The autistic behavior
The schizophrenic behavior
The compulsive behavior
The Tourette’s thing
Before public performances, Matt Mullican is relaxed by a hypnotist, placed into a deep trance, and asked, “What would you like to do?” When he steps onto the stage—“a white void,” as he describes it—he is no longer Matt Mullican, he is “that person,” a dissociated abstraction of the self. Performances are often similar to one another and usually include crying, drawing, cursing, shaking, vigorous rubbing, squirming on the floor, compulsive speaking, and lots of self-derision. The point, for Mullican, is to get far enough away from Matt Mullican that he begins to understand the phenomenon of himself.
Though this sort of preoccupation is usually associated with psychologists and philosophers, Mullican is squarely an artist, disinterested in academic pursuits and analytical theory. In addition to his Under Hypnosis performances, he blows glass, paints signage, designs computer software, and draws stick figures—a wide scope of media and methods Mullican connects through his exploration into the “projection of identity.” His work gained attention in the ’70s, after he graduated from CalArts and began constructing his own cosmology and conducting performative experiments on a cadaver—yelling in its ear, sticking his hand in its mouth, etc. He is often associated with a group of artists called “the Pictures Generation,” and is, above all, a postmodernist with a persistent interest in the basic human response to symbols and meaning.
In 2011, after seeing Mullican lecture on a virtual urban environment of his own construction, I requested an interview through his New York gallery, Tracy Williams, Ltd. Several months later, when he made a trip from his home in Germany to Manhattan, we spoke in the Lower East Side studio he still keeps, among a roomful of his abstract cartography.
THE BELIEVER: How does your work connect to fiction, to the novel? Is Glen a fictional character? Is That Person? Or is it something else?
MATT MULLICAN: It’s as if you took any character and you basically took the story away from them, but you kept the empathy to that character. You kept that part of them, and then you just displayed them. That’s pretty much what I do.