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Marco Maggi: No visual distancing please...

March 25 – May 15, 2021

Marco Maggi

Installation view of Marco Maggi: No Visual Distancing Please at Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, 2021.

Marco Maggi

Installation view of Marco Maggi: No Visual Distancing Please at Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, 2021.

Marco Maggi

Installation view of Marco Maggi: No Visual Distancing Please at Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, 2021.

Marco Maggi

Installation view of Marco Maggi: No Visual Distancing Please at Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, 2021.

Marco Maggi

Installation view of Marco Maggi: No Visual Distancing Please at Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, 2021.

Press Release

Slow swarm

Marco Maggi has called his new exhibition No visual distancing please…, a directive that would have made little sense just a year ago. Although it speaks directly to our current circumstances, its premise comes as no surprise to those familiar with Maggi’s art. In March 2020, he explained, “For decades I have been living immersed in my own studio quarantine.”[i]

In the last year we have been developing through necessity the skills that Maggi would have had us cultivate in art. In his intricately cut, adhered, incised, and drawn works he has created expanses for looking slowly, to decelerate our racing perception. Instead of the sweeping scan, he proposes the approach of the page – coming close as if to read, then instead meandering over a surface that lightly draws itself up, casting small shadows echoing the folded and projecting elements he has applied. As the medium description of some of his new works gently taps out: paper on paper on paper. 

For many years, Maggi has upheld the need for deceleration. While appreciative of the practical speed of computers and other such elements of contemporary life, he has other aims for his art:

I want to make time visible. Promoting pauses, slower and closer viewers with a myopic attitude, scanning surfaces with no hope to be informed…. Our only possible hope resides in tiny details. In order to focus on them, I propose a new approach, an objective intimacy. We need to rebuild slowness and proximity.[ii]

The nearness Maggi proposes takes on a homeopathic potential in a time when distance can mean the difference between life and death. His art offers a “radical optimism”[iii] in a time of isolation and trepidation before small things. 

Often, Maggi’s art expands into entire environments, floor to ceiling. In his last show in New York, he darkened the gallery.[iv]Visitors received hats equipped with a small light, as if to explore a cave, so that his expansively minute paper reliefs, strewn across the gallery’s walls, slipped into vision only when struck, glancingly, with light streaming from viewers’ heads. Sitting slightly above eye level, the lights could not quite align with the desired focus of vision, making for small visual displacements – if the desire to look at one area trained one’s eyesight upon it, the beam sat just above, rendering the wall a planar twilight of long shadows.

Maggi’s framed works offer themselves as more defined sites, laboratories for experiments in vision, experience, and memory. They travel when the artist does not, and they provide individual training in no visual distancing. In his exhibition at Sicardi | Ayers | Bacino, the two largest works hang outside the project room. The larger of the two, Binaries, addresses the smallest and most extreme of worlds—the coded language of computing, new quantum technology allowing the internet to run even faster than before, and the oppositional social distancing brought on by the tiniest of viruses. Stark in black and white, the vertical arrays suggest a downward shower of elements so diminutive they simultaneously hint at dissolution, a kind of aerosol effect. In Sliding Gold, 352 35-mm papers become a gridded series of micro-scenes. Where once a projector might have rhythmically clicked through each slide, Maggi invites us to pause and find our own pace. Spending just one second on each frame would mean 5 minutes and 52 seconds overall before the piece. In a world where the average museum visitor, according to Maggi, spends just 16 seconds before each artwork, his circuit training becomes a masterclass in slow looking, achieving a “gold medal and world record.”[v]

Likewise made in 2021, the No Visual Distancing works contain elements familiar in Maggi’s lexicon. Long, thin strands of paper rear gracefully in the angled catenary of a suspension bridge; small squares and hollowed circles project slightly, mounted to the surface by discreet tabs. Across six works, a chromatic range reaches from white-on-white to atomized particles of vivid primary hues on gray, with blue recurring. Yet the individual elements, whatever their color, now take their places in paper-on-paper drawings of a different collective character. There are gaps and lacunae, areas of paper left as a single, seemingly blank layer; while Maggi’s wall installations frequently leave vast areas of rooms untouched, vacancies within the bounds of the frame read more starkly without an architectural context. 

