi carved the surface of this apple, in exactly the same way as he did on paper and aluminium foil, creating a geometric drawing and finally allowing the fruit to dry out, gradually transforming itself from organic matter into a sculpture. As we look about, we see some other apples which have been subjected to the same treatment, protagonists of the story on the video film, halted in their transformation. We find ourselves face-to-face with this extraordinary collaboration between man and time, which speaks to us about the limitations of life, but also about the reasons that make us struggle daily to continue in this world.
When I write an article, I generally make a note of certain words that will help me formulate my thoughts and reasoning, or to express my feelings with regard to the works and the artist about whom I am writing. In this case, I had also jotted down “charming”, “beauty”, “delicacy”; words that I did not use and which it is difficult to use in a critical review, owing to the polysemy of these terms. I should not like to abandon them, however, but leave them in the care of the viewers, in the form of further data with which to move among the works of Marco Maggi.
ROBERTO PINTO is a critic and curator, living in Milan. He was chief editor of FlashArt (1993-95) and curated shows such as the V Gwangju Biennial (South Korea) in 2004 and the III Tirana Biennial (Albania). He is a researcher at Bologna University where he teaches History of Contemporary Art. Some of the books he has written are: Lucy Orta (Phaidon Press, London 2004) and Nuove Geografie Artistiche: Le mostre al tempo della globalizzazione (Postmediabooks, Milan 2012).
This article was published by Vitamin Arte Contemporanea gallery on the occasion of Marco Maggi’s show: Hotbed e altre storie, held in Turin, Italy, in April 2005.
HOTBED, A MICRO-REVOLUTION
by Milena Kalinowska
Miniature monument is how the Hotbed installation, made of sheets of paper with delicate cut-outs and folds, can be described. If projected oversize on the wall or as a moving image on the screen, the Hotbed installation, which comprises 49 letter-size stacks of paper, would overwhelm spectators, as
it would come into view as a giant utopian cityscape. The monumental minimalist blocks holding atop exquisite shapes of triangles, squares, circles, and various twists could be mistaken for concrete and steel architectural and sculptural forms.
Instead, viewers bend down, lie on the ground, and sit unmoving to absorb and enjoy the tranquillity of the miniature, delicately cut-out shapes bathed in the stillness of the white gallery. This work may call to mind a utopian plan or a map of an unknown site, however, not as a vision of the future, but rather as a visualization conveying sensory communication. Delineated by individual heaps of 500 white sheets of paper that are placed neatly next to one another, 5 cm apart in a grid on the floor, Hotbed occupies a moderate (1.80 x 2.20 meters) space, yet it projects a glowing energy that gently causes the audience to halt and contemplate these micro-sculptures made from paper.
Maggi makes silence visible; his strategy is to encourage the spontaneous act of slowing down, looking for a prolonged amount of time, and uncovering almost invisible nuances of shades and shapes in the work, while at the same time making viewers allow time for experiencing the tranquillity and the perception of self. Maggi’s installation strategy brings to mind other artists who were highly conscious of the public, such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. Clark wanted the public to hold or wear her work in order to have bodily experiences, and Oiticica encouraged physical actions in order to look for internal meanings.1
Along with a quietly observing public, I saw Maggi cut his drawings in the stillness of a transparent-like room. He worked on a table, sitting still and moving everso slowly, with knife in hand, x-acto knife blade number 11, marking the paper, and then bending and twisting the cut-out shapes into forms.2 Like a child who carefully outlines the letters of the alphabet, Maggi says of his obsessive drawing of private hieroglyphs that it is like writing without content.3 The content is the stillness, the soundless room, the music of imagined sound, the poetry of a line that makes the shapes in which we conceptually partake, as in reading the verse,
The shapes arise!
Shapes of doors giving many exits and entrances,
The door passing the dissever’d friend flush’d and in haste,
The door that admits good news and bad news,
The door whence the son left home confident and puff’d up,
The door he enter’d again from a long and scandalous absence,
diseas’d, broken down, without innocence, without means.
Maggi’s multiplicity of possible shapes, and the imagination they provoke, brings to mind Walt Whitman’s Song of the Broad-Axe from Leaves of Grass4 in which the poet reflects on the familiar and mundane as well as the extraordinary things to be in time absorbed, celebrated, or remembered. Maggi’s desire to share and evoke is just as personal and poetic. The qualities that Maggi upholds are those of aesthetic and ethical silence in art, according to Paul Virilio, as opposed to the assault of present-day visual and auditory contamination.5 Maggi says that his work becomes more pregnant with silence the more it is surrounded by the world spectacle of negativity, darkness, and chaos.6 In an age obsessed with instant messaging, with live events flooding social spaces, with the supremacy of the audiovisual, and with the speed of modern-day life, Maggi brings to our attention the need for process and contemplation, the desire for intimacy and interval. Maggi sees the public’s interaction with his piece as a “beautiful performance”, in which his work becomes a “behaviour collector”.7
Hotbed exists in multiple versions. Its original prototype was made in 1999 and installed in a gallery in Tribeca in New York City. It now exists in 25 versions, in 25 cities around the world; it was shown in São Paulo, Brazil; Gwangju, Korea; and Washington, D.C. in the United States. Although made from the same material, white sheets of A4 paper with incisions on the top page – the entire piece includes 24 500 sheets of paper – it is meant to defy repetition. According to Maggi, repetition is impossible, like the small distortions of shade of colour or of surface on a sheet of paper, the message is in the detail. Each Hotbed is a kind of micro-revolution in progress in that it exists to collect new reactions and interactions. If the work is destroyed or dismantled, it becomes part of the piece’s narration: “I love extreme reactions, because the only danger related to our job” that of an artist “is extreme indifference”.8
Marco Maggi’s means of expression are simple; he works with a knife, with which he marks signs on paper, apple, zinc, woodblock, silk, aluminium, photographic slides, and plastic, among other materials. Yet his intentionis to communicate ideas that are ultimately about and in opposition to the complexity of our contemporary technology-dominated existence. Maggiis set on slowing down the process of discerning the significant from the superfluous and is inviting us to become a creative part of this intense and pure phenomenological experience.
