Catherine Craft: Marco, your art often makes use of simple, everyday items—an apple, a roll of aluminum foil, reams of copy paper, and other office supplies. For the Nasher, the work you’re making will use small elements you cut from self-adhesive labels, applied directly to the gallery walls, an approach you’ve used in other spaces, most notably the main room of the Uruguayan pavilion during the 2015 Venice Biennale. Walking into that space, I had the initial impression that I was in a pristinely white, empty room. But gradually, I was aware of a sort of “vibration” on the walls, and coming closer realized it was the very slight projections and shadows coming from cut and folded labels adhered to the walls. I joined other viewers standing close and looking closely at a barely visible panorama, vast but vanishing quickly from my peripheral vision. These works have been compared with aerial views of architecture, circuit boards, and elements of a language. How would you describe their subject?
Marco Maggi: Uncertainty. Including uncertainty about the subject of my work. Your experience at the Uruguayan pavilion in Venice was exactly that: visual art on the threshold of blindness. It is very important to multiply our empathy for insignificance.
Maggi: Because, nowadays, we are condemned to know more and more to understand less and less. We deserve a pause, and an insignificant drawing can work like a perfect training ground to increase our capacity to live in an illegible context. My actual specialty is to not understand.
Craft: How do such works change the viewer’s experience of time?
Maggi: I want to make time visible. Promoting pauses, slower and closer viewers with a myopic attitude, scanning surfaces with no hope to be informed. I am prescribing a global myopia in contrast to the hyperopia1 that characterized the 20th century— wide and long-term certainties based on clever ideas and very clear messages. In politics, art, and cars, speed and faith are very dangerous.
Craft: Your work seems to encourage us to slow down in order to take in what we’re seeing. Can this slowing down be transferred to the experience of other artworks, or of the world? Or is translation possible?
Maggi: 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. Viewers spend 16 seconds per masterpiece at the Louvre: We must change our pace of reading surfaces and faces. The world has become illegible because our dispersion is unprecedented. We are in love with speed and long distance. Computers double their speed every 18 months, but we cannot upgrade our brain. But I like computers because they do fast tasks, allowing us to slow down.
Craft: Computers undoubtedly save us all kinds of time—our conversation is being conducted by email, across great distances, over a matter of days and hours. Yet instead of enjoying this gift of more time, we often speed ourselves up more. Does your art propose a remedy?
Maggi: Art is not a remedy. Art is more like a disease and can be contagious. The virus that I like the most is the radical optimism based in extreme attention and subversive delicacy.
Craft: What is the role of space in your work? The three-dimensional element is very small, arguably almost nonexistent, yet we move through space to see it, drawing close and walking along it to see more.
Maggi: I always work on the edge between two and three dimensions. Homeopathic folds and clefts. Micro levels and layers are essential in my projects. They suggest possible itineraries and stop signs.
Craft: What type of space helps us experience time most fully?
Maggi: Micro-macro spaces. When scale is out of focus. Tedious close-ups are the only way to erase visual pollution and focus on inner time.
Craft: You have an MFA in printmaking. Does the art you make now have any relation to printmaking?
Maggi: I chose “making” and I forgot “printing.” I am still very interested in dry pointed and etched plates: Braille drawings. I have a series of drawings titled Soft Plates & Slow Prints based on aluminum foil “plates” impossible to print and micro pencil drawings very difficult to reproduce.
Craft: You are about to exhibit your work in a sculpture museum. How might we think of your work in terms of sculpture?
Maggi: My drawings are sculptures. Lines released from the plane of pages or walls. Intimate dialogue between two and three dimensions. Shadow drawings—shy sculptures.
Craft: Among the everyday items you use, what attracts you to paper in particular?
Maggi: Paper is a human privilege. Paper is only surface; it’s completely superficial and I don’t like deep transcendence. Paper is light, strong, malleable: It is a two-dimensional icon and three-dimensional object. A ream of paper is a 3D dream.
Nasher Curator Catherine Craft conducted this interview with Marco Maggi by email in July 2017.
1Myopia is nearsightedness, meaning that objects come into sharp focus when seen at close range; hyperopia is farsightedness, its opposite.