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Interviews

Daniel Mullen, Interview

 The floating fragile constructions of Daniel Mullen

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His transparent, floating worlds bear both the strictness and accuracy of architectural design and the fragility and delicacy of lyricism.

The Scottish artist Daniel Mullen is currently living in Amsterdam, the city where, as he says, went to study art and rediscovered his passion for architecture.

Daniel Mullen has participated in a number of exhibitions nationally and abroad.

In 2014 he was nominated for the koninklijke prijs for schilderkunst (The Dutch Royal prize for painting).

E.Z. How would you describe your paintings to someone who has not seen your work?

I make images of abstract architectural volumes that seem weightless and transparent, where the scale is left to the imagination of the viewer

E.Z. Emptiness, Glass, Pipe – the three concepts that dominate your graduation thesis and provide an insight to your philosophical ideas about reality and perception; could you discuss/explain these ideas and how do these ideas affect your painting?

Emptiness is at the core of my thoughts about my perception of reality. As a child I really new how to play; my imagination dominated my experience of my surroundings. I often got dragged kicking and screaming back to reality. I think at the core of things I feel as a person stuck between reality and my imagination and yet somehow can move between both. For me, this question of constantly coming into being and non-being is where my fascination for emptiness comes. I like its contradictory nature; it feels like a truth that I want to expand on.

In the thesis I used the concept of the glass and the pipe as a tangible visualization to explore the word.

The whole thesis was printed on transparent plastic sheets bound into a booklet. There was one empty/blank piece of paper that you could use to place behind each page so the text would become readable.

For me understanding the word, enabled me peel away the layers of everything that was unessential to the painted image. The breakthrough in the work came when I began to paint on the unprepared canvas. Before this moment I painted on gessoed canvas and I always had the feeling that the white spaces had to be filled up, to me it was like a negative emptiness. But the raw canvas seemed like a positive emptiness in the sense that it was already something before Interacted with it. So the raw canvas is the place between reality and my imagination. For example in the Series «What Utopia» In this series I’m looking at how my universe could be constructed in a more practical way, whilst contemplating the concept of Utopia. In the series “Spatial Inception” it is more ambiguous.

E.Z. Transparency seems to be a key element of your work; why?

For me transparency has to do with imagination. Imagination is a projection of ones desires and self onto reality. But it doesn’t exist other than as a mental projection, and yet it can seem real enough and has substance. So I use transparent layers in my work to explore this paradox of existing but not existing, being an illusion and undermining the illusion. Possibly seeming real and yet possibly not.

E.Z. Looking at your paintings one gets the impression that these are the painted snapshots of an ongoing process? What kind of process is this? Is it a process of construction, of deconstruction…?

I see my paintings as sketches, a moment of clarity whilst simultaneously being unstable and fleeting. My older work from around 2011 was much more about painting existing architecture. Although it was relying on representation I was busy with simplifying the spaces leaving out the things that were of no interest to me, like a light switch, a chair, anything that gave an indication of scale. In this way I could transform the space into something that stimulated my imagination. In my more recent work I have zoomed out, leaving the internal space and focusing on the external/volume. This simplified a lot for me, I was able to activate my imagination in such a manner that I could construct, without taking into consideration aspects that define the possibilities within physical architecture like gravity or material. Within my new works I feel free to set the rules, it is my universe and I am the architect at play.

E.Z. What are your expectations/aspirations for your work in relation to its perception by people and the touch/effect it has on them?

Time will tell.

E.Z. We live in turbulent times; do you believe that artists should take a stand and moreover tackle and raise social issues through their work or keep a distant and neutral position?

Every moment is turbulent, without diminishing the zeal and frustration of many people’s strife Paul Simon aptly titled a song «one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor» But it’s a tricky question that actually comes down to «what role does art play in today’s society. It is pretty clear that we live in the west at least in a society fuelled by consumerism. A self-indulgent egocentric propelled mass consumption of products and information that idealizes self-interest and masquerades as breaking down social structures and economic barriers. Creating the perception and justification for all things that might actually be unacceptable. But the people this really hurts are not the people who can participate in this structure but the people who are left behind, the people who don’t have the means to participate in the charade. The people who idealize the structure but cannot participate. You only are a valuable contributor to society when you can conform to social expectations. A large group of society is belittled and demeaned by this attitude and only when they can conform do they really fulfill their perceived self worth. This is an absurdity beyond words, a structure that favors the upward mobile individuals and demeans the vulnerable placing them in a position of aspiration without the means and tools to participate in this illusion.

Accepting that this is the state of affairs, then arts function would be a political one, to challenge the status quo, holding a mirror up to society through visual means like how Plato’s explain the role of the philosopher.

But political art does not only mean art that is critical of political ideologies, it is also used by movements to reinforce political ideals like the «Hope» poster by Shepard Fairey that became the campaign poster for Obama, which through its imagery influenced by communist propaganda visuals, aimed to change perceptions and unite society based on a filtered anachronistic realignment of old ideals and reforming new ones, that was about the people and not about support for the elite.

I see political art as a temporal like the next I-phone, it serves a purpose for a moment and then it is transformed, it functions within historical terms but no longer as political art

So art can be political, it can comment on society but it can also be neutral, it can be anything. The value/purpose of an art work is not determined by the maker but is determined by the response/effect on the audience/consumer. Many people have stood before a Rothko and been moved to tears. Is not the greatest value of an artwork to deconstruct any social hierarchies to be personal to evoke in one individual a need to reflect on their life, there being, their real relationships. This cannot be engineered nor can it be provoked; everyone reacts differently but it is the longevity of a work of art that gives its value, that makes it transcend. This is what I think art should do, people need to stand still, eject themselves form society even for a minute, be human, not a pawn in the game of expectations and self-projections. This is what art should do. And this goes beyond any styles, movements or forms. In my work, I want to activate the viewer and if in any way I am effective at this then, I am going in the right direction.

E.Z. We are witnessing an enormous growth of the art world.

What are your feelingsand thoughts about the commercial aspect/system of the art world –galleries, art fairs, collectors, art dealers, curators-stars, biennials, art institutionsetc.?

The art market is indeed growing again, but I think the part that is really interesting is the online art market if it would be possible to democratize the art market then online is the way to go, this is the case for the budding collector as for the artist. I would call it the emancipation of the artist; for sure the hierarchy is still there, I’m not sure that will ever change but the fact that a large amount of artists can start to live from their work due to the large audience they can reach is something exceptional and of this time.

E.Z. Please answer spontaneously, with as few words as possible:

Your color: Oxidized copper

Your music/song: Old Number 7 by The devil makes three

Your book: The Castel by Franz Kafka

Your movie: Mommy from the director Xavier Dolan

Your artist: Julie Mehretu

Your work of art: The Pier by Piet Mondrian

Your dream: Exploring my reality

Your worry: Losing my grasp on reality

Your passion: Architectural form

Daniel Mullen, http://daniel-mullen.com

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