spirit of place

artist & writer


by Jean Khalfa, Trinity College, Cambridge

Leaf through this book and look: it rarely fails, few are the artists, even among those of the stature and renown of Maccheroni, who can seize the gaze as he does, while using such a diversity of forms and media. What is his secret? It reveals itself easily to a careful inspection: at the edge of or within the shapes he plays with, this craftsman revels in the proliferation of particles, of asperities, of singularities, which either seem to call for a desired form or to prelude the loss of an existing one. When he starts with well-defined shapes, what he shows is the grain: the classical architecture of an imperial Roman villa is shot from angles stressing both the geometry of its pure design and the texture of its decay; skyscrapers in New York are seen in reflections on other skyscrapers, criss-crossing their surfaces in patterns which will later evolve into a series of paintings of minutely chequered surfaces or photo-montages where photographs of the city slice grainy silvery-grey planes. Conversely, when focusing on the apparently shapeless he keeps on revealing virtualities of meaning. Patterns of bark on a tree trunk mesmerize, evoking the unfolding of a vulva or the lacerated torso of one of his christs. When facing precisely the pure proliferation of the organic – pli selon pli, fold by fold – in one of the 2000 photographs of a vulva he famously pictured, even a gaze hardened by all the avant-gardes of the past century feels moved (Maccheroni took part in several of the French avant-garde movements since the Second World War but always seems to have gone beyond them). In their astonishing presence these images instantly defeat the doxa that absence is all that is ever seen in this organ, an absence conveniently conceptualised by popular psychoanalysis as the obsessive presence of a lack – as a wound. The combined powers of sexual fascination and the only constant visual prohibition in Western art are appropriated here not to shock but to enchant us with the materiality of what is in front of us: Maccheroni’s subversion is that of a materialist.
Why is what he calls his materiology so striking? Perhaps because for us, who have been so trained to look for forms in art (what does it show? what does it mean?), it forces vision to reflect upon itself. Using all manner of patterns, textures and materials (from canvas, paint and photographs to sand, fabric and industrial cardboard), he explores the ground or background of all forms. Painting thus is not so much an ideology, an articulation of forms, as the experience of the ‘flesh’ of the sensible, as Merleau-Ponty put it when speaking of Chardin or Cézanne. The paradox of Maccheroni’s learned and deliberate ‘archaeological’ gaze on what is not yet gone is to give us back the present.

Excerpted from the forward to Maccheroni Book/Works, Exhibition Catalogue.  Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge.  May 2007. 

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