From immemorial times, man has dedicated to decipher signs, trying to read the direction of birds´ flight, animals´ trails, its guts, stars´ position, dreams, in the need of understanding the enigmatical world that surrounded him, and he has tried to give an articulated significance to the visual as well.
But “deciphering” in itself leads to a pattern that must be read, leads to a project that was previously drawn, therefore, the metaphor of the sensitive world as a book that was written by God's hand, as if somehow, a reduction of sensitive to textual could be done.
Based on this, the question that arises immediately is: that which is given, could be a text?
The enigma within sense
Heuristic eagerness has driven human beings not only to read signs, but to believe in them as well. Lots of people have highlighted the privileged situation that poets posses in this sense. Among them, Jorge Luis Borges said that the poet, as he articulates inversions of the signic organization, dissociated it of thought and knowledge. In this sense his studies of the Kennigar or “enigmatical nominations” of poetry from Iceland are well known. Near year 100 A.C, poets from Iceland were busy inventing names as “ fish of the battle” to name the sword or “blood from the rocks” to name the rivers. These names, quoting Borges, have the capability of estranging us from the world. Poets´ procedures have the following virtue: they rescue signs from their referential significance, move them; as to give them back their original creative power.
This is exactly what Jorge Macchi does with his images: he darkens the signs, disarrays and moves the meanings. In his drawings, for instance, we can find certain visual couplages, designed from semantic contrasts and affinities, like in the saw series (spruce- saw, leave- saw, saw- mattress, saw- tree trunk) or the head series (head- wheel, head- balloon, head-fire). His images are settled as a privileged site in which sense is built and torn down, were the unique meaning is rarefied and blurred.
Interrogating the sign, Macchi criticizes the transparent or identical sense that unifies it with its object. His interrogation will backup, for instance, vane intents of classifying and putting in order, that will give way to shapes in aberrant order, or to use Foucault's classification to “speech monstrosities”. In this way, his work is full of symmetries and bizarre duplications ( Vidas paralelas , (Parallel lives) in its two versions, Recuerdo de una noche que pasé tratando de olvidarte (Souvenir of a night that I spent trying to forget you) etc.), where we can see groups of matches whose order is repeated without explanation, cardboard boxes that repeat imperfections, broken glass that is identically multiplied or curious asymmetries in which shadows become independent of the objects (like in the tables series), are transformed in shadows of other objects, and even in some occasions are objects in themselves.
The “speech monstrosities” are extended to the symmetries and asymmetries of the cartographic practices. In this way in Déluge (Deluge) or in 32 Morceaux d´eau (32 pieces of water) we can see several maps of Paris (of Seine river, of the metro) in where the cartographic orientation becomes a semantic uncertainty area. In 32 Morceaux d´eau , Macchi tries to draw a map not of the container but of its contents. In a futile intent of giving form to the inform, he presents the thirty two fragments of the Seine river limited by its bridges, changing these fragments in “ pieces of water”. In Déluge , the names of the Paris Metro stations are blank while the Seine , will become a river conformed by the union of the typical blue and white signs.
It's interesting the way in which Macchi chooses his images. In this case, it's about images of the course of time (the river, the Metro, the map) where the course of time as a sign is associated to the same depriving of structure task and detour of sense done by the rhetoric of the artist.
The hyerogliphical character of all beings in the world
Let's return to the question that we stated at the beginning: that what is given, is a text?
Borges whose work speculate about the different possibilities that this question arises, will insist in “ El Espejo de los Enigmas” (The mirror of enigma) on the hyerogliphical character that all beings in the world posses. Each one of them is like a mirror on which the divine message is reflected, each one of them – of us- a surface where a deciphering eventually could be done, a message could be read.
The criticism to the relation object-sign as an identity principle (A=A) will be extended in Jorge Macchi, mining all possible certainty, until arriving to the identity notion of the human being.