1. Guy Brett, “The Century of Kinesthesia”, Force Fields, Phases of the Kinetic, Barcelona: MACBA, 2000, p. 56.
2. The author observed Marco Maggi creating Hotbed (DC) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, 2006.
3. Conversation with the author, 2009.
4. Walt Whitman, Selected Poems, New York: Dover Publications, 1991, pp. 52–53.
5. Paul Virilio, Art and Fear, translated by Julie Rose, London: Continuum, 2000.
6. Conversation with the author, 2006.
MILENA KALINOWSKA. Director of Public Programs and Education at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and Independent Curator based in Washington DC.
Marco Maggi / Hotbed a micro-revolution, essay for Works from the Daros LatinAmerica Collection, Banco Santander Foundation, Madrid, Spain, published by Daros Museum, Zurich, 2010.
Displaying Data: Micro, Macro, and Marco [Maggi]
by Robert Hobbs
In the wake of computer advances, some philosophers have attempted to develop a logical and consistent definition of human consciousness. But they have taken little comfort in the conclusion that human beings are able to assess their own limits while artificial forms of intelligence can only work within the constraints of a system defining them without being able to transcend it. Although these findings have represented an impasse for theoreticians attempting to differentiate people from machines, an appreciation for the redefinition of humanity that computers entail, including the hybrid and dynamic condition of cyborgs, has become a crucial and an exciting area of exploration for such a prescient artist as Marco Maggi. In his work over the past few years, he indicates that human capacities in the future will often need to be understood in terms of their own distinct limits. Instead of extolling as the standard for intelligence the digital realm of computers, which have ignored all numbers except for the binaries O and 1, he looks to humanity's original digitals, the incredible connection between a prehensile thumb and fingers that form the wondrous, yet still fallible machine known as the human hand. In the catalogue for his 2001 exhibition at 123 Watts in New York, entitled "The Pencil Monologues," he gently mocks current self-satisfactions with recent inventions by describing the archaic digital diversions that ensued after the invention of one of the first machines, the lever, which was then used in the form of pieces of charcoal to create drawings:
The pencil was born because of the intimate relationship between the thumb and index finger. A digital dialogue from prehistory to history. The new technology has yet to achieve a more digital instrument than the hand 1
With a dry wit aimed at himself as well as others, he proposes a rudimentary cyborgian state of becoming machinic that attends these early revolutionary acts and continues into the present, representing an important duration whose full cycle is still in its early stages. In another statement that pokes fun at the current fascination with computer art, he compares his own activities on the Internet with those of the Paleolithic groups, who created cave paintings, to demonstrate how present-day advances are merely the rudimentary beginnings of a very long future facing humanity:
I look at my mouse and it looks like the Bison of Altamira. The end of history will not happen. On the contrary, we are experiencing the renaissance of prehistory. I recognize myself in the mirror: Cromagnonline. 2
In order to set Maggi's work in proper historic relief and understand its new approach to machines that at times parallels Gilles Deleuze's thought and more recently is informed by it, I would like to review the primary ways that twentieth-century artists regarded machines. Unlike Maggi, who is skeptical of the virtues ascribed to these devices, many Russian constructivists and Bauhaus-trained designers considered machines beneficent adjuncts capable of supporting and sustaining humanity's prominence, as well as serving as inspiring harbingers of future salutary developments. They found machinery wonderful teaching tools potentially able to help them eradicate such unnecessary and embarrassing human impediments as their penchants for deviating from established norms, tendency to slowness, capacity for inefficiency, and persistent inability to accord with the inexorable demands of progress and accept its decrees. The history of twentieth-century art has thus been an ongoing romance between artists and mechanics in which the former have courted the latter, and their alliance has been metaphorically metamorphosed into Duchamp's bride. This love affair took the form of an esthetics of functionalism in the late teens and early twenties, streamlining in the 1930s, and aerodynamics in the 1950s and '60s.
