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Marco Maggi: Global Myopia
April 13–July 8, 2001

Marco Maggi
Micro & Soft on Macintosh Apples, 1999
16 engraved apples, aluminum shelf, 2 c-prints dimensions variable
Collection of Lois Plehn, New York, NY
photo: Niel Frankel

"We are condemned to know more and understand less; it's not a contradictory process, it's a semiotic indigestion." Marco Maggi (1)

Marco Maggi's diminutive works encode the world - a big idea - in a visual gesture mimicking the complex technology that grants us instant communication. Small, etched, shriveled apples (McIntoshes, of course) and delicately precise drawings are two conveyances of his intimate and myriad meditations on how we communicate with one another. He tenders his semiotics - signs suggesting other meanings - in a mystical shorthand, yet through his fastidious attention to process and minute detail, he grounds his work in something we may understand after all: our bodily relationship to his small works. To really see the work, we must physically be so close to it that we breathe on it - just what Maggi is after.

Maggi's drawings - or etchings and engravings as he often describes them - on paper, aluminum foil, clay, and apples are renderings of nothing wholly recognizable. The drawings are composed mostly of a variety of linear patterns and nonpatterns that suggest a circuit board, the map of an ancient city from an archaeological dig, or the grid of a modern city as imaged from a distant point in space. These elusive images are anchored by earthbound enterprises such as mapping and engineering.

What to make of Maggi's mapping impulse? The catalyst to map has a broad history. In the 17th century, for instance, the Dutch, fascinated by their expanding dominion, part of which they reclaimed from the sea, created extensive maps of their shifting territory, which artists such as Jan Vermeer imaged within his paintings. The invention of scientific tools such as the lens and microscope underwrote this eagerness to visualize the world. Cartographers, scientists, and visual artists zealously strived to make the world visible through an expressible optical gesture: a map, a topographical or biological drawing, a painting. Maggi also conspires to make new territory or the as-yet-to-be-understood visible; but his drawings only suggest - they don't explain - the encoded and encrypted technologies through which we communicate. He often comments on the high-volume, technology-driven speed of the world in which he lives, and how his art is a visual response to that overstimulation. Paradoxically yet not coincidentally, he and I worked out the details of his exhibition solely through electronic communication. The fact that we - artist and curator with congruent desires and goals - never met face to face prior to the installation amplifies the works' meaning. Maggi must use the very technology he seeks to excavate for critical inquiry, in order to complete his working processes: in this instance, having a museum exhibition. By working in such tiny formats (some of his drawings are the size of 35mm slides) and with complex imagery (our attempts to figure out the grids of his drawings or follow a line to its visually logical conclusion are usually thwarted), he obliges the viewer to reduce her pace, if only for this particular moment of looking.

Maggi's lyrical mapping, however nonspecific and nonscientific, is an attempt to engineer our experience, to mediate between us and the larger world of signs and systems - those semiotics that Maggi suggests give us "indigestion," such as television, electronics, film, computers, cell phones, and the like. He notes, "Our world is full of signs that we cannot understand: new circuits, old alphabets, atoms, dolmens, cells, biologic or urban fabrics, encrypted messages, mutant viruses," (2) all of which, according to Maggi, run interference to liberating our minds of unnecessary information. Problem is, like all information absorbed, we can't unknow what we know. Like enduring catastrophe or knowing profound grief, that experience, that grief can never be unknown, hard as we might try. But then, neither can beauty. And Maggi's drawings, be they on the skin of apples, paper, clay, or aluminum foil, are things of quietude and beauty.

While the wizened physiognomy of a dried apple may not rank among the canons of classical beauty, Maggi's etched, dried apples expand traditions of beauty. He uses a dry-point technique to cut the skin of the apples so that they change shape as they continue to dry out, never rotting or losing the beauty of the line drawings he incises in their surfaces. The apples simply become smaller, changing shape as they elegantly desiccate. Punning on the ubiquitous Macintosh computer (launched in 1984 and also continually evolving), Maggi etches actual McIntosh apples. Their simplicity is conceptually tied to the user-friendly nature of Macintosh computers; yet Maggi also nods a sly allusion to the intricacy of contemporary electronic communications. Like the systems of the Mac, Maggi's apple carvings are infinitesimally interwoven.

Maggi's work forges connections between what he may loosely consider the binaries and the ironies of language. He describes his works' boundaries as "text/textures, technology/biology, micro/macro (mother board/city, gene/planet), printmaking/no prints, drawing/Darwin … excess/progress." (3) Through his provocative title, Global Myopia, Maggi suggests that we may suffer from a shortsighted view of the world. He finesses a pun on myopic vision - the ability to see close-up, but not far away - thereby punning on a culture's inability to see the big picture. Paradoxically, Maggi's tiny works attempt to synopsize that big picture. He suggests his discontent with contemporary modes of communication that obfuscate personal contact, and he unwraps for us his romanticist's delight with intimacy. His "engravings" on aluminum foil provide a playful engagement with prosaic materials. Using two different methods of display - rerolling a roll of aluminum foil once he has "engraved" a portion of it, and inserting other miniscule aluminum foil "engravings" into 35mm slide casings - Maggi contrasts the seen with the unseen, the authentic with the stand-in.

Slides are the most common vehicle of commerce and communication among artists, galleries, curators, and museums. Maggi replaces a slide image of his work with a tiny actual work of art (one that cannot be projected and thus enlarged for potentially better viewing) and suggests that this uninterrupted communication - the slide-that-is-no-longer-a-slide is the art - is, in fact, a far more valuable experience than the 35mm projectable slide, a mere stand-in. Maggi queries the inherent imperfections in how artists, galleries, and curators understand one another and an artist's work. Wireless communiqués cannot replicate intimacy, and slides and email are imperfect paths to personal and professional relationships.

Acknowledging an increasingly complex network of global and personal communication that sometimes disconnects us bodily and emotionally from one another, Maggi physically and metaphorically unpacks and even redresses this dissonance. With his finely delineated engravings, etchings, and drawings whose delicate hand requires close personal proximity between his work and our bodies, Maggi humanizes the dehumanizing effects of our technological progression. His human touch, intimately drawn out, shivers throughout the work.

Dana Self
Curator


Notes
1. Artist's statement, February 1999.
2. Artist's statement, February 1999.
3. Artist's statement on his installation plan for Kemper Museum exhibition, 2001.

Marco Maggi ws an artist in residence at the Kemper Museum, working with students for three days prior to his exhibition opening.

Special thanks to Marco Maggi for his dedicated work on this, his first solo museum exhibition; to Todd Hosfelt, Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco, CA, for his invaluable help with procuring the works for the exhibition; to the generous lenders; and to 123 Watts Gallery, New York, NY.