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Jorge Macchi: The Anatomy of Melancholy

Andrea Giunta, The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, Texas, USA | 2008

It is curious how one remembers many of Jorge Macchi’s works exactly as they were in the place where one saw them for the first time. Probably this stems from the fact that each work involves a precise moment of discovery: a surprise or the revelation of a paradox in the face of which we stand, thinking. Perhaps it is this moment of thought, this pause or the sentiments that reverberate in many of his works, that keeps them connected to that first moment of our perception of them. This has to do with the capacity of each of his works to create a halo of spatial meaning, to impregnate an imaginary sphere. For this reason, a cumulative exhibition—a chronological series of his works—hardly seems appropriate because, rather than successive evolutions, these works refer to problems, interests and interconnected themes. Jorge Macchi: The Anatomy of Melancholy—a monographic exhibition curated by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro for the Mercosur Biennale in Porto Alegre and reformulated for the Blanton Museum of Art—successfully transports us to this state of coincidences and coexistences between the shared and the different in the corpus of his works.

Jorge Macchi’s fascination with music is evident. It is not just anecdotal to recall that for many years he studied piano: rhythm, timing, chords, musical annotation, the keys of G and F, Satie, and collaborations with the composer Eduardo Rudnitzky constitute the support for many of his works. Works such as A.B. (1996), which reconstructs the musical staff with delicate hairs, or Nocturno; variación sobre el nocturno I de Erik Satie / Nocturne: variation on Nocturne I by Erik Satie (2002), in which every note is perforated by a nail, fastening the sheet music to the wall, direct us to the daily routine of the performer before the musical composition. It is as if in each of these pieces he has captured the diverse options he had imagined, the other uses, the infinite possibilities of this music that every day his fingers created as they played the notes. They are the thoughts produced by the performer through the synthesis of composer and sound, entering into another dimension—written music—a visual relationship in which the music is perceived as a drawing and converted into sound.

The collaboration with Rudnitzky—Fim de Film / End of the Film (2007)—draws upon the musician’s overflowing yet perfectionist imagination. The work first appeared in 2001 (as La canción final / The last song, with musician Alejandro González Novoa), but only now, in this version, has it reached its intended dimensions for orchestra as performed by the Symphony of the city of Porto Alegre. In Fim de Film, the closing credits from several films rise on the screen, out of focus and illegible. The text is an image that interprets the sound: each line of text appears at the bottom edge of the screen in correspondence with the tempo of the music. The lines of text establish the moment of the notes, a new writing system for music. The piece captures the tension between music and writing, between sight and sound, with the sense of revelation that is produced by an object trouvé, in this case observation of the musical character of the texts at the end of a film.

From every accident consequences may be drawn. The accident lies in the gaze making associations between events, in the discoveries that lead us to connect different things. The found object evokes possible stories but not necessarily real ones. More than simply juxtaposing objects so that their chance combination may explode into multiple meanings, Macchi uses chance, discovery or accidental association, as operational devices within his poetic. Macchi observes objects and guides them along an itinerary subject to his thoughts and feelings.

In Argentine art of the 1990s, Jorge Macchi occupies a particular place.  Like other artists of his generation, he employs mundane and banal objects but inscribes them within unexpected psychological registers. In Vidas paralelas / Parallel Lives (1998), he uses the matchbox Gran fragata, a popular brand in Argentina, but does so in a different way than, for example, an artist like Marcelo Pombo includes soap or medicine boxes in his work. Macchi is not caught up with the visual aspects of representation or the features of kitsch in the commercial market. Nor does he make a social comment on consumerism. He focuses on what the object enables him to imagine as a possibility, what might be, what we dream or desire, but what is impossible to realize. It is theoretically possible for 400 matches to lie perfectly ordered in two compartments of the box, but it is unverifiable—just as two pieces of glass could almost never break in exactly the same way—which would be as impossible and as desirable as finding one’s soul mate or the love of one’s life. A banal object is the point of departure for a reflection on logic and translated into a sensitive or romantic register, as Pérez-Barreiro has pointed out.

The accident takes place when Macchi detects a mischievous story in the normality of things. Nothing happens without a reason, the artist seems to be telling us. When he discovers the unexpected, he doesn’t want to let it escape and he slows it down in the music or in the visual narrative. The dynamic work has a retardant effect—retard Duchamp would say—in this discovery, as if the artist wanted to prolong the moment of revelation. The shadow of the window in his studio in Rotterdam provokes an association with streets. In a series of photographs, the shadows become the stage for a work of fiction: an accident between two small toy cars, or all that could possibly happen if these automobiles were real and the shadows were highways or urban roadways (Accident in Rotterdam, 1996-1998). This incidental thought, like the background music, has some relation to the facts, but is not necessary. Rather, it is fortuitous and, nonetheless, it is not insignificant: it is full of potential to lead us to a random discovery.

Buenos Aires Tour (2003) is the work that most intensely pauses to consider the consequences of that moment whose protagonist is chance. Broken glass on a map of the city marks the routes with which Macchi, Jorge Rudinsky and María Negroni create itineraries through the city—itineraries that can be recreated by using a box the artists made that contains a guide, a map, a CD-ROM, a dictionary, a mass book, a letter, postcards and stamps. It is the narration of a trip that began with a random proposal—an urban narrative, the nomadic walk of the seeing traveler, the intellectual, who follows his gaze, attentive to the objects and the encounter that provoke in him certain reverberations. The city is presented as a text to be walked through. I think again of the moment when I first saw Fuego de artificio / Fire of artifice (2003) in a gallery in Rotterdam. It was the footstep of a sole whose marks expand as if they were investigating other possibilities for an indecisive route, trapped by multiple stimulants. It is an image that condenses many others recalling the urban maps of Paris, Venice, Buenos Aires, or of the world, maps on which Macchi cuts and pastes, exploring other forms, other possibilities.

In a recurring fashion, Macchi’s work is also a meditation on the absurd, like outcomes that are a consequence of carrying a paradox to an extreme. The visual result of an attempt to illustrate the logical premise of Zeno—that the path of an arrow towards its target is always divisible by two—is the objective of the video made with David Oubiña: the last second of the countdown at the beginning of a film is divided by two to such an extreme that the numbers, reduced and compacted, become just a line (La flecha de Zenón / Zeno’s arrow, 1992).

The absurd can also become a social commentary. In Un charco de sangre / A Puddle of Blood (2001), Macchi clips the words of the title from the pages of a magazine and obsessively pastes them into the context of a newspaper article. The text is repeated fifteen times, one beneath another. The sensationalistic drama of the phrase becomes a block of identical letters in fifteen lines that expand into more than three meters of paper: an image that is perceived first as lines and then as text. It is a horrific text, hidden in the beauty of the drawing, whose discovery causes us to recall the equalizing power of the news, vulgarized by the mass media.

Macchi’s work is a meditation on the order of things that becomes a how-to manual—extracting texts from the newspaper, cutting out blocks of a city, transforming the map of the world. It is a body of work consisting of inexpensive materials, based upon the investigation of the minute, because all discovery involves the possibility of making us think about a set of questions that are as everyday as they are relevant: the representation of the infinite, the power of the gaze, relationships among things. Whether by driving a nail into a musical staff or drawing a fresh stroke of tempera over a page, Macchi allows us to discover the complex in the simple. 

Translated by Peter Khan.

Andrea Giunta is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art at Buenos Aires University. She is the author of Avant-Garde, Internationalism and Politics: Argentine Art in the Sixties, Duke University Press, 2007.