For more than 10 years, Matt Mullican has been continuously developing a sign system which is, on the one hand, a product of his imagination, and on the other, taken directly from everyday life. Signs as they can be found in airports, train stations, urban spaces - generally in all places where people of different origin and languages move about; signs for orientation that are as unambiguous as possible for everyone, indicating the way to the baggage reclaim, the telephone, the toilets, etc.

Mullican has systematised these signs and represented them in various media, frequently formally thematising the indicative function of this pictorial sign-language in the form of posters or flags outside of exhibition halls in public space.

Mullican then utilised this international communication system consisting of signs and symbols as the basis for developing his own models of a cosmology which on five levels structures the mechanisms of perception and learning used by humans to access their world.

Mullican uses six colours, each assigned to one of the five levels, to illustrate these models:

Green designates the level of "elements". It is the lowest level and encompasses the realm of nature and the material characteristics of objects, the creation and development of which is not triggered or determined by mental processes.

Blue designates the "World Unframed", the field of unconscious, automatic activities taking place without reflection.

Yellow is the level of consciously-controlled processes of thought and action, through which the world is perceived, analysed and systematised.

Black and white are the colours of "language" as an abstract system of indication through which objects lose their individuality and are translated into pictures/signs.

Red designates the fifth and highest level, that of the "subjective", of mental activities determining our individual experience in relation to the signs.

In this manner, Mullican has also designed the model of an imaginary city, as an illustrated brochure of human knowledge and personal experience. In the past years, Mullican has developed a series of works on this topic, the detailed plans of which integrate found and invented signs and symbols in a thought-out order. The computer project gave Mullican the opportunity to physically realise his idea of a model-city in which the viewer can navigate on and between all five levels. The installation at Portikus consists of 18 computer-animated "city views", as well as an endless 5-minute video loop simulating a travelling-shot through Mullican's imaginary city. As a third product and final step in the development of this project, two small sculptures are shown giving physical presence back to the objects stored as data bases in the computer.

".....My city is not the representation of a social phenomenon. It is more abstract, it does not deal with a populated surrounding. It is not necessarily about the space between people, although it actually should exist on this level. It is more about the space between people and objects. This may sound very simplistic, but it is about the space existing between any conceivable object and myself, and about how I can comprehend this object in different ways - emotionally, as a word, etc. In the end, I could place people in the city, but at the moment it is empty because it deals with this perception of emptiness." (Interview with Matt Mullican 1990)

Matt Mullican, born in 1951 in Santa Monica, California, studied at the Californian Institute of the Arts and has been living in New York for more than 10 years. In summer semester of 1990, he taught as a visiting professor at the Städelschule, and next year, invited by Peter Weibel, he will be artist-in-residence at the Institut für neue Medien in Frankfurt and realise a new project for which he is currently developing the concept.

The exhibition at Portikus is a co-production with Le Magasin - Centre national d'art contemporain in Grenoble, the Kröller Müller Museum in Otterlo, and the Stichting De Appel in Amsterdam, all showing Mullican's works in various constellations. While comprehensive surveys of Mullican's works are shown in Grenoble and Otterlo, the exhibitions in Frankfurt and Amsterdam focus on the installations of Mullican's computer project.

Photos: Katrin Schilling