To coincide with the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Craig Mulholland’s ‘R.F.I.D.’ project in stood like a beacon of sense amongst the hoards of middle-class trustifarians, riding the wave of class jouissance by slumming it and fighting the good fight for the subaltern, man. The children of the revolution are bourgeois Oedipuses and Electras on gap years, working it off on fashionable causes.
‘R.F.I.D.’ is an extension of the ‘Plastic Casino’, at Sorcha Dallas and ‘Bearer on Demand’, 2004 at Transmission, 2005 (both Glasgow), exhibitions which explored the ideas of Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Arcades Project’ on flaneury, and vampiric capitalism. Bloody money, shopping and fops. How these themes are transformed into art’s objects is hidden, but the results of this alchemical process remain captivating. As a self-confessed Luddite with latent formalist proclivities, the user-unfriendly interface between politics and technology is unappealing. But the viewer needs little information to know that Mulholland’s artistry is genuine and great. Picasso barked, ‘It is forbidden to question the pilot’ but here you allowed to zone out during the pre-flight banter.
That said, ‘R.F.I.D.’, Radio Frequency Identification, as a dread prospect would raise the most politically dead to action. As a development of the security tag and the barcode, ‘R.F.I.D.’ chips will (and have been) secreted in packaging and the hems of clothing, so that products can be replenished on the shelves, paid for without money changing hands, and tracked. Buying patterns and the movements of the buyer can be monitored; civil liberties are drained away as the unwitting host of an ‘R.F.I.D.’ chip becomes a target. Everyone is a suspect; a file is being filled.
Although this was supposed to be a ‘project’, the artist has turned the four-day run into a mini-exhibition, showing sculptures, pencil drawings and a short video piece. In the digital animation ‘R.F.I.D.’, 2005, the droog-like flaneur becomes reduced to a profile, spinning and negotiating other signs in a twilit shopping mall. The world is bleached out into a Beckettian stage-set, with nothing but grey everywhere. In the spinning sculpture on screen there is an apocalyptic arcade, just as there is in our reality—Stirling’s gallery itself is an arcade. The pencil drawings become chips in a system, graphite circuits conducting meaning. In ‘Natural Alien’, graphite on paper, the ubiquitous Queen’s head from banknotes and official rubbish guarantees something we no longer believe in—her blank little smirk becoming a smudged grimace.
Mulholland’s vision and approach has influenced a coterie of lesser artists (some of whom receive greater attention), but who flounder in his fecund wake. Amongst his contemporaries and critics alike, Mulholland is seen as one of the few Glasgow-based artists whose commitment and talent are indubitable. His work is serious but refuses the urge to ‘show its working’. We are given the hard results as objets d’art, never the meandering equation.
Alexander Kennedy is a critic and tutor at the University of Glasgow