THE PECULIAR ALCHEMY OF THE CATHODE RAY


“The first thing that struck me was, the light was black. My eyes took a little time to grow accustomed to this absolute darkness for, though the felicate apparatus of cornea and aqueous humor and crystalline lens and vitreous body and optic nerve and retina had all been reversed when I gave birth to my mirror self through the mediation of the looking glass, yet my sensibility remained as it had been…. but when the inside of my head could process the information my topsy-turvy senses retrieved for me, then my other, or anti-eyes apprehended a world of phosphorescent colour etched as with needles of variegated fire on a dimensionless opacity. The world was the same; yet absolutely altered.”


Angela Carter’s solarised universe extends beyond the silvered meniscus of a hermaphrodite’s mirror in her short story, “Reflections”. The condensed atmosphere is characterized by a leaden gravity that distorts perceptual awareness, compressing distance, warping sound and it is as if Craig Mulholland’s aesthetic has seeped through the punctured skin of such a mirror-portal.
Carter is often identified as a magical realist, and through this epithet we find a side road, a back alley, to Mulholland’s practice. Magic(al) realism, usually denotes a stylistic literary connection to a group of Latin American writers – Asturias, Allende, Borges, Garcia Marquez – whose work combines the fantastical and the mundane to illustrate the psychological and cultural truths of the “Other”. However, this use has evolved through translation, adoption and attribution from a term – magic realism – introduced in 1920s Germany by the critic Franz Roh to describe the paintings of a group of artists (Georg Schrimpf, Alexander Kanholdt amongst them) who manifested stylistic concerns differing from the mainstream Expressionist mode. Part of the taxonomical proliferation which accompanied the late 19th century breakdown in the hegemony of the Academy and the birth of Modernism, “magic realism” was a subset of the Neue Sachlichkeit which, defined in opposition to Expressionism was “cool and cold” rather than warm; “engrossing” rather than “arousing”; thinly coloured, civilized, obvious and enigmatic, positing the “explanatory” rather than “stifled” object; like “polished metal” rather than “uncut stone”.


In Mulholland’s scheme, this “miracle of existence” – the object in magic realism – sits at Thomas Carlyle’s “Conflux of Eternities, (the eternal refreshment of the present by streams from past and future) at the “Centre of Immensities”, (the instantaneous apprehension of the universe in its entirety). Mulholland’s fascination with the arcane – his burnished surfaces, the counter-balanced apparatus that comprise his spindly orchestra – and the propositional quality of his arrangements belie affection for the Scholar, for whom the Machine is animate, revelatory and mechanistically beautiful. The Scholar, in this instance, is less the Renaissance man whose typology has, by way of Dr Frankenstein, dictated the habit of the Mad Professor, and more the Pataphysician concerned with “the science of imaginary solutions”, who, like Carlyle, can “see all possible worlds when (looking) at only one of them.”
Poetically at least, the Pataphysician’s physics presaged the development of chaos theory, the science of irregularity and unpredictability. The final few years of the 19th century and early years of the 20th, represent a period that saw the ossification of Empirical ideas and the reversal of the tradition of order and permanence over chaos and change. It is this period – with its far-reaching repercussions – that Mulholland’s fractal understanding is rooted. His practice configures an imagined sense of the prehistory of computer technology, of information science nascent at this time. As Walter Benjamin used the architecture of the Parisian Arcades to provide an organizational metaphor for his convoluted, cross-referenced system of subjective enquiry, so Mulholland employs the technics of data-processing to examine the compromises it entails for the individual. The notion of the Panopticon is a trope to which Mulholland repeatedly appeals, not just in the service of his comments on surveillance, on the interchangeability of Operator and Camera, but also as way to invest his enterprise with liminal architectural and archaeological references and focus it hermetically, solipsitically.
Psychoanalytically, the screen – which appears in Mulholland’s work as a series of shuttering trapdoors, or angled metal music scores – may have its genesis in the hemespheric sense and separation of a thick, bubble-glassed visor on a diver’s helmet and is thus implied in figuring Solipsism: we are inside looking out -“Poltergeist” maybe the ultimate paranoid fantasy in this respect, projecting the divided self beyond the beveled glass of a television. With the advent of plasma technology, our material connection to the screen is changing. Differences in experiencing the television and the computer collapse, and the repository of poetic resonances and references changes with it. Mulholland’s work exhibits a nostalgia for the mechanics of image making which are everywhere miniaturised, occluded, denied: he challenges us to question what we take for granted, to uncover the politically inflected structures which govern our lives unnoticed, universally accepted.

THE PECULIAR ALCHEMY OF THE CATHODE RAY

Essay by Fiona Jardine commissioned for the exhibitions PEER TO PEER and GRANDES ET PETITES MACHINES.

© 2008 Fiona Jardine.

FUTURESHOCK!