In 1968, K. G. Pontus Hultén's ambitious and mainly European-oriented exhibition for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, entitled The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, 3 surveyed ways that artists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have incorporated the aesthetics of technology and engineering in their work in order to support the ideology of progress. Though obviously intrigued with these advances, Hultén acknowledges that the major deviations from this sweeping project are the humorous, lumbering machines with vaguely anthropomorphic references created by Jean Tinguely. His elaborate contraptions questioned many truisms regarding the inexorable forward march of progress that new devices seemed to substantiate. His exhibition concluded on a positive note with a brief overview of the ambitious reciprocity between artists and engineers undertaken by the international organization Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.).
Today, the most progressive art concentrating on machinery such as Maggi's deliberately low- key, whimsical pieces is unmoved by these earlier claims. Instead of celebrating the utopianism that was considered a necessary concomitant of any machine style, he interrogates it. Rather than focusing on the newest technology and the most advanced of artificial intelligences as signs of progress, as have the curators of recent exhibitions at San Franciso MoMA and the Whitney, Maggi questions its assumed superiority. Practicing a mode of inquiry that we might term "deconstructivism" in deference to Derrida's prescient theoretical skepticism and also the work of early twentieth-century Russian constructivists, Maggi has found a way to reclaim the creation of machines as distinctly human accomplishments that transform humans at the same time that they enact changes on their world, thus forming a symbiotic and ongoing dynamic of becomings marked by differential durations. Maggi's approach differs markedly from that of Whitney curator Christiane Paul who organized "Data Dynamics" and describes new digital means as a form of progress: "Data are intrinsically virtual and exist as processes that aren't necessarily visible. The search for visual models that allow for dynamic mapping is inextricably connected to the attempt to visualize the nonlocality of cyberspace." Instead of writing off new data as ineluctable and fluid, Maggi makes a concerted attempt to understand them through his drawings, and his intricate exertion to do so defines his humanity.
No longer hampered by an ideological mindset geared to accept progress without reckoning its costs, Maggi recognizes that some innovations have exerted heavy penalties in terms of increased alienation. The estrangement that comes most under fire in Maggi's art is the one resulting from the new global networks that permeate national boundaries, setting up international flows that seem to move with incredible velocities that sweep humans along their labyrinthine channels while preventing them the privilege of confronting the powerful lines of flight assailing them. In order to combat the superannuation of humanity through the global networks that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have labeled "empire" 4 and also avoid succumbing to reactionary views pertaining to the indomitable might of a recalcitrant individualism, Maggi invokes as a working premise the fictive Uruguayan in Jorge Luis Borges tale "Funes, His Memory." Instead of focusing on the memory of this phenomenal autodidact as commentators of Borges' fiction have tended to do, Maggi dwells on Funes' incredible powers of perception that take empiricism to unheralded lengths. The passage most memorable to Maggi is the following description of Funes' ability to immerse himself so fully in the present that he is incapable of distilling his perceptions into generalities:
Funes, we must not forget, was virtually incapable of general, platonic ideas. Not only was it difficult for him to see that the generic symbol 'dog' took in all the dissimilar individuals of all shapes and sizes, it irritated him that the 'dog' of three-fourteen in the afternoon, seen in profile, should be indicated by the same noun as the dog of three-fifteen, seen frontally. His own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him every time he saw them. Swift wrote that the emperor of Lilliput could perceive the movement of the minute hand of a clock; Funes could continually perceive the quiet advances of corruption, of tooth decay, of weariness. He saw - he noticed - the progress of death, of humidity. He was the solitary, lucid spectator of a multiform, momentaneous, and almost unbearably precise world. Babylon, London, and New York dazzle mankind's imagination with their fierce splendor; no one in the populous towers or urgent avenues of those cities has ever felt the heat and pressure of a reality as inexhaustible as that which battered Ireneo [Funes], day and night, in his poor South American hinterland. . . . He had effortlessly learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very good at thinking. To think is to ignore (or forget) differences, to generalize, to abstract. In the teeming world of Ireneo Funes there was nothing but particulars - and they were virtually immediate particulars. 5
If we use this passage as a diagnostic tool for assessing Maggi's drawings, we find in them a similar conjunction of simplicity and acuity. Working with the modest and at one time ubiquitous materials of clay board used as backing for framed objects as well as with household aluminum foil, and pencils that together parallel the unprepossessing appearance of the crippled peasant Funes, Maggi then uses these materials in tandem with a magnifying glass to conceive ghostly drawings, resembling silverpoint, and miniature aluminum reliefs of such incredible delicacy and complexity that they severely challenge the perceptual abilities of the naked eye. In addition to recalling the visual perspicacity of Funes, these works approach the type of immanent empiricism that Deleuze describes. Their different realities suggest a perpetual semiotic of slipping signifiers that range from the unicellular to the mechanized and from teeming nebulae to aerial views of overpopulated metropolises. In these drawings Maggi folds near and myopic details into distant views that are then folded yet again into the flat surfaces of the material on which they are delineated. He creates in them a series of alternating enlargements and reductions that remind me of the potency of destabilized points of view that is the basis for the nine-and-one-half minute film, Powers of Ten, which the Office of Charles and Ray Eames made for IBM in 1977. In this film the same image is serially re-framed through ascending and descending views determined by the