Matt Mullican

The Sequence of Things - Camden Arts Centre

Through his vast array of drawings, sculptures and videos, Mullican presents the viewer with a systematic way of dividing reality. Methods by which the previously indeterminate elements of our existence, the parts most susceptible to subjectivity, are distinguished and then segregated. The organised chaos, and the decisive yet bewildering procedures of organisation which the artist utilises, portray a desperate and thorough attempt at making sense of life.

What is most apparent whilst working your way through the exhibition is the overwhelming amount of information, an amount which would be impossible to process in one visit (if ever). The mass of information is supported by the museum-like setting, with pieces of paper laid out to us as if they are precious artefacts. I am interested in the notion of signs and symbols as artefacts, facets of our language which are ever changing and infiltrating themselves in different ways, hence need to be studied and deliberated. This seems to be a design laid out to encourage us to study, to peer over and absorb. This set up makes a lot of sense within its context : it is inspired by Camden Arts Centre’s history as a public library, and therefore Mullican drives us towards very particular way of taking in information. The sheer amount I think can drive the viewer either one of two ways - either to see task of processing an understanding as a definite but important challenge, or to see it as a redundant one (there is just no chance that this will ever make sense). For me, the challenge is inviting, I am impatient to grasp an understanding of Mullican’s coordination and management, as this may help me to find an indispensable way to navigate myself through my own information and material.

Despite the confusion that the exhibition may initially (or consistently) arouse, Mullican has utilised a number of procedures by which to methodically organise his abundance of data. It is potently clear that one of the most important tools by which Mullican schemes his information is through colour. Mulligan has emphasised this profusely, attributing a colour to each of the five worlds he explores within his work. Green represents the elements, the material, specifically material without meaning. Blue represents the real world, the world unframed. Yellows represents ideas, the world framed. Black and white is outlined as the signs and symbols of the world i.e. language. Finally, red stands for the subjective, meaning without material - “it’s not the object, its the relationship to the object as the object”. Even when the material appears to be dispersed, allocated without purpose, this overarching device reigns everything into place.

The exhibition contains excerpts from his Sign series - a series of works I have studied meticulously, so to see them integrated so subtly into the show was really gratifying. It is within this series that Mullican attempts to describe his own personal reality, using forms and shapes that we understand on a purely primitive level, rooted in the early stages of our psychological development. The artist exploits the level of linguistic understanding which we establish during childhood in using only idealised pictographs, the kind of wordless signs we see in public places which are used to direct and guide us (McCollum, 1979). These pictographs include representations of classic elements of everyday life, such as food and gadgets, tweaked slightly in each case to accommodate for the artist’s personal understanding of them. Mullican ensures that his signs are easily and unconsciously absorbed by using a format that is universally recognisable, a format that the information within which we cannot help but accept and feel confident that we understand.

Mullican maps the world through a series of very distinct features, binaries, oppositions. One if the ways by which, aside from colour, that his work is divided is work made during a considered, sober state, and work made during periods of psychosis. I think that this is an extremely compelling way of segregating work, dividing the material through diverse states of mind and body. The divide is strikingly clear - sections of work flit between disorderly, turbulent drawings, accompanied by swear words and incoherent phrases, and refined and seemingly gridded diagrams, which emphasise defined lines, figures and measurements and point to their significance. Astonishingly, the division does not lead us to any kind of assumption that we are looking at the work of two different people, his characteristics lie evidently in both, we are just viewing them through two different filters.

The sense that you are within someone’s mind is quite formidable. You are aware of an organisation but you remain aware that the only way that you could possibly access this would be to access the conscience of the director. The organisation is sporadic and non-sensical but I remained conscious of the fact that it was sensical and coherent to somebody - that is why the structure exists.

I think my group found the work difficult to engage with because they felt under pressure to engage, to understand. It is relieving to hear that Mullican is fine with this - fine with the audience entering the space and not understanding, as he has admitted that he does not entirely understand the amalgamation of material himself. He reassures us all with the claim that “we understand a lot more than we think”.

Mullican captures an essence which I am consistently trying to capture in my own work - making the audience increasingly aware of an order, but not having any clue about what this order may be, what it has arisen from. Through his organisational techniques, Mullican presents us with a reduction of the impossible, a reduction of how we perceive the world into 5 categories. This possibility, of course lies in the role of the individual, the perception of someone else will always be a futile aim.

What is absorbing about this exhibition is that we are witnessing an order so meticulous that it appears unruly, in turmoil. It is an organisation that we cannot fathom, we could not possibly fathom even after days of dedication. We can only enjoy and peruse the idea of a potential understanding.