Susan Mansfield, 'Dark Futures with a nod to a surreal past' (The Scotsman, 14/03/2008)
The impact of technology on modern life is fertile ground for artists, but fascinating though the issues are, the work can often be dull. That makes Craig Mulholland’s new body of work all the more remarkable, as it is both rich in ideas and visually stimulating. The other remarkable thing about it is the sheer profusion of works across a range of media – etchings, sculpture, music, film. The shows spills out from Sorcha Dallas’s tiny gallery into the large space at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and seems in danger of overflowing that, too. Diverse as the work is, it also has a surprising degree of unity, not only in the way that the works circle a central theme, but in recurring motifs and images which partner and mirror one another. Working within a palette of monochrome and metallic shades, Mulholland chooses materials that evoke circuit boards and microchips, the building blocks of cyberspace. He has created such a complete visual world that it can at first appear difficult to penetrate. The centrepiece is Peer to Peer, an 11-minute digital film made with an SAC/Scottish Screen Artists Film and Video Award, premiered at GFT when the show opened. If you missed it you might initially feel like you’re lost in cyberspace without a map, but in truth, this show can be navigated from a range of entry points. The biggest part of the show is at GSA, a collection of wall-based works and sculptures which journey from the minutiae of information systems all the way to outer space via that most complex of all circuit boards, the human brain. He attempts to put physical shape to what goes on in the amorphous world of the internet, with its dual possibilities of freedom and surveillance. For this, he employs the archaic vocabulary of resistance and revolution. “Grandes machines” refer to the large-scale history paintings of the French salons, images of human struggle. But he is oblique about exactly who is challenging who in his confrontations: is it machine against machine? Are we the victims or the revolutionaries? There is always more than one idea at work: though information gathering creates a sinister sense of control, it is also stalked by a sense of lawlessness in which information can be lost, identities stolen. One of the most striking works is Paths of Resistance, a set of tripods with sculpted appendages which look as if they might have scurried out of a revenge-of-the-machines B-movie. These microphone-creatures seem to be engaged in a confrontation no less vicious for being a war of words. On the walls, the images trace increasing fragmentation. Mulholland displays fine judgement here. A series of works made with peg board speak of the binary systems of an earlier time, disintegrating almost to nothing, a frame displaying only empty space. These themes continue at Sorcha Dallas with more wall-based aluminium works, a fine sculpture made using a metal globe and a five-screen DVD projection, Rising Resistance, in which the tripods come alive and the circuit boards echo a dystopian urban landscape. This in turn echoes Peer to Peer, less a film than a fully fledged rock opera with libretto by Laurence Figgis and music by Mulholland. Picture Metropolis meets The Matrix with overtones of the films made by the Surrealists and you might be close. For all its angst-ridden overtones of an Orwellian world, it remains clever and self-aware. Interestingly, Mulholland’s dark, ambiguous vision of the future chimes with that of Man Ray in a rare poster he designed for London Transport in 1938. In it, the iconic London Transport logo becomes a planet spiralling into the void. A system which is supposed to represent the comfort of regular travel becomes fatally disorientated. For the country on the brink of war, Ray captured a future full of potential but also full of fear. Contemporary artist David Austen chooses to respond to this image in the latest of the weeklong pairings curated by the Ingleby Gallery. His works absorb the spirit of Ray’s piece. A text painting, The End of Love, refers to a film Austen is making about a strange cast of characters performing a show at the end of the world. There is a star mobile, which looks more like multi-headed worm, and a black-and-white face, crackling and gap-toothed, balanced on a pole. Like Mulholland, Austen works in a range of media. But on this occasion he has space only to give us hints of his larger vision. It’s oblique but intriguing, and leaves us wanting to see the fuller picture.