factor of ten. Similar to seeing Powers of Ten, the net result of looking at a Maggi drawing is a dramatic slowing down of the process of seeing - velocities, we might say, are replaced by viscosities - coupled with an astonishing series of folds comprising both intimacy and monumentality that are spatially perceptual concomitants of the new technologies. Although the gossamer webs of silvery lines approaching invisibility in his work suggests the influence of Sol LeWitt's early graphite wall drawings, which were intended to encourage thought about art's generative concepts through approaching its visual limits, Maggi refuses to succumb to the type of structurally based systems that underlie conceptual art. Maggi accosts viewers with a series of different possibilities for becoming that are predicated on radically shifting durations. Instead of creating art with a fixed goal, he assails viewers with different intensities and durations, encouraging them to see with increasing acuity by enticing them with hooks of even greater singularities. In these works, viewers are precluded from asserting a clear ground and instead are encouraged to assume a number of radically different subject positions that change not only their stations but also the nature of material being perceived. In Maggi's art, one scans and also scrutinizes the intricacies he has delineated. Ultimately, clearly intelligible forms are succeeded by densely congested passages, resulting in a collapse of vision tantamount to the Kantian sublime - a collapse that is also thematized in his aluminum or blind slide reliefs that reflect light rather than transmit it. Viewers are encouraged to study the visual information before them; then their awareness of their incapacity to discern all the conflated rhizomatic shapes in them initiates an awareness of the threshold separating sight from blindness that serves as an analogy for the threshold marking off the personal from the global. It is as if the universe is both so vast and miniscule that we can only start to fathom it once we recognize our inability to do so visually. At that point vision approaches its limit, and the sublimity of the global network is intuited rather than directly perceived. Maggi sums up his approach in the following statement:
The earth and its inhabitants weigh 5,972 trillion tons. An incredibly heavy globe to approach with the point of a pencil. That's why myopia is the best response to globalization: reducing the visual field allows us to discover infinitesimal details in the space of a square inch.... I practice a new theory of focus: small-scale attacks against Xerox paper, Polaroid slide frames, Empire rulers, Reynolds aluminum rolls, Celotex insulation panels and Macintosh apples.... I define the current volume of information as intangible materialism. As access to information increases and its dissemination accelerates our uncertainty goes from macro to micro, from real to virtual. This new materialism is not historical; it's hypothetical.... 6
Rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of globalism, Maggi's art highlights those areas of the new technology most in need of human intervention and thus becomes a fascinating paean to the imaginative power and creative potential of human ineptitude. A primary area of investigation for Maggi is the science of collection management, including the organization and retrieval of the vast amounts of information, which computers both generate and store. Instead of privileging his own discrete insights as have romantics and their successors, Maggi undertakes the project of assessing ways that data is being organized and displayed and discovers the human role central to this elaborate process. An avowed futurist, Maggi intuits a cyborgian realm of becoming that comprises both organic and inorganic realms. He playfully looks back at the first commercially viable personal computer from the 1970s, Apple's MacIntosh, in terms of the organic equivalent that is grown in the region of Upstate New York where he has resided over the past few years and the biblical metaphor of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that Adam and Eve insisted on sampling. To make these pieces, he takes fresh Macintosh apples, scores them with incised markings suggestive of special yet unintelligible codes and lets them dry out so that they ultimately become as gratuitous as the first personal computers, now obsolete, that are named after them.
Contrary to traditional definitions of data that relegate it to the margins of dry scientific inquiry where it represents the mathematical tabulations of extensive experiments conducted under rigorous laboratory conditions, the term "data" now functions as more of a relative concept rather than a stable entity. It characterizes and qualifies a diverse range of information as raw material that human beings must categorize. The rationale for this new understanding of data comes from recent archival research that dealt with new types of information, including photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings, computer discs, and print outs. In Maggi's hands the management of data is shown to be a highly imaginative pursuit. Instead of reducing information to a common denominator, he scrutinizes one of the primary modes for recording it: reams of Xerox paper. He characterizes a medium for recording information rather than discerning any essential properties it might exhibit. The primary example in this exhibition is Hotbed, consisting of 196 reams of copying paper carefully laid out on the floor to create corridors and avenues of potential information. Instead of being printed on, these stacks are left in their pristine state. The only change enacted by the artist is that the top sheet of each stack has been marked with incisions, creating folds that rise above it. These folds seem to have a basis in Deleuze's book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque 7 that stages parallels between the terracing of levels and contradictions of inner and outer space endemic to this period style and discerns their recurrence in the modern and postmodern periods. The term "fold," which is taken from Leibniz, is significant since it points to discontinuities rather than absolute breaks and to parallel yet nonaligned durations that are separated by different trajectories and lines of flight similar to the rearrangement of patterns on pleated fans. Each ream in Maggi's work exists as a potential that is whimsically beginning to be realized through the playful array of folds enunciating its top sheets and invaginating them. The Hotbed of his title is a multiple pun that points to seedbeds employed by plant nurseries as well as sites of lovemaking, and both meanings point to the potential insemination of the paper with information and its role as a record for this data.
