An Interview with Matt Mullican

Before public shows, Matt Mullican is put at ease by a hypnotist and is asked while in a trance-like state, “What would you like to do?”.

As he steps onto the stage–which he refers to as “a white void”–he is no longer Matt Mullican, but “that person,” an abstraction of himself. His performances are often similar, with the artist crying, drawing, cursing, shaking, rubbing, writhing on the floor, talking incessantly, and mocking himself.

For Mullican, the aim is to distance himself from Matt Mullican to the point that he can comprehend himself as a phenomenon.

Mullican is a postmodernist artist who has achieved attention since graduating from CalArts in the 70s.

He has a habit of exploring the concept of identity projection through a wide range of media and methods, including blowing glass, painting signage, creating computer software, and drawing stick figures.

He is linked to the Pictures Generation and has an ongoing curiosity about how people respond to symbols and their meanings.

Despite this being a topic typically associated with psychologists and philosophers, Mullican is not interested in academic inquiry or analytical theory.

He instead has carried out performative experiments on a cadaver, such as yelling in its ear and putting his hand in its mouth.

In 2011, I contacted Mullican’s New York gallery, Tracy Williams, Ltd., to ask for an interview after witnessing his lecture on a virtual urban environment he created.

Eventually, when he made a journey from his home in Germany to Manhattan, we had the interview in his studio on the Lower East Side. The studio was filled with his abstract cartography.

— Ross Simonini

Ross Simonini has created a thought-provoking piece that exemplifies how the media shapes public opinion. His work illustrates how the power of the press affects people’s beliefs and behaviors.

It reveals how the media can be used to manipulate public opinion and how it can influence how people think and act.


QUESTION: The individual on board the vehicle was a passenger – now referred to as a traveler. What is the most recent instance of being in an altered mental state?

ANSWER: [ Shutting eyelids] Not an issue if I keep my eyes shut. It’s just more straightforward that way. I do this when I need to focus.

I agree with that.

On my trip to Newcastle, I was allowed to have my brain scanned while I was in a waking and a trance state. An experienced hypnotist was present, and she put me into an intense trance.

This was the first time I had been touched while under hypnosis. Once in the MRI machine, I was saying “Fuck you” repeatedly, which was the art of being in that particular state. After that, I have never been in a trance again.

QUESTION: Have you been aware of the entire situation?

ANSWER: All the while, you feel conscious of the situation. But your unconscious mind is more active; it has its agenda, and you are unaware of it. Someone at a party once asked me if I was a passenger on this journey.

It is a great way to think about it. It is like you are on a ride and just witnessing your own actions, although they may seem strange.

I remember the first time I performed in 1978 at the Kitchen, I was portraying a five-year-old character, but in my mind, I was thirty, making comments to myself like, “What is this?”, “Look at this!” and “Look what I’m doing!”

QUESTION: There is a two-sidedness to the situation.

ANSWER: It was almost like I had two separate personalities, one asking, “What are you doing? Your body isn’t working like it usually does!” It was like I was constantly talking to myself.

I think we are all driven by context, how we act differently with those closest to us versus someone like a superior in the military.

QUESTION: You are exchanging your societal roles.

ANSWER: I have reservations about the entire situation, and it doesn’t faze me when people make claims like “He’s not in a trance.” Some of my works address being perceived as a “fake.”

QUESTION asked to be informed about one of the topics.

ANSWER: It was almost like a mother and father figure spoke to me simultaneously. The mother figure told me how amazing I was, and the father figure said I was nothing and I was a failure.

So, instead of being affected by the audience, I took control of the situation and deflected the criticism by assuming what the audience was thinking and beating them to the punch.


ANSWER suggested they preempt judgment from others by declaring themselves “shit” first. They noted how complicated and challenging. This was, as there are often humorous elements to the situation.

The brain is never in an “on” or “off” state but is like a million parallel universes constantly existing together. The ego and identity you create for yourself is jumping around, though you need to be more conscious of why you’re doing it.

ANSWER is attempting to comprehend the subconscious language and vocabulary inside them.

QUESTION: What is it like for you when you are performing?

