by David M. Roth
Marco Maggi and Jutta Haeckel might, at first glance, seem like an odd pairing. He builds low-relief drawings and sculptures from slivers of paper so small they’re practically invisible. She makes meticulously crafted paintings of photos that read as pure abstraction. Their differences, materially and philosophically, couldn’t be greater. What they share is a desire to make us look harder and longer at what we’re seeing. Given that seven seconds is the average time museumgoers spend looking at a work of art, that is an abysmally low or (depending on your viewpoint) exceedingly high hurdle. Maggi, an upstate New York artist who hails from Uruguay, and Haeckel, a resident of Dusseldorf, clear it by wide margins in side-by-side solo shows: Global Myopia (Landscape in Residence) and Future Echo.
Maggi’s 2-D works typically include hundreds if not thousands of such paper fragments. Sliced from white self-adhesive stock and flattened onto (and perched atop) same-color backgrounds
at varying heights, they foster the illusion of blank pages. Up close they read as cryptic alphabets. Yet because each element resembles something we know — letters, numbers, characters, symbols and ideographs – the works purport to convey meaning when in fact they do no such thing. (The sole example on view here is Language in Residence, at left.)
At the 2015 Venice Biennale, Maggi extended this concept by covering an entire room with these paper shards, drawn from a library of 10,000 such shapes. The idea was to use the illusion of nothingness to lure viewers into immersing themselves in that environment. They did. Documentation of the event, staged at the Uruguayan Pavilion, arrives here in the form of a 2-channel video projected onto two walls at approximately life-size. The effect is nearly as uncanny as seeing Maggi’s small-scale paper works (or similarly vaporous drawings on aluminum foil and plexiglas) for the first time. Viewers, staring intently at what appear to be blank white walls, loom as large as your own shadow; consequently their every motion triggers involuntary bodily responses, made as if the projected figures were real. (Time and exposure, reports gallerist Todd Hosfelt, don’t diminish that reaction.) What we’re left with, then, is watching ourselves watching other people trying to figure out what they’re supposed to be looking at. The experience, thrice removed from the source, is mildly unnerving for how it lights up realms of peripheral vision you may not have realized existed — the opposite of myopia.
The exhibition’s title, Global Myopia, carried over from Venice, refers, says Maggi, to information overload, the condition of knowing a lot but understanding too little. The artist seeks to combat it. His impish, Borges-like comments on the subject, collected in a book of interviews published in conjunction with the Biennale, make for marvelously entertaining reading. But his proscriptions and his aspirations regarding the transformative power of his art seem overblown. He equates information glut with a decline of democratic values and asserts, broadly, that we’d
be better off ditching mass media and cultivating our own little gardens, as if that might somehow insulate us from the effects of greed, hucksterism, stupidity, misinformation and magical thinking. More admirable is the self-enforced myopia that enables him to produce this brand of micro art. It forces people to look, which, in this era of pathologically short attention spans, is a profound act of détournement.
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Jutta Haeckel appears to take the opposite view: that technology, by delivering more information, gives artists the ability to take painting to places it’s never been. I don’t know if she attains that goal, but she definitely grabs attention with pictures that bear a very close textural resemblance to the scenes depicted in the satellite photos she uses as sources for some of her works. Her paintings, which rely on methods that are probably as labor-intensive as Maggi’s, look like pieces of the Earth’s crust seen from space. Her techniques dazzle.
The first thing to know is that photographs of these paintings on jute (a burlap-like material) don’t begin to represent what she actually does. They exaggerate the collage-like elements, which are important, but finite: They consist of segments to which chemicals are applied, making the paint (acrylic and oil) curl at the edges. To these Haeckel adds drop shadows, creating outlined forms that resemble islands, mesas or spidery peninsulas. Other less obvious methods include the application of paint to the versos and the use of a squeegee to force pigment through to the surfaces. This results in porous textures resembling sunbaked dirt stained by mineral deposits, their verisimilitude amplified by tiny paint dots applied at the intersections of the weave. Elsewhere, delicately painted filament-like structures yield topographical associations: lakes, riverbeds, alluvial fans, eroded valleys, mountaintops and so forth. The overall effect, in paintings like Future Echo and Satellite View, is of elaborate puzzles.
Haeckel uses the same techniques to re-create a detail of a Jackson Pollock painting and two details of Gerhard Richter squeegee paintings. The latter, Snow and Graininess, highlight, to an even greater extent, her virtuoso paint handling skills, but also point, more significantly, to similar efforts undertaken by Richter in the late 1970s. In these, he reproduced details of his own work, showing, among other things, that painting could be a simulation of actual experience, removed from the emotional and spiritual realities it once conveyed. Haeckel's works do the opposite; they show that painting still has the power to viscerally engage, immersing us in sensations we be hard-pressed to otherwise acquire. The realization we're hit with in these works is that smeared paint and views of the Earth from satellites look pretty much alike.
There are precedents for this. In the early 1950s, during his Berkeley years, Richard Diebenkorn created paintings from sketches made during flights between California and Oregon that have the texture of agitated mud. Unless you were told you'd have difficulty knowing the subject was landscape, so great was the level of abstraction. More recently photographer David Maisel, in his aerial shots of Owens Lake, achieved a similar level of mimesis. Texturally, the prints' surfaces bear an almost one-to-one correspondence to the carcinogens pictured on the ground. Such activity, for lack of a better term, might be called Abstract Photorealism. Unlike its glib predecessor, Photorealism, it deepens our relationship with the physical world and with painting.
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Marco Maggi: “Global Myopia (Landscape in Residence)”and Jutta Haeckel, “Future Echo” @ Hosfelt Gallery through April 29, 2015.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.