Text in the occasion of a lecture at the University of Essex, Colchester
When I received the letter with the invitation for the talk I was in a state of panic, well perhaps not panic but one of confusion because I am not used to talking in public and even less speaking in English.
I’ve known Jorge Macchi for a very long time, his elder brother and my youngest one went to the same primary school and after to the same secondary school. They went to the Colegio Nacional Buenos Aires, which at that time was a highly political school, if we consider that most of the founders of the Guerrila Group Montoneros studied there.
Jorge’s brother hung around our flat for years although I do not record meeting Jorge for more than a few seconds - usually when he tried to find out where his brother was.
We lived in the borough of Barracas in the south of Buenos Aires. It is a mythological borough, writers like Ernesto Sabato, Leopoldo Marechal even Jorge Luis Borges wrote about it. A place born in the XVII century on the north bank of the Riachuelo, where a few precarious (Barracas) or warehouses for the treatment of leather and other products appeared on the landscape. In the early XIX century it changed character to a place chosen by the rich, until they emigrated to the north of Buenos Aires, fleeing the plague in 1871.
After that it became the place for émigrés especially the Italian. A popular place for working people, it was a strange place with bars of bad reputation, a refuge for outlaws, prostitutes and others, at the same time as being prosperous.
From 1976 I’ve lived in London. I used to go to Buenos Aires quite frequently and on one of those trips I met Jorge the student of art. Later, when on a trip to Paris I met Jorge, who at that moment was there on a grant. Perhaps it was the first time we shared a glass of wine and a good laugh. As good Argentinians we organised the world with words in no time.
I had a few reservations about participating in this talk - such as my belief that a critic is a person who is hunting shadows because of the difficulties of analysing a visual piece of work with words. I feel somehow that in the passage from one language to another something gets lost in the translation.
And Jorge Macchi’s latest work where the tension between the visual and the audio is so accurate, intense and poetical, I find very difficult to comment on or criticise.Not because it is ambiguos: his work never is.
In the end I decided that the best I can do is to put his work in an historical context.
He grew up during a sad period of Argentina’s history, the Generals were in control of the government and they persecuted any one who could read and write, as a consequence a lot of artists emigrated to Europe and to other latinamerican countries. Meanwhile those who stayed, survived by living a low profile cultural life and many of them thought that to produce a work of art under those circumstances was not only unnecessary but treason.
A decade of Generals, during which the prediction of Leopoldo Marechal (in his novel 'Adan Buenos Aires')that the country was ripe for a civil war became reality, and internal confrontation between the army and guerrilla groups resulted in the disappearance of thousands of people. The horror and degradation of the conflict as well as losing an external war in which it was possible to gain an identity and that is to begin accepting the common background with other SouthAmerican countries. These infertile circumstances affected the artistic, intellectual and scientific works. It never killed it, a tradition of conceptual artists of the 60’s like Alberto Greco, Oscar Bony, Roberto Jacoby, Pablo Suarez or the excesses of Alberto Heredia to name some are the predecessors of Jorge Macchi’s work.
The major difference between the American and European conceptual artists, is that the Argentinian artists were concerned with the political and social realities of the country.
In 1983 Raul Alfonsin formed the first democratically elected government for nearly a decade. Jorge Macchi had one of his first exhibitions in 1989, at Jorge Elias Gallery in Buenos Aires and as it happened, it was an eccentric exhibition. The new freedom allowed most of his contemporaries to think in international terms looking to Europe, where the decade had started with an explosion of color and vitality - the German expressionism and the Italian transavantgarde. Somehow they restored the visual pleasure, neutralising some of the intellectual excesses of the previous decade. The exhibition was called The painting and altarpieces of the end of the XX century. if at first glance the title has religious connotations the reality is that the exhibition was unrelated to the inmediate enviroment and totally eccentric to the international scene. He used waste materials, assembling them primatively. Rough pieces of wood set as a triptych provided support for nails, glass, asphalt and were sometimes combined with figurative painting deliberately using poor craftmanship. Some of the works presented were folded and closed making it necessary to touch them in order to open them and look inside. This participation of the viewer from a contemplative to a more active role perhaps gives the clue to the title , written in the style of The letters from Indias, it reminded me of the missionaries who came with the conquerors preparing for prayer in some remote place in this vast continent.
Macchi returned to the colonial origins as a starting point = a pretty awkward attitude for an exhibition of contemporary art in cosmopolitan Buenos Aires.
Helena Olivera states "Signs of the collective memory with religious connotation are used by Jorge Macchi to develop a personal vision of the contemporary world" Macchi looks around for clues and continues his aesthetic investigation using paints on traditional canvas. He starts painting large scale monochrome interiors of church or palace vaults. Small unidentifiable strokes appear, interfering with the central image making it difficult to define these fragmented houses of power despite their mysterious simplicity. In 'Untitled', 1992, Macchi continues his idea of a culture in decay and uses rags as the support for his paintings. These are normally square, grey and thick in texture. He attaches 9 of them to a canvas and draws another of his vault interiors over them in black ink. The top right hand corner of each square is peeling off interfering with the image. This is unsettling as he is keeping his intentions hidden. The continuous reading between the lines is a part of anyone who has lived under a brutal regime. You learn how to say one thing and mean another.
Macchi's ambition escapes the confines of the canvas and starts working with the space. His first installation work was shown at the Fundacion Banco Patricios.The building was a beautiful XIX century parisian store and was renovated by the Fundacion Banco Patricios as a Cultural Centre. The installation took place on the top floor the only space not yet refurbished. The floor of cement was uneven, the iron column deprived of any ornamentation, a dismantelled ceiling the space chosen by him to create a mystical experience in a very unmystical city. Armed with his skills as a painter, craftsman and sculptor he transformed the room into a temple. In the centre, suspended over the floor, a circle of candles blazed. Above hung an open umbrella, a persistant image.