Once, in a time long ago, the phantasmagoria were rendered in stone and this was modernity. Now, these same stones speak to us incessantly and we whisper back. 

We may be resplendent in smart clothing, surfing the streets like any boulevardier, but our flanerie has been thwarted. Such freedom now seems weightless.

As the commodities rise up and dance around us, they emanate and encapsulate imperceptible beams of light. These rays are the scents for the Mechanical Hound, the terrible triumph of technology which never fails. In our story he is torn to shreds.

Purloiners, pilferers, pickpockets beware! The portrait parle is redundant. Bertillonage has been usurped and its successors, tip sahi, fingerprints, are done at a distance. The salesgirls in the Ladies Paradise wear murmuring silks and satins to cover the scars of sub-dermal tagging and in turn pass on their deadly cargo with each package they purvey. The

Republic of Gilead knows no bounds. The Republic of Gilead is within us.

 

To such devices we have descended. The sensors are set for a new world order.

(Refs: Atwood, Benjamin, Bradbury, Poe, Toffler & Zola.)

FUTURESHOCK!

 

​Essay by Dr. Susannah Thompson commissioned for the exhibitions ARPHID and RFID.

© 2005 Susannah Thompson.

 

 

“These Vampyres are said to torment and kill the living by sucking out all of their blood, and a ravenous Minister, in this part of the world, is compared to a Leech or Bloodsucker, and carries his Oppressions beyond the Grave, by anticipating the publick Revenues, and entailing a Perpetuity of Taxes, which must gradually drain the Body Polotick of its Blood and Spirits…”

(‘Political Vampyres’, Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1732)

THE TRIAL OF THE PYX

We should have heeded Juno’s warning. Her title, Moneta, foretold doom.

Do not rejoice prematurely – public welfare will always be a by-product to these creatures of the night. Feudalism may have been outlawed, but we are not yet Robinson Crusoes in Caledonia.

We continue to place our shadowy faith in the sovereign stamp of authority, but the bearer has been left wanting. The invisible hand of self- interest tap-tap-taps away at the ledger, trying in vain to measure the compendium of capitalism against Three Standard Stoppages. Justine Lafayette’s account book shows a profit of only a few French curves, those anamorphic dollar and pounds, not enough to satiate the limitless lust for surplus value.

The universal language, the great colonizer, the god of our times. robbed of even the gossamer physicality of banknotes, this desire incarnate is our very lifeblood and our shit. Because there is no limit to human desire, this sinister shape-shifter is forever destined to be parasitical, dependent, thirsty.

The aching obsolescence of the banknotes of Theresienstadt recall the true function of this ‘abstraction of human happiness’. Now so abstract as to be opaque, this intangible succession of electronic impulses siphoned and recirculated via uniform signs – the total sum of our net worth.

Game and reward, illness and palliative, we fall victim to vampiric usrers, transmitting venereal gold fever to all they prey upon, calling the vulnerable to them in metallic whispers. It is they who have transformed our cowrie shell currency into third order simulacra – where capital is a substitute for life, a definition of identity, measurable against time. A stake through the heart of use-value leaves only exchange value writhing in its wake.

“The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is interest, for it makes a gain out of money itself, and not from that which money was devised. For money came into being for the sake of exchange, but interest makes the money itself greater. And that is the reason why the term ‘interest’ [tokos], which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. That is why it is the most unnatural way of enriching yourself.”

 

(Aristotle, Politics)

Carlylean longings – for a social interaction unmediated by money – may seem naïve, and naïve they are, but Marxian poverty was once seen as Christ-like, Brummell’s destitute demise the ultimate triumph of dandyism over mediocrity. To Brummell, Baudelaire, Burroughs and all our greatest heroes, money and credit are indistinguishable. Surely, it is the man with the passion for venal dueling, all tattered silk charisma and heady Romance, who captures hearts, kicking dust and disdain into the  furrowed faces of Enlightenment scriveners, dryly guarding their guilded vaults.

When the Baobhan-sith appears, she is resplendent in green, swooping low over Burke and Hare, Wringhim and Calvert, Jekyll and Hyde. This Scottish succubus sees all and she alone reads the phantom balances of the City of Glasgow bank., her ghostly laughter echoing from Virginia Street to the colonies.

The Rat Man was right all along and the analyst’s notes are transcribed not by typewriter but by adding machine, with the spectral rolls reading only 62, 62, 62…

“Only the diabolical quickness of the Count’s leap back saved him. A second less and the trenchant blade had shorn through his heart. As it was, the point just cut the cloth of his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank notes and a stream od gold fell out… grasping a handful of the money from the floor, he dashed across the room and threw himself at the window. Amid the crash and glitter of the falling glass, he tumbled into the flagged area below. Through the sound of shivering glass, I could hear the ‘ting’ of the gold, as some of the sovereigns fell on the flagging.”