This is evidenced in works like Big Bang . This “self-portrait” of Jorge Macchi is put in an oval frame in a quoting of the canonic ways of representation of reminiscence (old photos of our ancestors, myths of origin) but it is constituted otherwise in a particular way of self portrait which is presented to us in a crude way: the trail of the artist's footprints, the seal of his body weight on the canvas. Notice too, that through a particular treatment, this footprint is printed in expansion, since the title of the work that submit us to scientifically theories that refer to a myth of origin as to the gradual deconstruction of the subject's identity.
The theme is repeated in some works as well as in the installations in the artist's atelier, done in 1995, which imply mirrors covered with PVC bags (where the refracting surface, instead of giving back the artist's image, only speaks for his absence and emptiness), or in Oval, Dos Adioses (Two farewells) , Monoblock , works that incorporate obituaries that were taken from the newspapers where the death of each individual remains without words, presenting itself as an empty space in a determined taxonomical structure.
The invaded no sense. From trails to narrative
But to decipher signs implies to find the nexus that unites them, implies to find the relation between the different parts, the part and the whole, effect and cause. The question is: How to read in mute things – trails, stars, birds flight- a coherent series of facts?
Carlos Ginzburg says in his book Mitos, Emblemas e indicios (Myths, emblems and signs) that the invention of writing has been attributed to a high Chinese civil servant who had seen the trails left by a bird on the sand of a beach. There, this man had created the pictogram. Related to the trail, pictogram constitutes a step forward in intellectual abstraction. Ginzburg risks that the idea of narrative in itself could have been born for the first time in a hunter's society, from experiencing the deciphering of the trails of the prey. The hunter could have been the first one to “tell a story”. He was in the right condition to read, upon the mute trail left by the prey -trails in the mud, broken branches, hair concentrations- a coherent series of facts. They would put these facts in a certain way as to lead them to a narrative sequence.
At the end of XIX century, Charles Sanders Peirce conceived Universe as a great plot to which man had access through different inferential strategies. For Peirce, man is above all a homo narrans . To narrate consists precisely in giving a signification. It is a structure of human signification that analogous to reading, reviews texts and puts signs in order.
Peirce also said that the semiotics process acts like a necessary strength to control and organize the universe's material energy. To understand is the act of giving sense and giving law. This is the reason why he associated the natural intent of man to find a sense, a coherent narrative from the interpretation of a series of clues and certain traces, with the detective's task.
But, which is the detective's goal but to find the guilty one? Detectives are concerned with the trail of the clues, which lead them to capture sense in the same way that they lead them to signal and capture the guilty one. We immediately associate this procedure with persecution as well as with accusation. It's not useless that hunters are mentioned as being the first ones to be able to read animals trails and in this way to be able to tell a story. Reading finds one of its main possible origins in the will to trap the prey.
Detectives, through the reading of signs, try to take possession of the other's sense, they try to make the other in a legible object, and they try to devoid the other of his secret. The other is diminished in this way to their own reading. Detectives observe, watch gather incriminatory proofs. Then, through their testimony, denounce, inform. He invades the still no-sense of the observed and puts it into words.
Destiny as the main suspect
In Accidente en Rotterdam (Accident in Rotterdam ), a cross of shadows is beamed on the floor of the artist's atelier located in that city. It belongs to the shadow of a window frame whose drawing goes through the room as the afternoon progresses. Even this drawing will form part of the secret language of universe. The point of shadow limited by the crossing of the window's axis is never the same. It always occupies a different time- space, even though it's cyclical, determined by the sun's path. In this crossroad, two small cars meet by chance, by accident, ignorant to the stars´ routine.
The sun's blind, old and rout nary path settles with its passing by, ephemeral shadow routes, building intangible paths where certain destinies will be built.
Sun advances implacably, totally ignorant to the vehicles and, however, determines this routes, whose only reason to be appears to be the encounter of these two vehicles.
