London

David Mach

Everyone knows that Englishmen sit at home in the evenings making models of Westminster Abbey out of matchsticks. No exception to this rule, David Mach piles up thousands of books and magazines to make monumental sculptures—a sphinx, an Eiffel Tower, a reclining nude, a steam train, a Centurion tank. All are monumental but impermanent: each showing demands a laborious remake. And the very nature of Mach’s materials—mainly unsold magazines ready for pulping—hints that this is only one stage in their life. Like Jean-Luc Vilmouth, Tony Cragg, and Bill Woodrow, all Lisson Gallery artists who recycle urban debris, Mach is making a point that is not lost on his audience during Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s worsening economic depression.

Mach’s use of material involves certain rules. Spectators get angry when he breaks them: for the nose of his engine he has cut the magazines in layers. Other principles too come into play. A model boa constrictor might be expected to imply danger: a train, speed; a nude, eroticism—but think again. Coils made out of magazines, smoke made of magazines, flesh made of magazines all have definite limitations. Mach makes up for this by unexpected tricks—in Running Out of Steam, for instance, the wheels are suggested by circles of darker print made by clever stacking of exactly the right magazines in exactly the right places. One unresolved question is how “abstractly” the material is treated. What is the effect of the delicate pinks and blues of different volumes of the London telephone directory used to make Centurion? Or the fact that the surface of the plinth in Reclining Nude consists of numbers of the same issue of one magazine, side by side, face up? Does it matter what the magazine is? Or what the words mean? Answers differ from work to work, because decisions differ. Curves, for example, are a problem soluble only by refusing to halt their sweep and ending up with boa constrictors. For the nude’s chest and shoulders the edges of the magazines are dramatized, while the steam enveloping the train is conveyed by nervous overlapping of right-angles. Exercises in style, Mach’s pieces are deprived of eloquence or sensuality. They begin at a disadvantage and force the viewer to start at zero, too. After all, they suggest, conventions in art arise out of weakness, from what can’t be done.

Stuart Morgan