Isla Leaver-Yap, 'Craig Mulholland' (frieze, 27/02/2008)
In the hierarchies of control that Craig Mulholland creates, the work towers above the viewer. Expanding outwards from Sorcha Dallas into the Glasgow School of Art, the local cinema and beyond, this monochromatic exhibition (‘Grandes et Petites Machines’) suggests the infestations of a totalitarian universe. Works anachronistically slide between past and future, but sit most uncomfortably within the present.
From Suprematist design to retro sci-fi, objects look out of time rather than out of place. It’s tempting to compare the dissonant contents of Mulholland’s painted panels, sculptures and immersive installations to the various cybernetic realities of gothic fantasy – William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) comes to mind. But where that novel gestures towards a paranoiac future on the precipice of high capitalist technology, Mulholland’s work already revels in this environment of digital control and anti-social domination.
Video projections of a blurred universe in rapid freefall flank the viewer in Rising Resistance (all works 2008), an immersive installation. The observer is subjected to vertiginous camera angles and sequences; mechanical apertures blink out of sync, stutter and flash. Elsewhere, painted and etched panels display abstracted voids and serrated geometric forms with a cool and mechanical precision.
Mulholland appears to have erased all trace of human intervention when it comes to assembling this inorganic display. But the exhibition does not necessarily yield to a defeatist cynicism of future technology. As outmoded forms creep back into the work – whether in the film Peer to Peer and its campy libretto score or in the ‘80s sci-fi structures of Paths of Resistance – the gothic feel of the installations deliberately allows dystopian menace to slip into hysteria. The machines also appear to delight in the sheen and glare of their materials. Glossy black enamel coagulates over aluminium surfaces, metal is soldered and threaded together with devotion. The artist’s seductive materials persuade the observer of a wider metaphysical landscape that wavers between discipline and high drama.
The success of individual objects, like Anger Management or the panels in Night Shift, seems less relevant than the impression of a hermetically-sealed reality that they create together. A single panel or sculpture is less effective when viewed in isolation, but in unison the horde of works seems to tip into a future vision, unfettered by the logic of the present. It’s a precarious endeavour, sometimes over-articulated. Soldered globe sculpture Multiple Choice explains the idea of a monochrome world with unnecessary literalness, while the CGI-laden Peer to Peer pushes the image of this world into an arena less imaginatively ambiguous. Yet the balance between erotic masculinities and nerdy paranoia is less defined, and more compelling for it.
Perhaps ‘Grandes et Petites Machines’ expands rather than explodes the concept of the Duchampian bachelor machine. But the exhibition also manages to disperse such critique by generating its own authority. Replicating across heterogeneous media – on walls, in objects, films and soundtracks – the work argues for recognition of its mechanical world simply through excess. These machines possess a disturbing mobility in the way they seem to simultaneously infiltrate art colleges, commercial spaces and public galleries. And, as it metastasises virally, the work forces the observer to reckon the potency of its regime.