What Is That Person Thinking?

Artforum International, January 2009 | Go to article overview

What Is That Person Thinking?


WHEN MATT MULLICAN is invited to lecture on his artistic practice to a large group at a museum or school, he typically begins his presentation by affixing a number of images to the wall behind him: first, a photograph of one person, followed by a comic-strip rendering of a second person; then two stick figures (one framed, the other unframed), an abstract sign for the human body (akin to those found at crosswalks or on bathroom doors) and a similarly spare icon denoting a head and chest (think of the cropped international symbol for customs officers at airports); and finally, a circle, a square, and a triangle assembled together in a loose configuration of parts. Each of these individual pictures, Mullican says, is named "Glen." (In truth, however, only the photograph depicts anyone recognizable as such, whether the visage of astronaut John Glenn, actor Glenn Ford, or some other familiar personage.) Once the images are hung, the artist moves down the line, methodically pricking each picture with a small pin, before turning back to his audience with a single question: Which image feels the most pain?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Spectators could be forgiven for being momentarily stumped, since a kind of awkward silence seems precisely Mullican's point (whatever his claim that audiences eventually agree on the framed stick figure as particularly sensitive to the stab). For the artist's query inevitably prompts viewers to reflect anew on the subtle dynamics underpinning their ordinary experience with representation--or, more to the point, their ordinary experience with experience. Audiences are asked to take stock of the way empathy functions on the most instinctive levels and in connection with the most mundane of tasks, and to acknowledge and examine in turn the degree to which one invests images and objects with a life of one's own devising. We cultivate and care for the world we imagine. As Mullican observes in conversation: "When you look at a picture of a figure such as this, you end up seeing the fiction you are projecting onto that picture. You are confronted, in fact, with the very identity of your projection."

It should come as no surprise, then, that Mullican, when he came of age during the mid-1970s, was considered a kind of distant cousin to the "Pictures" generation. (Although he was not in Douglas Crimp's famous 1977 Artists Space show, Mullican's first New York exhibition had taken place at the same venue the previous year, and indeed his work will be included in an exhibition devoted to the "Pictures" milieu at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring. He is currently the subject of an extensive survey at the Drawing Center in New York.) If Mullican was interested from the beginning in the various ways people engage with representations and endow them with particular significance, he was also deeply aware--like so many other artists of the day--of the contextual modes of meaning and identification that were being engineered by mass-media photography and film, and subsequently filtered into everyday life: the feedback loop of cathexis that lies at the heart of commercial enterprise.

Perhaps what has most set Mullican apart, however, is his willingness to expand his artistic frame or, as in the case of "Glen," to render it as tenuously as possible. As early as 1978, he was subjecting himself to something akin to the treatment his stick figures now receive on the lecture circuit--performing while under hypnosis in an effort to articulate the effect of different framing devices on our comprehension (both intellectual and psychological) of the material world. "I originally sought the most extreme kind of theater I could come up with," Mullican recalls today, "where the people who were onstage believed that they were the characters they were portraying; where somehow they were not acting even while they were acting. Their psyches would portray a fiction, but the actors wouldn't have the normal relationship to that fiction. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

What Is That Person Thinking?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.