Reading Rämistrasse #30: Rebecka Domig on Jorge Macchi at Peter Kilchmann

There’s a print of Jorge Macchi’s that I google every half year or so, just to see if some jaded collector has tired of it. I’ll cast my net in the depths of the internet and see if it comes up with a hit. Has the sold-out lithograph (Edition of 50), originally from 2007 printed by Polígrafa Obra Gràfica in Barcelona, resurfaced on some online marketplace? Mare Tranquillitatis depicts an old-fashioned map in hues of faded turquoise. There’s a grid showing degrees of latitudes and longitudes, and the names of the oceans in Spanish – but nothing else. All land, every continent and island, has been erased, seemingly swallowed by water, and now a sea of tranquility reigns. The print, to me, is a perfect example of the juxtapositions that make up Macchi’s best works. The image hits that sweet spot between poetic and alarmist, one moment seemingly innocuous, lyrical, the next moment a seething commentary on global warming, as if the tide had turned and revealed muddy grounds.

Geography in general and the ocean in particular are recurring themes in the work of the Argentinian artist, whose practice involves anything and everything collage, watercolour painting, repurposed objects, sculpture, sound, projections, film and site-specific interventions. (For the 11th Lyon Biennial in 2011, he created an entire park, solely to be viewed from the upper floor of the exhibition venue.)

Now, he’s back in town with a new series of object-sculptures titled Drift Bottles, currently on display in the project space at Galerie Peter Kilchmann. (Peter Kilchmann is where I first engaged with the works of Jorge Macchi, I was on staff there for a couple of years in the early 2010s.) Project spaces at galleries are weird rooms, sometimes seemingly tacked-on displays of more sellable works at the dead end of otherwise grandiose shows, sometimes wunderkammer with the best, most precious pieces lying in wait for those who’ll find them. The project space at Galerie Peter Kilchmann has seen both varieties, and my gut feeling is that the presentation of Macchi’s Drift Bottles belongs in the former category. Six plastic bottles of differing sizes have been placed on custom-built display shelves. Each bottle contains a wooden model ship, expertly crafted and hand painted by an artisan in Buenos Aires, the press release informs us. The pieces are compact, and seemingly in the same vein as Macchi’s other works. Once again, he brings two simple ideas together to create a third: a ship in a bottle, but the bottle is actually plastic, and plastic is a reference to the great garbage whirl in the Pacific ocean. Get it? Wait, there’s more: a reference to science, to the freight industry and transatlantic travel as well. Above all else, the works seem sellable. As I stand in the gallery space, I can just imagine some collector placing one of the pieces on their shelf in a well-lit office space. Catch of the day. It seems like an awkward accusation to make of an artist’s work that it is bankable, and it is definitely not my intention to reproach a commercial gallery for showing and selling such art. After all, thematically the Drift Bottles fit in well with the rest of Macchi’s works. So why do they strike me as a little off-kilter for the artist? I think it has a lot to do with the way the ships in a bottle put craftsmanship on full display, whereas Macchi’s other works often hide the strain and physical labor that has gone into their creation. I miss the translucency and subtlety that I’ve come to love about Macchi’s work.

Model ship in plastic bottle

Back home, I resume my ritual of googling Macchi’s Mare Tranquillitatis. An image of it turns up and I stare at it on my screen for some time. Whatever Macchi was trying to convey with the bottles, he succeeded with the print. I’ll keep my eyes open for it; perhaps it will wash up one day.

Jorge Macchi: Drift Bottles, Peter Kilchmann

October 31 2020 – January 16, 2021

Images courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich
Photo: Sebastian Schaub

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22.12.2020