Matt Mullican's work since the 1970s has been of the long-distance
kind—abundant, obsessive and encyclopaedic. An heir of conceptual
art, this Californian artist takes a fresh look at precepts to better go
beyond the framework.
His work oscillates between various antagonisms—reality and fiction,
subject and object, the conscious and the unconscious—to work
on our perception, defined less by the objective reality of the visible
than by the projection of subjective experiences.
To what degree is the world around us real?
The work progresses with two main operating methods. Cosmology
based on the symbolism of representation consists of a range of signs:
photographs, pictograms, diagrams, etc. It generates a form of mental
cartography consisting of five distinct parts identified by their respective
colour references: green is for the elements, for nature and also for
death; blue is for the ‘world unframed' by the conscious, including the
city and everyday life; yellow is for the ‘world framed' constructed by art
and science; black is associated with language and signs and red refers
to ideas, to pure spirit.
His explorations of the conscious also led Mullican to examine the
potential of hypnosis in the early 1970s. In a trance, he can project himself
into an image and go beyond representation. If generating these
modified states of awareness is ‘introducing chaos into order', it also
means considering the tangible dimension of the unconscious as a tool
of the real.
From these trances finally emerged, at a performance at The
Kitchen in 1982, a thinking entity that has a relation of ventriloquist
with him and whom he calls That Person
: neither man nor woman, neither
young nor old, but a person
‘at the centre of all these concepts'.
What interests Mullican is not so much the identify of this other but
where it is to be found, in a state of ‘paradoxical wakefulness' which, as
said, ‘gives us access to the power to configure the
After ceasing the practice of hypnosis for a while, Mullican brought
back That Person
in the 1990s and he now has considerable importance
in his work . In 2005, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne proposed directly to That Person
an exhibition called Learning from That Person
. This was
a labyrinth of sheets on which were glued various works attributed to
this other, with curved calligraphy that had become recurrent.
With emphasis on archives and experimental work, the exhibition 12 by 2
held at the Institut d'art ontemporain in 2010 showed for the first time
forty years of the work of Matt Mullican and his doppelganger, combining
the artist's obsession with taxonomy and the hallucinated gaze of
Cosmology and work under hypnosis appear as two faces of the
same project, two ways of addressing the world but they are not separate
from each other, crossing actively in many places. While the exhibition,
whose configuration resembles a brain as much as a labyrinth,
refers to this duality it also generates a feeling of unity, but ‘exploded'
If 2 = 1, it is a plural 1, calling on a multitude of spaces and identities.