The title of Mark Cullen’s solo exhibition ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space’, is taken from the philosophical novel Sophie’s World by Jostine Gaarder, the context being: “Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence’’.
Moving in a clock wise motion through the gallery space I first encountered an intimate cluster of six small oil paintings. The paintings tentatively explore a visual vocabulary that references ideas of the both the visible and invisible cosmos.The painting Cloud (2008) describes charged gasses and chimerical light of nebula with a restraint that refuses maximalist seduction inherent in these vaporous worlds.
In Harvester (2008) and Atomiser (2008) a series of white dots modulating into bisque and sienna, impose a static surface quality to the images that deters from ocular immersion in the depth implied by the blue and umber blackness of the pictorial plane. Casleo night (2008), thinned and whitish ivory oil paint pays linear and pallid reference to the Casleo observatory in El Leoncito Argentina. Beneath this flat surface image an impasto of more defiant marks address diaphanous space.
Moving on to the next work which occupies a central position within the gallery, untitled (2010) is a large work on paper which uses ink and toner to describe what seems an improvised reconnaissance into unbounded space.Formal and chromatic unities of these painted works mask a certain modernist physiognomy, but Cullen’s casual relationship to the representational engenders ambivalence towards this self same convention,engaging a hermeneutics not of retrieval but of suspicion.
Ideas of site/place/space are designated as important in the Cullen’s work; the light box piece, Towards super connection, (2008) makes undeclared ironical reference to its ESB offsite location. This parallels Cerith Wyn Evans light column installation. Wyn Evans’sS=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill ,underlying motive’s shallow overspill…’) (2010) references the a former electricity sub station which once stood on the site now occupied by the white cube gallery in London. Much less overt, Cullen’s light box consist of vertices and edges (the points being the vertices and the lines being the edges) that perform an empyrean cartography of fluorescent light through lustrous and reflective blackness.
In light boxes, Star maker I (2010) and Star maker II (2010) tiny particles of light suffuse the blackness of the box, to render visible what appears to be the local cosmic fabric of the Milky Way. Beyond the low tech aesthetics of the light boxes fictionalised realities become discursive products. The modest scale of these star fields claim the necessary function of fiction; in staging and sustaining our entropic relation to these immense dark territories whose arbitrary mission seems immunised against their own conclusions.
Continuing onward I made my way to the second part of the exhibition in the upstairs gallery. On entry into the space a hanging screen of heavy black plastic concealed entry to the space behind it .Pulling back the plastic- a darkened space was revealed where leakages of light create a crepuscular atmosphere. The predominance of the everyday, makeshift quality of black plastic, traces certain ideals and formalism of the 1960 movement, coined arte povera or ‘poor art’, by Italian art critic Germano Celant. Arte povera’s unconventional use of materials and style directly set out to oppose convention, power structure and the market place. Installing the sense of these of these ideas, the ceiling of the space entitled Atomizer II (2010), descended in a parabolic arc made of a finer black plastic punctuated with series of holes that emerge as a leitmotif throughout the exhibition.
Moving from the ceiling to the floor; in pairs of two and placed head to head lay the work entitled Sleeper cells (2010).Consisting of 14 cells in total, the silver Mylar foil of the cells is disturbed, suggesting a frantic movement of bodies attempting to shed their exoskeletal envelop.
Notions of Futurology and sci-fi inhabit the space of experience, calling to mind Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel Solaris where outer realms of hyper- rational space represent personal isolation and certain exile. Collecting this notion the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s oft quoted assertion that science calculates but does not think, expresses an anti humanist dimension to scientific hyper-rationality.
As if to skip into the infinite cosmos – a comet deflected toward a preferred destination from an atmosphere too dense to adhere to – Cullen seeks the momentum to leave behind the isolating ilk of scientific. The installation of this space about space becomes recognition of contingency. Whatever can enter a reading of the space enters by vague association’s .Thought resist logical constitution and as such ideas drift and slip into negation, unhinging proofs through a repudiation of scientific tautology.
The D.I.Y candour to assembling the space places us in the midst of an apocryphal science that redresses a hyper rational metaphor of space. In this disclosure, the mind is fore grounded as a palpable cultural entity rather than a disembodied processor regulated by mathematical formalism.
Cullen’s continued interest in the immersive environment in which he inculcates his participant’s, questions the inference of local physics on the (horizontal) observable universe. The artist suggests we cannot do without cosmological principals and these of courses are rooted in the philosophical. Immersion in the profundal zone of ontological and epistemological deep causes, as always reveals our poetic limitations. Limitation is also the condition of possibility however uneasy it may be. Cullen’s universe is man made, makeshift and frail, yet the ironical retrograde means of recycling material and convention throughout the exhibition deliver quite and meaningful incursions to the frontiers of consideration that coyly resist facile reading.