"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
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
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.