The vehicles go on ignorant of what is going to happen next, they don't know that the routes they go on through were arranged beforehand, like someone who goes through an inscription at a scale that is so gigantic that it's impossible for him to have enough distance from it as to be able to read it.
Traditionally, crossroads were constituted as sacred places. Oedipus, for example got to a crossroad, and ignorant of his past killed his father there. Oedipus fulfilled his fate that was announced beforehand by oracles that were naively claimed to be ignored. On one side and the other of the road, a threshold were you are never the same again: from traveler to parricide, from seer to blind, from king to beggar. The vehicles find themselves in a crossroad and this encounter will condition their existences forever settling a before and an irreversible after.
In Accidente en Rotterdam , the man, who pretends to be the car driver, is really, the driven one. The car, as destiny, drives this man to roads that can't be deciphered.
Notice the elements that are present, unforeseen shadows, fatal crossroads, accident, irreversibility. The topics are recurrent in Macchi's work: the enigma, the impossibility of the enigma's interpretation, fatality, crime.
A crime where the main suspect seems to be, in every case, destiny in itself.
Life, death and it's capricious motives
Formed from the lines that were extracted from pieces of news from the police section of the newspaper, the pentagrams in Música incidental (Incidental Music) transmit to us sounds that are determined by existence and the particular arrangement of this pieces of news.
From them, the musician will build its one interpretation code according to the following criteria:
1. - He plays a text that wasn't conceived to be played, because the musical score is done from linguistic interpretations.
2. - He plays an informative text that, in itself, constitutes an interpretation of an actual event done by the newspaper's reporter.
Events (incidents, accidents, crimes) will lead here to a particular sound text.
In Charco de Sangre (Puddle of Blood), the police news is displayed in lines that are separate and get together in a certain point: the significant group “ puddle of blood.” All of them, different tragic stories that share in the rhetoric of yellow press their “puddle of blood”. Again, places of cross of destinies, temporal- space places from which the universe of those that are implied will never be the same.
The events that were extracted from the daily police news and registered in Música Incidental and in Charco de Sangre, create in Macchi´s works a particular framework made by the invisible thread that build the destinies that are implied.
TWG100 the role of the witness
Another argentine writer, Julio Cortázar, will tell us in his story La autopista del Sur (The Southern Highway) of that road in which, due to motives upon which everybody speculated but no one could really get to know, a temporal-space configuration had taken place that resulted in a cross of destinies in a jammed highway. In this highway, vehicles crossed by chance. Relationships were started between them. Their owners fell in love, got pregnant, died. Then the vehicles went on and the configuration was broken, relationships got lost forever, like those figures formed by chance in a kaleidoscope and that, right after the kaleidoscope is moved, they are disassembled.
In TWG100 an upset couple in a car is having an argument. The audience sees this argument. Loudspeakers in the roof of the car amplify their “secret”; apparently they have just struck someone with the car.
As in Accidente en Rotterdam (Accident in Rotterdam) , the man who pretends to be the car driver is actually the driven one and the car as destiny, drives this man by roads that cannot be deciphered. Only that here this “ something” that is about to happen has already happened. Different to Música incidental or to Charco de Sangre, here it won't be third parties (the reporter of yellow press, the musician) but the same main characters those who have the intention of understanding what had happened: what was really what happened? “He threw himself. It wasn't your fault.” “He was dead, wasn't him?” They will ask themselves unsuccessfully trying to put events in words.
Third parties, however, are present here through two concepts that appear together:
-The need to confess (confession that together with examination was constituted like one of the main principles of modern visibility)
-The secret “no one saw us, isn't it?” (Secret that works, in this case, as king Midas secret, because due to the use of loudspeakers it becomes a voiced secret)
The need to confess and the voiced secret will settle another main notion regarding third parties: that of the witness. Us, as audience become that third party at which it is aimed this secret that “it's supposed” we shouldn't be listening. Another fatal confluence of time-space. The wrong place, the wrong time. Normal functioning of things has been altered. Machines (the car, the radio, the telephone, the clock) metaphor this alteration. Things that don't work properly echo the words of the actors: “that guy shouldn't have been there”. It also echoes the following words that remain, however, implied “nobody should be listening to us”.
