Lauren Dyer Amazeen, 'Review' (Artforum, 06/2008)

Scottish artist Craig Mulholland’s eloquent new series “Grandes et Petites Machines,” 2006-2008, spanned three Glasgow venues – Sorcha Dallas gallery, the Mackintosh Gallery at the Glasgow School of Art, and the Glasgow Film Theatre – before touring to Spike Island, Bristol.

Exhibiting wall-based “paintings” mad of polycarbonates etched on drilled aluminium or applied to wood and drilled pegboard, sculptures, and computer-generated animations under a title that refers to large-scale historical paintings of the nineteenth-century French Salons, Mulholland reflects on what to many of us seems incomprehensible: the world of information technology and the ever-present environments of surveillance, encoding, and secrecy. Many of the images recur in each format. In the two-dimensional pieces and in the animated video works Peer to Peer, 2008, and Rising Resistance, 2008, Mulholland has created surreal landscapes with the patterns from bar codes and different types of surveillance and RFID (radio frequency ID) tags used in passports, credit cards and tracking systems for things such as store merchandise. The sculptures in the series “Paths of Resistance,” 2006-2008 (at the Glasgow School of Art) – constructed with microphones and organically shaped chunks of pewter, mounted on tripods – are animated in the videos to become interacting machinelike creatures. Both the sculptures and the videos use a grisaille palette, with little contrast; the effect recalls the tones of a film negative. There is a continual play between the ideas of dystopia and freedom, great potential and great fear.

The keystone to this exhibition is the animated video Peer to Peer, a digital opera with music by Mulholland and a libretto cowritten with and beautifully sung by his collaborator, artist Laurence Figgis. The title refers to a form of non-hierarchical computer-networking architecture. Premiered as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, the video presents an absurd counterpoint between a surveillance operator and a camera in a fantastical world where both at times proclaim, “My mind beats on,” and ultimately implore, “Refresh me, refresh me”.

The video installation Rising Resistance (at Sorcha Dallas) is an immersive environment, with four projections enclosing the space, one on each wall, and one small screen placed at the center. In this piece, Mulholland creates a poetic reflection on the digital age by appropriating sound bites from stock-market commentaries found on the Internet and reconfiguring their otherwise sterile jargon by placing it in a creative multimedia context with music and animation. The camera leads the eye up through the center of a sphere while the speaker recites the mantra, “This is a potential are of resistance … That does not mean we can’t move above it.” At the top of the sphere is a small opening through which moving objects burst into infinite space. With complex metaphors and wit, Mulholland offers imaginative possibilities for resistance to commodification in an enigmatic digital age.