Alexander Kennedy, 'The silent singer' (The Skinny, 28/02/2008)

Alexander Kennedy looks at the work of Glasgow-based artist Craig Mulholland, where the sound of silence deafens and shatters the subject

In an exhibition that spans three venues, and will morph into an even larger installation in Bristol later this year, Craig Mulholland’s Grandes et Petites Machines, which comprises sculptures, constructed ‘paintings’ and films, fills the Mackintosh Gallery at GSA, with satellite projects in Sorcha Dallas and GFT. This is an enormous venture, based on the formal and theoretical advances Mulholland has made in the last five years, building on and breaking down the various subjects that he has investigated in work on show previously at Dallas, Transmission and Stirling’s The Changing Room. This project is at once more complex, further reaching in its philosophical aims and aesthetic approach, yet can also be seen as a condensed and simplified interpretation of his previous preoccupations. Grandes et Petites Machines is a cataclysmic resolution.

There are some dark issues evoked in the works on display, a deep sense of loss, anguish, oppression and frustration. Or rather, one can say that through the skilful manipulation of forms, Mulholland taps into a set of signs that symbolise these dreadful emotions for us. Drilled and etched aluminium sheets resemble broken windows in ‘Free Radicals’ at the GSA, with suffocating mask-like forms and soundproofing pegboard used to silence imaginary screams. The gallery text at the GSA tells us that the work examines the coercive role that technology plays in presenting us with ideas of ‘progress, entropy and their social, cultural impact.’ But we can take this further and say that Mulholland’s art also becomes part of this coercion (can anything or anyone escape it?), by the very fact that we read the forms, materials and signs he uses as part of this discourse on progress and entropy. While the artist hopes to deal with larger, abstract issues, the piffling human element is ever present in the work on show. It is the artist, the viewer, the human and singular subject that progresses, regresses, and is in a state of entropy.

All of the work on show seems to be concerned with speech, as the heavy, terrifying silences silences between one cacophonic noise and another. This uncomfortably over-pregnant place before language, before symbolism, is transformed into tripods with microphone-like balls of epoxy resin and pewter cones attached in ‘Weeping Journal’ and ‘Paths of Resistance’. The suggested functional element of these sculptures is thwarted by the materials used, so that we now have objects that stop speech, stop expression. The tripods take on the appearance of weapons of torture, slingshots that throw cannonballs of speech at the audience.

In his new film, ‘Peer to Peer’, we encounter a similar interpretation of the aggressiveness of speech, the fear of speech and expression itself. An Orwellian sense of domination from an imaginary law enforcer works itself out in a subject emptied of being but left with panic and dread; the ‘grandes machines’ digests small subjects as ‘petites machines’. This operatic work takes us into the digitally constructed head of a protagonist (named the ‘Operator’ in the accompanying libretto), one of the five characters that can be read as aspects of a personality at war with itself, a shattered subject.