In hindsight, much of Maggi’s previous work has taken as given the geometric regularity of paper sheets and reams, slide passe-partouts, picture frames, and even rolls of aluminum foil. These rectangular and gridded formats contribute to associations of his art with the humanly made designs of circuit boards and cities – impressions complicated in these new works. The empty spaces are irregular, asymmetrical, suggesting the unpredictable paths of rivers, microscopic entities, and other elements of nature. 

The flow of time gets mixed up, as it does these days. Are these contoured shapes of emptiness evidence of an origin point, like a city built on the banks of a river, or the initiation of an ending disguised as transformation? The No Visual Distancing works slow, without arresting, an impression of swarming, implying the degree to which the understanding of Maggi’s art has hinged on the meticulous care of its maker, registered in the impressively ordered expanses of his works. The care is still there, but there seems to be a tremulous shift in affect toward a kind of chaos.

This has not come out of nowhere. In the 2019 gallery show mentioned above, framed works likewise considered the disintegration of letters.  Further back, this slow collapsing finds a forerunner in Henri Michaux, the Belgian writer whose dissatisfaction with the limitations of language led him to twist and invent words and take to art in search of more direct access to expression and meaning. Michaux’s carefully controlled experiments with mescaline sent him into micro realms, but the drug affected him powerfully as an unmanageable accelerator of all his faculties, one that he found impossible to keep up with when he tried to write: “Flung onto and across the paper, hastily and in jerks, the interrupted sentences, with syllables flying off, fraying, petering out, kept diving, falling, dying. Their tattered remnants would revive, bolt, and burst again.”[i]

In contrast to Michaux, Maggi’s art takes slowness as its method and aim, but Michaux’s animate sensibility resonates particularly in Landmark, a drawing made with pencil on clay. Elicited by the tracing of a pencil tip, rather than the incisions of a blade, the forms in this work cluster and gather in a kind of Brownian motion of irregularly contoured elements. In places, they gather and thicken, in others, stippling suggests another layer of marks. The same size as the No Visual Distancing works, Landmarklikewise promotes close looking but in an approach that encompasses time as well as space. Taking up a pencil, Maggi returns to an earlier life: “During the 2020 quarantine, I returned to pencil and it was like coming home.”[ii] The pencil marks also make fine indentations, a cuneiform for the 21st century, future artifact for a past that has not yet arrived.

Unlike the tiny viral entities that make us feel constrained and trapped, claustrophobic in our distance from each other, Maggi’s art speaks to other kinds of closeness and smallness — “objective intimacy,” as he calls it. Experiencing time slowly bestows the gift of patience and puts the past before us. His art is interiority unfurled, and in it we can abide, with no visual distancing, until we can look, together, again. 

Now we rush, fast again, to get vaccines. Speed is sometimes salutary. But before plunging again into velocity, just stop a moment. Pause and look, the better to see what has appeared among us.

 

Catherine Craft

Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

 

[i] “Studio Quarantine, Part 1: Marco Maggi – New Paltz, New York,” March 27, 2020, https://mailchi.mp/joseebienvenu/studio-quarantine-pt-1-marco-maggi-new-paltz-ny?e=be1ad4ab8a (accessed March 8, 2021).

[ii] Catherine Craft, “An Interview with Marco Maggi,” https://www.nashersculpturecenter.org/read-watch/articles/article/id/80 (accessed March 8, 2021), originally published in The Nasher magazine (Fall 2017), 27-28.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Marco Maggi: INITIALISM (From Obscurantism to Enlightenment), Josée Bienvenu Gallery, September 12–November 16, 2019.

[v] Marco Maggi, email to Catherine Craft and Allison Ayers, March 6, 2021.

[i] Henri Michaux, Miserable Miracle, trans. Louise Varèse and Anna Moschovakis with an introduction by Octavio Paz (New York: New York Review Books, 2002; orig. published as Misérable miracle, Paris, 1956), 5.

[ii] Maggi, email to Craft and Ayers.