The threatened interpreter
The series of photographs that belong to Victima serial (Serial victim), taken in different urban sceneries, form a phrase: “Your time has come...”
In works like Charco de Sangre, Música incidental or the different obituaries, Macchi has used different excerpts from the newspapers. In these works he made the “crime behavior” his own, sketched according to the rhetoric of black novels: as he cuts the newspapers, he repeats the criminal gesture that cuts and forms, through different letters a collage with a message for his victim.
In Victima serial, this procedure appears referred through photograph: it is the camera that will capture, based on different signs of the street, types of letters that form the threatening phrase. From the most unsuspected places, surrounding us in the streets of the city, but from those same signs, we are faced with the deadly threaten that appears to be based in language itself.
In “On the knocking at the gate in Macbeth”, article that was issued in The London Magazine in October 1823, Thomas de Quincey speaks about the upsetting effect that had always produced on him the knocking on palace gates, soon after Macbeth murdered king Duncan. The knocking would be in charge of closing the parentheses of this dark moment of transgression that stops time, they signal the contrast between order of routine and the horror of a non articulated crime. The beats try to solve this lack of articulation and ask themselves: what has happened?
Roland Barthes in his “ Structure of events” makes a difference between news and events. Different to news, that belong to the horizon of the expected, the named and known, events belong to the field of monstrosity: they don't lead us to anything out of themselves and there is nothing implied in them, it is their own immanence that defines them. An event is something that is unnamed and unclassified, the exceptional fact that is usually classified under the epigraph of Varia as the ornitorrincous, that produced so many headaches to Linneo.
And for Barthes, murder is the paradigm of event.
All the immanent relations to the event can be reduced to two types: causality and coincidence. There is no event without astonishment and this astonishment implies always a perturbation. Which would be the perturbations of causality in which the event is articulated? Regarding murder, perturbation will be that of the fascinating and unbearable time that separates facts from cause - time that in the black novel makes the most of its plot and objectifies in the figure of the detective, whose work is concerned in “deciphering the enigma”, in filling the other way round this time that goes from fact to cause as to end with that terrible why , full of frustration and uneasiness. Causality and coincidence will be the two movements in which event is constituted: both will end by covering an ambiguous zone in which the fact is lived as a sign that leads us to believe that we are in a signification world, but nevertheless, we are far away of finding ourselves in a world of sense.
In Macbeth too, in any case, our topics will be repeated: crime, destiny written beforehand.
Chance or coincidence? Chance or determination? Order or chaos? Possibilities are multiplied. While man tries to decipher signs that surround him.
In his Poema del cuarto elemento Borges reflected about Hyeraclitus course of time. This course of time is registered in the uncertain and changing fate of men as in the constant moving of sense of the signs that always eludes us. Similar thoughts were had by Gastón Bachelard, for whom water not only represented “the fate of fugitive images, the fate of a dream that is not fulfilled, but an essential destiny that constantly transforms the substance of the self”.
Like in Jorge Macchi´s work, Déluge , where the everyday moving of the Parisian passengers is suddenly changed, where the name of stations should be, their start points and their arrivals, their “stanzas” of sense, they find empty signs.
But, those names appear to them changed in a river that runs through the city, a river that runs now conformed by words.
Jorge Luis Borges, Obras Completas , Emecé, Buenos Aires, 1974
Julio Cortázar, El perseguidor y otros cuentos , Ed.Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 1972
Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1931
Carlo Ginzburg, Mitos, emblemas e indicios , Gedisa, Barcelona, 1989
Roland Barthes, Ensayos críticos , SeixBarral, Barcelona, 1977
Gastón Bachelard, El agua y los sueños, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1993
English translation: Corina Romero