Because of the information overload that defines our era as entropic, Maggi avoids ontological questions regarding a given subject's purported essence in favor of such capricious epistemological forays as we have seen in Hotbed. "Global Myopia," he recently wrote, "presents imperceptible archives on mundane materials: Xerox paper, ceramic tiles, slide mounts, apples and kitchen foil. A digital dialogue - based on minimum displacements of the index finger and thumb - registers a plot to read with no hope of being informed." 8 In his work, Maggi seeks to understand the very material categories or frameworks by which knowledge is ratified rather than assess its essential meaning, and he concerns himself with ordering and characterizing data, which he calls "dysfunctional information" 9 - a great term for human memory - rather than determining its specific contents. Since Maggi's work is art and not systems theory, he approaches, as we have already seen, this seemingly dry topic with irony, humor, and a sense of fantasy. Although the main categories for inventorying information are digital systems rather than analog ones, Maggi prefers the analog form of categorization since resemblance serves as a readily identifiable, if one-dimensional, key for storage retrieval systems and allows him to make his points directly and concisely. In marked contrast with analog schemes, digital sequences require data to be translated into discrete and yet easily manipulated bytes directly expressed as the digits of a binary code. Even though the digital form is now used by most computer retrieval systems, it is too indirect for art since it requires information first to be translated into a binary code and then classified according to a system capable of being cross-referenced before being retranslated back into a language comprehensible to laypersons. Even when Maggi deals with topics germane to digital processes, he relies mainly on resemblance as a key means for communicating his ideas, thus his references to "digitals" as fingers rather than parts of a binary code. Maggi's elegant pencil drawings call to mind analogies to microscopic circuitry rather than the bytes communicated by brief pulses of electricity or scintillas of light in computers. The conjunction of the cybernetic and handmade is a crucial factor of his art since it aims to differentiate human involvement from technological processes and to signify by analogy the important role that human beings still play in the construction of our world. This new deconstructivist art replaces ever faster computations with increasingly slowed-down creations that require time to be made and assimilated.
In conclusion, Maggi's work seeks to discern the human quotient in our highly technological world. It moves away from telepistemology - the study of knowledge acquired at a distance that was inaugurated in the seventeenth century with the inventions of the telescope and microscope - and relies on an even more radical empirical mode than has usually been construed as the art object's primary purview. What Maggi has is mind are the "immediate particulars" comprising Ireneo Funes' world in Borges' story - an immanence so dazzling and unstoppable and sometimes even ungraspable that it constitutes the exhilarating and sublime entropy of information overload. His art does so even as it defines humanity in terms of its capacities to flounder and forget, to seek variation rather than unanimity, and to become entangled in emotions that destabilize rigorous forms of artificial intelligence, putting them at risk.
1. Marco Maggi, The Pencil Monologues: Micro Macro Drawings Retrospective 0002-9991 (New York: 123 Watts, 2001), n. p.
3. K. G. Hultén, The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968).
4. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2000). On page 197, they write, "The old feminist slogan 'The personal is the political' has been reversed in such a way that the boundaries between public and private have fractured, unleashing circuits of control throughout the 'intimate public sphere.'"
5. Jorge Luis Borges, "Funes, His Memory" in Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Viking Penguin, 1998), pp. 136-7.
6. Maggi, The Pencil Monologues, n. p.
7. Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). I thank Josée Bienvenue, the director of 123 Watts and Maggi's primary gallerist, for recommending this book by Deleuze.
8. Marco Maggi, E-mail to author, February 26, 2002.
9. Ibid. Robert Hobbs
Robert Hobbs holds the Rhoda Thalhimer endowed Chair of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University. Author of 20 books, including monographs on Edward Hopper and Andres Serrano, he has curated more than forty major exhibitions that have been presented in eleven countries. Among them are: Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years, which was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Robert Smithson: Sculpture, which was also presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art and subsequently was selected to be the official U.S. representation at the 1982 Venice Biennale. In 1996 he curated Souls Grown Deep: African-American Vernacular Art of the South for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Other recent touring exhibitions include the Lee Krasner retrospective, which concluded its U.S. tour at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2000, and the Milton Avery: The Late Paintings, which completes its U.S. tour in 2002. Currently he is completing a major monograph on Alice Aycock and curating an exhibition of Anselm Kiefer's monumental woodcuts for the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington D.C. His latest endeavor is serving as U.S. commissioner for the 2002 São Paulo Bienal where he is presenting the work of Kara Walker.
Waiting to Surface
by Patricia C. Phillips
As dusk descended to darkness, I sat at the computer gathering errant thoughts. The low exhalations of passing clouds and a disquieting transformation of light in the atmosphere announced an imminent summer storm. Moving my eyes back and forth from the brilliant luminosity of the computer screen to the irregular brightening in the farmhouse window to my right, these oddly contiguous lenses each framed seductive sources of light. Artificial and natural illumination shared incongruous affinities. The infinitesimal world of the microchip and the expansive turbulence of a gathering storm were congealed and connected by the common apertures that channel and edit sight.
