Matt Mullican

The MIT Project.
At List Visual Arts Center at MIT.

(Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, July 1990)

Since the 1970’s, Matt Mullican has been working on a cosmological system which he describes in drawings, charts, pictorgrams, signs, symbols and color-coded diagrams. So I’m surprised to see a room filled with things when I arrive at the List to meet Mullican and see the installation he built here.

“It’s the first time I’ve arranged my meaning as objects in space depicting my meaning,” he says.

We walk into a maze surrounded by a low wall. Hundreds of pictures and objects are laid out schematically on tables and bulletin boards. I realize that I’m standing inside one of his diagrams. “It’s the third dimension!” I exclaim. He nods, and points to different sections.

“The whole thing is a model. Green. Blue. Yellow. Black. Red. You’re INSIDE the model, INSIDE the relationships. Meaning – emotional – language – body – earth. This is about imagining the extension and going to the details.”

Inside a green semicircle are stuffed birds, eggs, bugs, and bones. “This is Elements,” he says. “Nature and Elements.” He points to a group of bones laid out schematically.

“Those are bones that all add up to a person – that’s a coyote – those are cicadas – aren’t they great? Everything here was alive at one point except the crystals.” He points to a big crystal. “Those are the crystals that people used to make radios with – they sliced them into crystal chips. I have a box of chips over there in the bookshelf.”

Outside the maze is an oversize bookshelf containing old books, records, microscopes, atomic model sets, specimen drawers, and other equipment for studying the world. “This is the gameboard and the bookshelf is the box where you keep your parts.”

“Here are my machines,” he says, showing me a boiler, a steam engine, a generator and an old radio. “These are machines that embodied the age even up to the present. Look at the radio. It’s from 1935. It almost looks like a cityscape. Radio City! And the supercomputer shows a completely fabricated city with a million and a half polygons. Made for me by Optimistic, in California.”

On the computer screen, a whole imaginary Mullicanworld speeds by.

“Here are my cosmology charts,” he says, pointing to a table where charts and diagrams are laid out. “Systems, models, history, science.”

Being inside Mullican’s installation is like being inside Mullican’s mind – a dizzying experience. He’s constantly classifying and re-ordering everything. After a while, I see patterns. Green. Blue. Yellow. Black. Red. Elements. City. Art. Language. Meaning.. Everything refers to something else. Wheels within wheels, constantly turning.  The Red semicircle is empty.

“Red is the Subjective,” he says.  “Subjective is the meaning that occupies the sign.”

by Rebecca Nemser for

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