Echoing that of the painted domes. Assembled on the floor, a hexagon represented the Tao's union of yin and yang. The walls were subdivided by painting black, white and brick red over them. Different objects were hung, such as ropes, small photographs of a cathedral, and a huge canvas in the shape of a star stretched by springs at each point.
Edward Shaw, reporting on the installation in the Buenos Aires Herald said, "It will be hard for anyone to duplicate the spiritual electricity that Macchi generates. While each of his pieces is minimal in its content, sketchy in execution, each atom combines to produce an essential entirety that envelops the observer." But why do religious rituals get in his way? Is that a reaction of a cultural and political climate which pushes him to the unfashionable realms of religion? Or a form of developing and confirming his individuality in a world where fiction and reality are seperated by a narrow gap? It is a question without any answer because Macchi continues his search apparently finding a channel of communication only to abandon it and begin all over again. In an exhibition at the Casal of Catalunia in Buenos Aires, he departs from his past towards a new and uncertain future. The work becomes more conceptual and the execution more professional. He still uses domestic and ready made objects as in a magnificent piece called Pentagram, where a cushion is pressed against the wall by rope and springs. Images are created by painting or changing the nature of an object. In 1993 I organised a group show in BuenosAires in a disused basement, it was called 'Oie como va' , the other artists were Eduardo Gazzotti, Claudia Fontes and Dean Whatmuff. Macchi teamed up with David Oubina and used a video form for "The Crime of the Super 8", a short story of how films on super 8 died. This consisted of a 3 minutes scream. The poorly lit space was ideal for the overall effect of the installation in which each artist presented one work. In 1995 I had the chance to organise an exhibition at the John Hansard Gallery and invite two artists a Chilean Arturo Duclos and Jorge Macchi. I called the show, Searching south, two southamerican artists, it was interesting specialy for me to show them togheter because they have little in common, Arturo is a figurative painter who combines political and religious symbols on his canvas with a kind of barroc style. On the opposite side was Jorge’s delicate and by then, conceptual sculpture. I remember going a day before, to help in the hanging of the show and my heart sank, when I saw the work displayed on the floor of the Gallery, what a crazy idea to put them together I said to myself. On top of that I felt more responsible because it was the first time they had shown in the UK. Luckily my fears disappeared when the show was installed somehow they complemented each other. If i remember correctly Pillow and glass a piece belonging to UECLAA and showed lately at the Tatewas first shown at that exhibition.
After a brief period at Delfina Studio, in 1998, he showed Incidental Music, I wrote some Notes for the catalogue. I suspect very few people read it because I believe it was a very small edition so what i will read to you now encompasses three exhibitions: one in Buenos Aires, in Rotterdam and London.
NOTES FOR A PROLOGUE
Accident in Rotterdam
JORGE MACCHI’s expression is one of surprise. Walking in the hot and humid summer of Buenos Aires, sorting his present and past with the silent passion of somebody wanting to apprehend reality knowing, that to believe in something is to refer every thought and action to advance and justify it.That is why with a perverse methodology, each time he reaches a point of understanding he abandons his way and starts again.
His steps are certain, his art increasingly a simulation
At Gulliver’s Travel in the ICI (Instituto de Cooperacion Iberoamericano) in Buenos Aires 40 toy football players support a huge piece glass. Each one has been glued to the glass and all of them are looking in the same direction, to where in split second reality, fantasy and accident converge - the glass having been smashed - scattering pieces around the gallery floor creating accidental shapes.The piece refers to the broken history of anyone who begins a process of moving to a different country and culture, the conceptual enrichment is met with a confused sense of otherness. It”s easy to imagine the action of breaking glass, a hammer in hand and a swift movement towards the glass - a dead sound and a drawing similar to a web is created.
Fragmented images, fragmented memories, fragmented realities
Jorge Macchi suffered, the European winter in Holland and felt the cold on a bicycle in Rotterdams’ streets where the voices never stop and solitude plays silly games. He decided to fabricate reality in Accident in Rotterdam two slides are projected onto the wall . They are two different views of an accident. The accident only occurs in Macchi’s imagination, the shadows of the Rotterdam studio window frame form a cross on the floor where two toy cars crash. The image created appears real, simulating a circumstance where shadows and car crash meet, in time and space.
Mi padre había estrechado con el (el verbo es excesivo) una de esas amistades inglesas que empiezan por excluir la confidencia y que muy pronto omiten el dialogo.
Jorge Luis Borges.
In London Macchi has the same surprised expression on his face as in Buenos Aires while living at Delfina Studios, where space and all necessary support are provided to a group of young artists from around the world.
He walks around the Borough of Southwark and perceives of a ghost city where the code of communication is a mystery....
Three big pieces of white paper hang on the wall. From a distance they look like manuscript paper for writing music. Close up the lines become words cut out of the news from newspapers, glued onto the paper in parallel lines. The news selected has a twist, It all tells of violence, accidents and murders. A gap of about one cm separates each story. That gap transposed has been translated into contemporary music,that one can hear while looking at the work.
The combination of a narrative text, music, and visuals, hidden within a minimal work make the piece open to interpretation . The horror of the text is powerful because it tells a real story objectively leaving any ambiguity of the language. It happens out there in the real world. In contrast, the music is pure invention.
Perhaps fiction and reality are one, only a desire to be difficult pushes one to separate them.
From Incidental Music onwards Jorge Macchi operates in a zone where his work is in an instant a place where things live in a permanent state of transition, intellectually and emotionally.