Beginning as an almost imperceptible prelude, the storm rolled through with thrilling, tectonic ferocity. Experience was replete with and limited by a clamor of noise and light. The skies raged and the ground seemed to tremble as if to release some unassailable evidence of beginnings, endings, and improbable connections. Judiciously, I shut off the computer moments before an epiphany of light interrupted the dependable, invisible flow of electricity. The lights went out for a moment, fluttered, and finally were extinguished.
Futilely promising to be better prepared for other unexpected events, I fumbled around on a shelf where I recalled last seeing the sole flashlight. With the failing Shop Rite batteries providing scant illumination in the impenetrable darkness, my eyes hungered for something to see. There was a feeling of loss and deprivation -- a tactual desire to fix my focus on something. Even the insistent digital numbers of the clock radio and microwave were still and vacant. Space seemed to thicken. Seeing and knowing ceased to be reliable companions.
There was a disconcerting silence to confirm the absence of light and vision. The persistent hum of the computer that has become part of the physical sensation of writing had stopped early in the storm. Without electricity the pump was still; the loss of water was confirmed as a dripping faucet quieted. And the straining motor of the freezer, which had become a constant presence during steamy July days, also stopped. I realized that all of these often ignored sounds and pulsations are the dependable calibrations of a palpable dimension of time. Without these familiar noises and in a thicket of darkness, time was suspended.
Roaming around the dark rooms, I reflexively turned on light switches and water faucets. My experience of the loss of electrical power was constantly betrayed by an unconscious, quotidian choreography of gesture and activity. In other more confounding moments, the edges between environment and awareness, context and body were often ambiguous. What was understood and experienced were mismatches. There was no power; the world had fallen into darkness until the sky would brighten at sunrise the next day. But in the hushed blackness of a well-known setting, the sudden transformation felt like a failure of the most reliable physical senses. Sight and hearing had been extorted or diminished by incalculable circumstances. Touch was the most incisive sensation. Oddly, this enhanced tactility sounded a prescient image for the future, as more of what we know will be visually unavailable -- behind the scenes.
A day later at nightfall, electrical power was restored. Lights left on the night before brightened. The motor of the freezer went into a frenetic pitch to capture and restore the cold. The digital clocks blinked brightly in their inaccuracy. All of the sights and sounds of domesticity were instantly reinstated. With the well- known scripts and staging back in place, an unexpected pause of everyday life came to an end. Did the novelty of the night before change anything? Did the welcome return of usual patterns and amenities dispel any lasting reconsideration of new impressions? Did the temporary compromise -- denial -- of sight, influence a general apprehension?
The abrupt consequences of a sudden electrical storm appear to establish improbable and tenuous connections to the quiet, premeditated work of Marco Maggi. The sublime pyrotechnics of intense light and blasts of thunder had reverberated with the shocking volatility of natural events. Thrilling and threatening, the storm was a ephemeral event, moving across space until its force dissipated. The experience of the storm and a night without light and sight was entirely visceral. The extreme visual stimulation of the storm wrought a mysterious opacity.
In contrast, Maggi's meticulous projects and drawings are hushed serial implosions. Their intricacy and intimacy transport paradoxical thoughts of velocity and stillness, presence and void -- a simultaneous concentration and absence of energy. While time may be a subject, the work is not transitive. The activity has an inappreciable molecular quality; aggressive, persistent movement is self- contained. Development and movement are intellectually accepted, but never tangibly experienced. Strategically unpretentious, the work's eloquent concentration actively summons acute, attentive seeing.
In the 19th century, the invention and availability of printing presses, telescopes, and microscopes secured the ocular bias of the modern western world. 1 There was unprecedented optimism placed on previously unexamined visual horizons rendered by new technologies. It was expected that a technologically-enhanced range of sight would lead to new knowledge -- an expanded optical environment would embolden thought.
... the break with classical models of
vision in the early nineteenth century was
far more than simply a shift in the appearance of images and art works, or in systems of representational conventions. Instead, it
was inseparable from a massive reorganization of knowledge and social practices that modified in myriad ways the productive, cognitive, and desiring capacities of the
human subject. 2
Concurrent with emerging techniques of observation, the development of new forms of political power and other industrial innovations, observers and consumers encountered a "new field of serially produced objects ... " 3 Social and economic developments produced a more variable, negotiable, and accessible scope of signs. Transformations in the 19th century that challenged the dominant authority of a Cartesian-based, singular scopic regime anticipated the discursive patterns of visuality that characterize the contemporary world.
As the telescope, microscope, computer, magnetic imaging, and other innovations have extended the biological range of vision, the syntax of sight is perpetually revised. Emerging technologies have displayed confounding similarities between the immense proportions of the universe and unimaginable infinitesimalness of particle physics, atomic structures, cells, and viruses. The techniques of observation present visual evidence that make the macro and micro -- once so unquestionably distinguishable -- entirely indiscriminate. Unimaginable extremes are, in fact, rendered uniformly. Representations of vastly difference scales and phenomena have surprising affinities.