 

(Bram Stoker, Dracula)

​THE TRIAL OF THE PYX

Essay by Dr.Susannah Thompson commissioned for the exhibition BEARER ON DEMAND and HYPERINFLATION.

© 2005 Susannah Thompson.

 

 

​PLASTIC CASINO

Synopsis of a danse macabre and song

(‘Two-faced Aria of the Pat Coordinator’)

 

The stage is full of low –lives at the death of the day. The DERELICT with smears for eyes dallies a paltry toy, under the ragged curve of a battered arcade a small transparent sphere with luminous plastic bricks inside, one red, one blue, one black, one yellow and translucent. The bricks are tiny and scarcely enough in number to satisfy the municipal intrigues of a mite.  Still great is the fascination of the DERELICT with no eyes and no mouth (but only dusty smears where the sensory apertures should be) to crack the glass chamber like an egg, remove its contents bit by bit, dissemble paltry abortive structures and return them to the sphere and close it again, shake it so that the coloured bits dance about like confetti or the last vestige of snow in the baubles of sentimental dying magnets.

The HOMOGENS appear at the right, accompanied by the PAT COORDINATOR. Their designer’s sheaves unrolled show lumpish forms made of coloured blocks, just like those of the DERELICT.

PAT COORDINATOR (scrutinising the plans):

 

                       The more the city fascinates
                       The more it oppresses
                       The rage I feel towards this city
                       In all its modernity
                       Which I can only admire
                       Still fills me with jealousy

 

HOMOGENS (in chorus):  Jealousy! Jealousy!

PAT COORDINATOR:       This city of the elect and privileged
                       Of wielders of power and decision makers

 

HOMOGENS (in chorus):  Decision makers! Decision makers!

PAT COORDINATOR:       This city, this monster,
                       Creator of tramps and parasites in a day!

 

HOMOGENS (in chorus):  A day! A day!

Cut to: the whimpering lament of the DERELICT who has lost his bauble down one of the drains. He crouches over futilely poking his fingers through the slots.

DERELICT:              The more I suppress
                       This overwhelming rage
                       The more I admire
                       This city so charming, merciless, dreamlike, paradisal!

The stage darkens and the pavement with the grill of the drain tilts up. The bars come apart exposing the murky gloom beyond. The lost charm of the DERELICT lights up incandescently and the brightly coloured chips swirl about on churned-up currents of air. More complex shapes appear, along with more varied colours and tones, and as the orb swells and takes possession of the stage, a troop of human dancers clad in jagged costumes of a futurist ballet, simulate a crowded casino. The PAT COORDINATOR sways in drunkenly, his cravat loosened below his battered hat. The patrons with their tubular bodies, their coats like Bauhaus tombstones, their goggle eyes half superimposed on orange semi-circular masks look leeringly on.

 

This is consummate debauchery but all of an abstracted slickly patented manifestation, which cannot satisfy the PC for long: he searches desperately for a conspicuous body of flesh like his own. Reeling, he stumbles upon the CADAVER at roulette, who seems equally out of place, a death’s head strayed out of Lucas Cranach, come to view with a connoisseur’s prurience, the swollen follies of modernity gone mad. He has a strange manner of casting the roulette, preferring to swallow it first so it emerges glittering in the right socket as a surrogate eye, then tilting his head drops it on his skeletal hand:

CADAVER:              This city, this monster
                      Which implacably rises up and destroys
                      This city, this monster.
                      Creator of superstars and derelicts in a day!

 

More customers throng onto the casino and as the crowd jostles shoulder to shoulder, the figures lose all trace of human resemblance and distinctness, and turn into leaping and interlocking circles, tiny arrow shapes lurching between rapidly expanding and shrinking lines of yellow, green and mauve. The PAT COORDINATOR in his champagne paranoia fears death by drowning in his brimming constructivist soup. Narrowly detaching himself from the smothering throng, he grabs the body of a tombstone gambler nearby and batters the transparent confines of the crumbling hall. They swell and wobble; shards of glass fly about and the angular inmates rise up to the ceiling and disappear.

The PAT COORDINATOR shaking his addled head, looks down at the pavement under the arcade where the glass has rained down from a plundered shop-window during the night, and various ornamental trinkets are lying scattered in the debris: a brush with a mother of pearl handle, a filigreed cake knife, brass tongs with jet flowers on the hinge. These are not static but primevally mobile writhing, flopping about with the grotesque aspect of fish drowning in air.

 

THE DROWNING ANTIQUES (in throaty whispers):

                      The more the city fascinates
                      The more it oppresses
                      The rage I feel towards this city
                      In all its modernity
                      Which I can only admire
                      Still fills me with jealousy

 

PAT COORDINATOR (sadly):

                      Jealousy! Jealousy!


   

                      END

PLASTIC CASINO

 

​Essay by Laurence Figgis commissioned for the exhibition PLASTIC CASINO.

© 2004 Laurence Figgis.