ANSWER: On stage, it’s like a white abyss. Nothing. I often pace around the stage like an animal in a cage, exploring the area with my hands and face. It’s a strange feeling, but then it takes off from there.


QUESTION: What would be your way of expressing yourself when performing on stage?

ANSWER: What is the source of these behaviors I experience–the autistic behavior, the schizophrenic behavior, the compulsive behaviors, the shaking associated with Parkinson’s, and the Tourette’s–the constant swearing and trying to be the meanest person possible?

When I go into a trance, I’m submerging myself–the filters are down, and I’m just swimming in my mind, allowing myself to enter a place I usually try to avoid. We don’t want to act in this way.

QUESTION: You have no fondness for “that person.”

My children are very conscious of how I act since there has been a counter-reaction to my behavior. They point out occasions when I act like another person and catch myself in the act, something I never did before.

QUESTION suggested that the performances and hypnotism were causing the transformation in the person, and they were becoming the person they were meant to be.

ANSWER stated that, even though he is no longer in an exhausted state, he still has some qualities similar to someone autistic. He added that he engages in activities like singing, memorizing, counting, and alphabetizing, which he sees as insulating himself.

QUESTION: Additionally, you’ll also take off the masking tape. You cordon off a section during shows.

ANSWER stated they felt content with putting a transistor radio to their head and tuning it to static. This was a way for them to escape their dual reality and relationship with the audience as if they were wearing blinders and unable to see them.

When MM asked someone in Geneva what the audience thought, they simply replied with “Autism,” implying everyone assumed MM was autistic.


QUESTION: What is the purpose of using hypnosis?

ANSWER: That’s a big question. I began to explore this topic around 1971 or 1972, when the art world was quite restrictive. I wanted to find a way to break away from traditional art forms such as paper, paint, or photography and instead focus on the subject matter.

I developed a stick figure character whom I called Glen and created five hundred drawings of him engaging in various activities in his fictional studio. I aimed to prove that he was alive, that the stick figure lives, and to show that the picture is psychological and not physical.

As an example, I traced pornography and showed it to teenagers, who consequently reacted with arousal. I was interested in how people could connect to the image, feeling the same emotions as if they were in the picture.

For example, when the stick figure pinches his arm, you feel the same pain as if you were seeing a photograph of someone getting a hypodermic in their arm or someone being hit in a movie or watching a boxing match.

QUESTION: Do you not consider that to be an act of empathy?

ANSWER was intrigued by the concept of empathy and noticed how similar it was to his son playing video games. In those moments, his son was so absorbed in the game that he had no awareness of his body moving around.

Hypnosis is like taking out the game and seeing what’s left over. It is a way to observe empathy without structure.

QUESTION: In what way does this relate to performing?

ANSWER: When I entered the theater, I began to consider what it would be like if an actor was embodying the character they were playing. This immediately seemed like a form of heightened theater to me.

For my first piece, I recruited three performers for Details from an Imaginary Life (from Birth to Death) at the Kitchen. The play contained around two hundred and fifty lines, and the actors acted out thirty in front of a crowd.

QUESTION: Did the people become hypnotized?

ANSWER: I hired hypnotists, and then people accused me of being a “control freak” because I was supposedly manipulating them. It was almost like a scene out of 1984 or Gladiator, and people seemed to find it strange.

After this, I decided only to do it myself and not have any actors involved. For the next performance, I acted it out myself.


Consuming Coca-Cola has become a popular activity among many people. It has become a widespread beverage that is enjoyed in many places.

QUESTION: Could you explain what you mean when referring to the concept of projection of identity?

ANSWER explained that in advertising, one does not present their entire identity, only a specific part. That is the way marketing works.

QUESTION responded affirmatively.

ANSWER recalled being with a companion at the Spring Street Coffee Shop in the 1980s. His friend requested a Coke and asked, “How strange is it that I just ordered a Coke after not drinking one for so long?”

ANSWER indicated the Coke machine in front of them, with the words “drink coca-cola” displayed. His friend then hit their head in surprise, as they realized they were not in complete control, but rather the external world was more vital in this instance.

ANSWER also discussed “that person,” a character they become, not based on gender, age, or any specific individual, but rather a generic figure that anyone could encounter on the street.