In the late the 20th century, the traces of these and other profound changes are identified and examined through the different lenses of literary, art, and architectural theory, computer science and the digital world, and advertising and popular culture. Contemporary visual culture is calculatingly seductive and absurdly mundane. In spite of the promotional gusto of brand names and unique items for particular clients, the packaging of every aspect of life has produced a generic environment of manipulated expectation, sensation, and satiation. This slippery common ground of desire and commerce -- its insubstantiality -- is a significant preoccupation of Maggi's meditative, yet anxious work. His disciplined methodology, a fascination with format and presentation, and a modesty of materials form an insistent critique with sightlines to the past and the future of vision and knowledge. In Stuart Ewen's book All Consuming Images, the themes of the politics of style, image management, seeing as scanning, and surface over substance frame a bleak critique of contemporary consumer life. 4 Ewen's book
is a single compelling example of the pervasive pessimism about the social control (and superficiality) of vision and experience in a mediated society. Offering another perspective, Martin Jay writes: "In the case of the art of describing, we might see another reification at work, that which makes a fetish of the material surface instead of the three-dimension depths." 5 But just as vision and visuality are intricately braided phenomena shaped by nature and culture, biology and technology, surface and substance are not intrinsically estranged. Scanning the surface is not endemically an avoidance of deep ideas.
Maggi does not subscribe to the notion of a "true" vision. Optical processes are socialized, variable, cultural, and contingent. But his intricate work frames questions about the consequences of sight in a culture that is saturated with a storm images and things. In contrast to fast food, facsimiles, and other accelerated services, Maggi describes his work as "slow art." His making and our tracing of hundreds of almost imperceptible notations across different surfaces require patient and conscious search. And time.
With a sudden electrical storm, the surrounding environment became an inappreciable void. Space became empty. A typical drive-by experience of art might suggest that Maggi's work is empty and absent. At first glance -- nothing. Nothing seems obviously apparent. A more concentrated look -- a deliberate gaze -- locates an astounding proliferation and fullness extending across the surface. Through a devoted application of small marks and incisions on different surfaces and materials, Maggi slowly and inextricably reveals the drift of all of the common signs that skittishly move across surfaces.
Drawing with pencil leads the size of straight pins, Maggi places a single stroke that is the genesis of an unfolding, internal logic of marks and patterns. The visual experience of this work produces a notational crisis between intelligibility and intelligence. Observation and interpretation are prolonged commitments, but the time spent simply intensifies the conundrum. The mazy network of lines is rational and inscrutable; a calculable intent never leads to a conclusive impression.
Architects, designers, and scientists develop and deploy models and representations. Fastidious drawings and constructions simulate unbuilt structures or untested speculations. With reasonable confidence, viewers assume that these are accurate pictures of prospective visions. Maggi's disquieting, shifting work gravitates between the traditions of drawing and diagram. The precision of his drawing and etching, makes unclear whether each work is complete in its ambiguity, or a scale representation of something that only resides in the imagination. The tiny lines and marks possess the self-contained focus of the miniature, as well as the expansive potential of representations of vast systems or minute particles.
Paul Virilio has compared the field of vision to the site of an archaeological excavation. 6 Maggi's creative process has the obsessive qualities of a prolonged, painstaking dig. Every particle and stroke has immense purpose. The surface is be continually examined and excised for evidence. Maggi draws delicately and fastidiously on the surface of paper and other materials. He incises with surgical precision foil, foamboard, and other vulnerable surfaces. Intelligible impressions are made, but the actual plane of the material is never excised. Occupying this intense non-space -- this dimension between surface and substance -- the work reveals the superficial and insignificant as profound concepts.
With the excavation of old landfills and other quotidian sites, the archaeology of the ordinary is now intellectually endorsed. For Maggi some of the most fascinating evidence of an entropic visual culture is discerned in the ubiquitous floor plans, product displays, and commonplace materials of Home Depot, Staples, or WalMart. Wandering and poaching in these epidemic franchises, he faithfully uses generic, often banal formats and materials for his extreme work -- conventionally-sized drawing paper, simple frames, plastic slide mounts, transparent slide sheets, insulation board, aluminum foil, and Macintosh apples from the fruit-growing region where he lives. If often ignored, endured, or scorned, they are never benign; they are the unacknowledged texture of our lives and the receptive surfaces for Maggi's idiosyncratic work.
From the fast convenience of the freezer to the microwave to the art gallery. What time is required -- and allocated -- to produce and look at art? The current politics and economics of the art world do not condone or reward creative investments of interminable hours. Unaffected by conformity, Maggi's slow methodology is subversively time-consuming. Vision may be fast and restless, but his timeless meandering marks and impressions evoke the purpose and intimacy of touch. Our choice is clear. The work can be easily overlooked, or we can let ourselves be held by an unhurried tangibility of time. In the darkness following an electrical storm, a dilated sense of time made the familiar suddenly mysterious. Maggi's work invites a similar kind of suspension. Facing unfathomable entanglements on the most mundane surfaces, the work immerses us in the vagaries and vulnerabilities of sight.
1. Martin Jay. "Scopic Regimes of Modernity". Vision and Visuality. Edited by Hal Foster. Bay Press. Seattle. 1988. p. 3.
