Matt Mullican: Between the activity of the senses and sleepiness.
By creating language, we have set ourselves apart from other living beings by developing unique methods and means of communication. We created a language that substituted gestures and silence with a lexicon. Humans started describing and representing reality using words and intricate semantic structures. These eventually progressed into signs, symbols, images, and pictograms. We acknowledge that verbal communication only captures a portion of reality. Although a description of an object may accurately depict its traits, it cannot fully replace the object itself. The description is merely one of many ways to represent the object.
Artistic expressions often arise as a collective response to lapsus linguae, allowing for a return to non-verbal communication in order to convey reality. It’s important to note that communication between the artwork and the viewer is not always universally understood due to cultural differences, but we won’t delve into that topic at this moment. Matt Mullican’s artistic exploration focuses on the specificities of language and its visual universality. He has created his own alphabet of symbols and signs within this sphere.
The most recent exhibition at Galeria Cristina Guerra – Contemporary Art is titled Before Breakfast (2023) and features a series of thirty-two images. During the ritual between waking up and having coffee, the artist fasts and navigates through a limbo of intimate images and objects. The artist who is narrating takes part in a pre-lunch scene depicted in the photo grid. We are presented with Mullican’s first-person perspective, or what he intends for us to perceive. The foreground of the scene creates a sense of unease in the observer, leaving them unsure of whether they are in control of the action and blurring the line between what is real and what is virtual. The artist appears to be highlighting the contrast between the all-seeing nature of a window and the limited perspective of a film camera, as they observe each other in a continuous loop.
The piece Database (2019) also covers virtual reality. This is a 3D-printed model that depicts the skeletal structure of a medieval building. Architecture is a symbolic representation of a civilization’s legacy, which includes language and the flag. I don’t use this bridge without any ulterior motive. The rectangular iron pieces ferro (8 Chapters of the Cosmology; City Plan; That Person and the Cosmology; 8 Chapters of the Cosmology and 8 Stages of Mind; The Cosmology; 2009) showcase the overlapping of meshes and urban layouts using Euclidean geometries of circles and half-moons, all resembling a calendar. The plates bear the weight and durability of both everyday life and the urban environment, including the pavement and asphalt. The flag complements the triptych due to its obvious scale, making it a key piece. The flag is commonly recognized as the quintessential representation of a country. A nation is defined as a group of people who share a common culture, history, and language, and are typically associated with a specific territory or geographical boundary. Mullican’s reclining flag consists of a white circle divided into two halves, one red and one black. The artist perceives the subject’s colours (red) in contrast to the world’s colours (black and white). The flag is positioned in a way that it is not flying, but rather leaning against the ground and creased. This creates the impression of two intersecting dihedrals, with no visible horizon line but a sense of depth. Such an arrangement evokes a feeling of both space and architecture.
The set of small watercolours on wood panels is what should be emphasized as “before breakfast.” These drawings delve into the substance and physicality of the medium, exposing more than just surface-level details like veins and grooves. They invite a deeper level of observation and perception. The artist on this particular half-floor of the gallery is utilizing a language that is not based on alphanumeric characters, but rather on cosmological principles, with a focus on circular forms and semiotics. The paintings often shift between metaphors of miniature planets, small worlds, heaven (heavens / paradise). They also alternate between using a palette of shadows (gradients of black) and primary colours.
What are these images? The meanings of words can be influenced by our perception of the language culture we are taught. As a result, they can become simplified representations of reality when we are uncertain. Such verbal meanings may only come to life as fragments of landscapes in the state between sleep and wakefulness, when the eyelids open to light and the pupils dilate to take in the world. Mullican’s work can be seen as an invitation to explore the liminal space between both states, as well as an exploration of the act of looking itself. It could be interpreted as an essay on the nature of the gaze.
Matt Mullican’s sixth exhibition at Galeria Cristina Guerra – Contemporary Art, entitled Before Breakfast, runs until July 1.