Jorge Macchi

Gabriel Pérez Barreiro, Catalogue of Latin American collection, Blanton Museum of Art | 2006

In Macchi's La flecha de Zenón, an apparently conventional countdown makes the viewer drop his or her guard and wait for the start of a movie. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and then the numbers start to sub-divide: 0.5, 0.25, 0.025, and so on until the number is so large that it vanishes into a single line. The fusion of conceptual complexity with formal simplicity is typical of Macchi's exploration of philosophical issues through a gentle subversion of the assumptions, conventions, and expectations behind everyday life.

La flecha de Zenón is based on the paradox of Xeno of Elea, the Greek philosopher who noted that an object moving toward a target will never reach its destination as the distance between the object and target is always finite, and is therefore always divisible by two. This short video translates this ancient paradox into a contemporary convention of popular culture: the pre-movie countdown, rendered in the simplest form possible in a pencil-on-paper animation. The tension between deductive logic and our everyday experience is precisely the terrain exploited by Macchi's work. Put simply, we could say that Macchi explores the difference between how information is understood logically and how it feels emotionally.

Macchi occupies a unique place in the 1990s generation in Argentina . Although trained in his native city of Buenos Aires and a member of the Grupo de la X , a launching pad for many young artists in the early 1990s, Macchi soon felt that his aspirations would be frustrated in the local art scene. Thus, in 1993, shortly after completing La flecha de Zenón , he moved to Paris , starting a five-year period of residencies in Europe, passing through Rotterdam , Amsterdam , and London . The Buenos Aires art scene of the 1990s was dominated by the legacy of Guillermo Kuitca's large-scale expressive and psychologically charged canvases on the one hand, and by a new movement of Arte light centered on the Centro Cultural Rojas in the University of Buenos Aires on the other. Arte light embodied some of the frivolity and glitter of the presidency of Carlos Saúl Memem, in which a neo-liberal economic boom coincided with the consolidation of the democratic process, and an explosion of new attitudes toward lifestyle and sexuality. Macchi's subtle and cerebral work was something of an anomaly in this context, and his move to Europe was as much an escape from this milieu as it was a search for new horizons.

While in Europe , Macchi further refined his particular blend of emotional content fused with rigorous logic. He developed a particular attitude toward the urban environment that can best be described as that of a contemporary flâneur. Macchi's status as an artist in transit perfectly suited his interest in observing and tracking the minutiae of life, what he refers to as the “incidental music” of passion and tragedy that lies behind apparent normality. Macchi mined the pages of European sensationalist newspapers looking for episodes of random tragedy laced with humor, or for desperate declarations of hopeless love in the personal pages. He then appropriated these newspapers and reconstructed them into delicate minimal collages in which the formal purity is challenged by lurid or disturbing content.

By the time he returned to Buenos Aires in 1998, Macchi found a more receptive audience than five years earlier. The particular sensibility he developed in Europe toward urban mythology, accident, and geography were now turned toward the city of Buenos Aires . From the moment he returned, Macchi was thinking of producing an alternative guidebook to the city, in which his many interests in music, literature, tragedy, and accident would overlap. Buenos Aires Tour is the result of this research, and acts as something of a compendium or encyclopedia of Macchi's work and interests to date. Produced in collaboration with the poet María Negroni and the composer Edgardo Rudznitzsky, Buenos Aires Tour is an accumulation of different objects and impressions collected from or recorded in different parts of the city. The core of the project is a map of the city on top of which the artist broke a sheet of glass (reflecting his interest in accident as a generator of meaning). The resulting lines form a subway-type map that determined the route taken by Macchi and his collaborators in search of material. The project parodies traditional guidebooks by including sets of postcards, maps, or postage stamps, but some of the more disturbing items include a facsimile suicide note found in the street, or a series of photographs of tombs.

For Macchi, medium is only a means through which to express a set of ideas, rather than the expression of a pre-determined style. His work relies on his openness to his surroundings, and the ability to translate experience into a carefully controlled artistic situation. As such, his work is hard to classify along traditional stylistic lines. Although rigorously contemporary, Macchi's approach nonetheless recalls a certain 19 th century sensibility, perhaps best summed up by Emile Zola's famous statement that “Art is a corner of life seen through a temperament.”