2. Jonathan Crary. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. M.I.T. Press. Cambridge. 1990. p. 3.
3. Crary. p. 13.
4. Stuart Ewen. All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture. Basic Books, Inc. New York. 1988.
5. Jay. p. 20.
6. Crary. p. 1.
Patricia C. Phillips is Dean of Graduate Studies and heads Research initiatives at Rhode Island School of Design. Prior to her appointment at RISD in 2009, she was at Cornell University. From 2002-2007, she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Art Journal, a quarterly publication on contemporary art published by the College Art Association.
Speech by Professor Ricardo Pascale, PhD, Commissioner of the Uruguayan Pavilion at the inauguration of the Marco Maggi exhibition at the 56th Biennale Arte 2015
Distinguished dignataries, ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to start by taking a few moments to express my most sincere thanks to various parties deserving of recognition.
First, to the Biennale di Venezia and its officials for having cooperated to the utmost in all our work.
Then to our own country, for the total support we have received from the authorities in every case, and I know I am expressing the feelings of our whole team about this. In particular I would like to acknowledge Dr. Hugo Achugar, who was the National Director of Culture of Uruguay and whose help was crucially important for us to be able to do our work.
As Marco Maggi once said, “If something doesn’t go well, it is because we ourselves have made mistakes”. Hugo and his people made every possible effort, and perhaps even more than that, to ensure that the Uruguayan contribution would be successful.
I would also like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Embassy in Rome for providing us with vital support.
In addition, the team would like to thank some other individuals for their help, including the architect Andrea Zigon, Piero Morello, Cesare de Rossi, and the photographer Ugo Carmeni. Their work went far beyond merely carrying out a professional assignment and it is my great pleasure to acknowledge them for the tremendous committment they made.
I cannot mention everybody who has been involved but I would like to say that everyone has made a great effort to contribute everything possible to this undertaking of ours.
Second, moving on, I should note that the title of this Biennale Arte 2015 – the 56th that has been held – is “All the World Futures”, and that the first Biennale de Venezia was 120 years ago.
Paolo Baratta, President of the Biennale, said:
“Today the world seems to be fraught with serious fractures and wounds, great asymmetries, and uncertainty about the future. In spite of the prodigious progress of knowledge and technology, we are living in what can be called an Age of Anxiety. And the Biennale is oriented to observing the relation between art and the development of human, social and political reality…”
Enwezor, the curator of this edition, wants to investigate “the state of things” in depth, through a collection of filters, and will “raise the appearance of these things for discussion.”
In this uncertain world in which values have clearly been eroded, which is full of rushing and speed that very often do not help us understand where we are going, it seems essential to find another perspective that has been forgotten. Perhaps this torrent of information and knowledge has developed too fast and has not been suitably guided. In this context, Uruguay’s contribution to the 2015 Biennale Arte is the work of Marco Maggi, one of our outstanding artists.
Marco is concerned about the condition of the world today and he has commented, “We are in a society with dysfunctional information in which reality has become illegible and the visual arts invisible.”
One of these aspects about which we are all invited to reflect is people’s well-being and happiness. The Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an attempt to measure not only the total sum of economic production, which is a country’s GNP, but also our net impact on the environment, people’s cultural and spiritual growth, our mental and physical health, and the strength of our business and political systems.
For many years Marco has been watching this world, this world full of confusion, turbulence and disorientation, and he is now crying out in a calm way about a world that exists but is not seen, a world that is much closer to happiness than other worlds. With serenity, tremendous sophistication and great attention to detail, Marco transforms everyday objects with designs that have no predictable form. There are subtle lines in which finely-drawn trajectories that are sometimes difficult to perceive have enormous formal resonance without having to resort to exaggerations.
Marco takes a long time to execute his work; he is not concerned with how long it takes to finish a composition. What interests him is that with his drawings, starting from some simple domestic object, he can spread his vision of the world.
For Marco the thing that matters most is the relation between the object and the observer. This involves dedicating time to discover other worlds and other knowledge. The title of one of his shows in 2008 was “Lentissimo” – “Very slowly” – and the name was well chosen.
A vision of Marco’s work that centers solely on aesthetic speculation, for the emotive nature of the metaphor, would be reductionist. What we have here is an artist in whose work the dichotomy between the formal and the cognitive is not applicable. Marco’s artistic activity is oriented to the philosophy of art, and in this case emotions function cognitively. In the same way as other systems of symbols, they bring new knowledge to the world.
The study of the arts is now part of the study of creation and understanding of our worlds.
In Global Myopia he renews his idea, and he sees in Myopia the possibility of gradually over time coming to see reality and understanding it, and thus generating new knowledge instead of making it unintelligible.
Marco does not dwell on the aesthetic aspect or on its discovery; rather he is concerned with the construction of these new worlds.
For all these reasons, the title of this Biennale Arte 2015 fits perfectly with its object in the ideas proposed by Marco Maggi. In his work of 140 square metres he offers all of us not just a masterpiece for our eyes to enjoy but also a stimulus to reflect more slowly, very slowly, “Lentíssimo”, and to think about where we are, what are we oriented to, and – most important of all – where we really want to arrive.
Venice, 6 May, 2015.