Matt Mullican has employed many different mediums for his work, including performance,environmental installation, open-air sculpture, and computer graphics. In the mid-1970s he focused on performance art, producing it under hypnosis in order to experience states of regression or personality changes. A mind-body dualism is continually present in Mullican ’s creations.
With his work, Mullican has constructed an intricate symbolic universe that he defines as a “cosmology.” He
uses reductive images, appropriated from the everyday urban signage found on the street, in public buildings, and in airports. The artist sees these signs as an integral part of our life —the unconscious expression of a specific social and cultural group. The symbols Mullican chooses may be adopted just as they are, modified, or invented. He then assigns them arbitrary meanings, which he applies to a host of media, ranging from printed posters to banners, to a granite slab, tapestry, or a drawing on paper.The
symbols are classified into thematic groups and reappear throughout the artist ’s work according to the underlying pattern of his cosmology. The symbols also change in color depending on their function. The first and lowest level is the physical world and is marked by the color green. This is followed by the world of human beings and their social organizations, defined by the color blue. A third, yellow, level describes artistic creation. Black and white, on the other hand, represent the abstraction of language. To the top level, red, can be attributed purely spiritual values. This final level was embodied in a work composed of twelve
figures created in 1984 and represents the pinnacle of Mullican ’s output: an entire system of signs that denote the elevation of the material state of existence to a more sublime one. This can also be seen as an elevation from a relative object to a universal concept. Spirituality —expressed with the symbols of Paradise and Hell, life and death, pre-birth existence ,subjectivity, and destiny, the world and its elements, and God —is not envisaged as separate but rather as an expression of interior energy of human beings.
The works in the Castello ’s collection correspond to some of the principal levels that make up Mullican ’s personal cosmology. Untitled (Battery), 1991, pertains to the first level, that of the physical world, while Untitled (Building), 1991,alludes to the organization of civic life, recalling an architectural structure. Untitled (Theater), 1991, instead, is about the moment of encounter within creativity of the theater. The work, consisting of banners made of polyester fabric, is in keeping with a typology the artist often adopts
because it recalls the original and constantly renewable social function of communication.