QUESTION: Is this the version of you that appears while under hypnosis?

ANSWER: When I peruse a magazine, I cannot help but connect to the person in the images. It’s not my entire mindset that does so; it could just be a small detail, but it occurs regardless.

It’s involuntary, like your blood pressure. We constantly do it. Whenever we come across someone, we contextualize that individual, empathize with them, and evaluate who they are and what they’re doing.

It is a type of self-preservation that happens.

QUESTION: What is the connection between your work and fiction, such as the novel form? Is Glen a figment of the imagination? Is That Person? Could it be something else?

ANSWER: It’s like taking any character and taking away the story, yet preserving the empathy for that character. All that’s left is simply showing them. That’s my approach.

QUESTION: How does Glen contrast with someone like Raskolnikov? In other words, if all the language in Crime and Punishment were removed, Raskolnikov would cease to exist.

ANSWER affirmed that the individual in question had departed.

Despite everything, Glen remains in the same place.

ANSWER spoke of the unique phenomenon that happens when a person is so absorbed in an activity that it influences their physique and temperament. Glen, she said, is a prime example of this mysterious event.

QUESTION: What is the deal with this Avatar thing?

ANSWER stated that Glen is essentially the same as a character from the movie Avatar.


By adopting an empathetic perspective, we can better understand our own reality. This approach allows us to comprehend the experiences of others and how they might influence our own lives.

This understanding of reality can help us develop deeper connections and heightened awareness of our environment.

QUESTION: Does anyone comprehend the significance of the symbols frequently seen in your artwork, such as flags and drawings?

ANSWER: I incorporate symbols that are too abstract for people to recognize. I designed a flag in India that used the symbol of the world, which the World Bank also uses.

I’ve been using it for thirty years, so I assumed a tailor I worked with could figure out what the top and bottom were. But he didn’t see it as the world sign at all; he just thought it was a decorative object.

A blueprint. That’s what QUESTION is.

ANSWER commented that it was intriguing for them to have only a pattern. In this subjective cosmology, who can say that a target symbolizes heaven or that the man transforming into a target embodies God? No one will know.

It is a powerful image, and ANSWER has a banner displayed in Antwerp that is visible to many people on the highway, but it is unlikely any of them are aware of the significance. They don’t need to do that.

QUESTION inquired as to what purpose this particular thing had for the speaker.

An image depicting Matt Mullican can be seen, with the man standing in front of an artistically painted backdrop. He is dressed in white and looking at the camera, ready for an interview.

ANSWER: It can be appreciated by those familiar with it, first and foremost, but it also functions as a visual image; it becomes abstract, so it’s a physical manifestation. If a person wants to explore what it means, that is an option, but it does not only work if you know its meaning.

When I visit the Egyptian section of the Met, I need help understanding more of what is there, and neither do many other people.

The piece focuses on the ancient Egyptian writing system of pictographic symbols, known as hieroglyphs.

ANSWER: Sure. For example, what about this map of Paris [ indicates the map on the wall ]? Most Westerners could tell you it’s Paris, but if you showed this to many people, they wouldn’t even be able to recognize it as a city.

QUESTION discussed abstraction, which could involve symbols representing a physical area.

ANSWER: When I draw a plank five hundred yards away in a virtual field, I can sense this area. In the past, I used to refer to it as an imaginary universe or a fictitious reality, but when I began to use computers, it was dubbed “virtual reality.”

Now I’m dealing with empathy. It’s a buzzword nowadays. Everyone is talking about it; the brain and empathy are trendy topics. You can go to any bookstore and find many books on the subject. It’s a passing trend.


It is essential to emphasize the artist’s role, with extensive, bold quotes used to emphasize its importance.

QUESTION: Do you have a set of beliefs that make up your worldview?

ANSWER: No, I’m talking about a model, not a belief. That model did originate with my beliefs when I was a kid. At that time, I thought I had chosen my parents before my birth and was on a conveyor belt. I saw their names and then went down a chute and started my life.

The Industrial Revolution was a cosmological event, according to QUESTION.

ANSWER: It was a Warner Bros. cartoon where you could observe the pre-birth of Bugs Bunny on a conveyor belt. That scene significantly influenced my life; he was mesmerized by the TV set.

QUESTION: Who is he?

ANSWER: As a child, I was convinced of the power of fate. I saw it as some sort of controller, manipulating my life with a lever it had in its grasp. To me, this was a representation of destiny’s control over me.

A central theme in your artwork is mortality.

In 1973, I had the opportunity to perform at Yale University utilizing a cadaver. During this performance, I imitated what the stick figure in my drawing had done to himself. I slapped the corpse’s face, pinched its arm, and yelled in its ear.

I also placed my hand in its mouth. I was attempting to stimulate its senses, which was in stark contrast to how bodies are generally treated. My goal was to go inside the head.

QUESTION: You need to be motivated to seek out facts.

ANSWER: The sign may be accurate, but I wouldn’t try to articulate what death or a higher power is. If we decide that a pole [ points to a pole ] signifies the presence of God and that the area is unique.

Then we attempt to get our acquaintances to believe this pole is a deity, and it becomes a communal thing where we congregate each Friday evening to discuss this pole…

QUESTION remarked that it sounded enjoyable.

ANSWER indicated that their cosmology exists as a social phenomenon until they can persuade someone that their cosmology is the truth, which they don’t want to do. As a postmodernist, they are not worried about cosmology being honest or not, rather they hope to discuss it.

QUESTION: It’s about the concept of cosmology, not the veracity of it.

ANSWER: The distinction between postmodern and modern can be seen in this concept of an endpoint. In 1967, people were highly aware of how significant the art they created was.

Nowadays, while making money and acquiring fame is possible, there needs to be more certainty over the importance of the work being made. People ask, “What’s the point in making a cosmology if you don’t trust it?”

To this, I reply, “I trust in the power of belief.” Therefore, my position is one step removed.

QUESTION suggests that postmodernism is the next step.

ANSWER stated that was the next move.

QUESTION: What is your opinion on traditional philosophy?

ANSWER: After my talks, I often find a few individuals inquiring about how much particular philosophers, such as Kant, Foucault, or Derrida, impacted my work.

This is even though my educational background could have been more impressive, having graduated in the lowest tenth of my class.

QUESTION: Issues concerning the relationship between the mind and body.

ANSWER expressed that students often attack them for not understanding certain concepts, but they come to understand them through being exposed to them in culture.

ANSWER then explains that if there is an element of truth in the concepts, another person could understand them without studying the philosophers.

They then explain that their work in philosophy is relatively primitive and that when they go into a trance state, they are objectifying their psyche as if it were a found object.

ANSWER continues to explain that they are trying to understand art, picture-making, and the vocabulary and depths of it, as well as the surface.

In conclusion, they describe the traditional role of the artist as someone who channels and can tell you whether it will be an excellent or lousy spring.

Possibilities That You Might Enjoy

The use of technology has made it possible for individuals to access information faster and easier than ever before. Nowadays, people can acquire knowledge with a click of a button, making it simpler to stay informed. This has revolutionized how individuals interact with information and data.

Read Full Biography
Back to previous

You May Also Like


Resident Evil 4 Remake: Gameplay Experience and PS5 Enhancements

The Resident Evil 4 remake is a thrilling experience for players with diverse play styles, resulting in varying completion times…….


Crash Team Rumble Set to Launch with Closed Beta and Pre-Orders

Activision and Toys For Bob have officially announced the release date for Crash Team Rumble, set to launch on June……


President Biden Honors Renowned Figures with 2021 National Medals of Arts and Humanities

In a ceremony held at the East Room on Tuesday, President Joe Biden presented the prestigious 2021 National Medals of……

related articles

Faces Through Art, Classified by Humor

Grim Glossary

A Microinteriew with Christopher Owens

articles about Archive

Social Media’s Impact on Teen Mental Health and Brain Development

March 22, 2023

Elden Ring’s First Anniversary: Over 9 Billion Deaths, 20 Million Copies Sold, and Anticipation for Upcoming DLC

March 22, 2023


March 20, 2023

An Interview with Doseone Copy

January 27, 2023


January 27, 2023