New York

Michael Malloy

3 Mercer Street

Another clue found in Michael Molloy’s Shelves. For it’s difficult to pinpoint why these works fascinate me. Ostensibly they’re shelves. each containing a group of collaged objects with an accompanying text. A set of instructions, imperatives, dictating how to manipulate these things and what to expect. But here there’s a disjunction. Perhaps fantasy is the word I want. The objects seem familiar—everyday utensils: a tea strainer, a lock, a flower pot bowl, photographs. And the language prescribes known hand actions—placing, grasping, touching. Yet the projected results, although stipulated logically A to B to C, contradict (expose) implicit assumptions about the effects of action in the world. The construction one makes of reality. Following Malloy’s instructions, one seems to enter into fiction, the realm of imagination. And yet perhaps it is more a world of possibility.

To be specific. On one of the shelves there’s a map of an island mounted on a small turntable and surrounded by three differently colored knobs. The text explains there are two ways to reach this island: “You can travel to Sydney Island, or you can become part of Sydney Island.” To travel you choose one of the colored knobs: “While the Island is spinning attempt to bring your color to the Landing Area (circled in blue on the map) . . . The time it takes is your travel time to Sydney Island.” Or “You can become part of Sydney Island by knowing the moment, with your eyes closed and the Island spinning, when the Landing Area passes in front of each of the three colors. By uniting in your mind the geographic place and use that man makes of this place, you develop a consciousness of the Landing Area. You become part of Sydney Island by knowing when Sydney Island makes contact with something outside itself.” The language is simple, matter-of-fact; if this, then that. The tools, the means for carrying out the directive are there in front. Individually the words are comprehensible. But together, combined . . . how is this possible? Is this just a play on language? Humorous nonsense, laughing absurdity? Yet having just read Carlos Castaneda’s Tales of Power my head is imbued with the sorceror’s world. A different reality. And in some sense there’s a way in which one might believe.

Another example. In numbered sequence: 1) a magazine photo of dark clouds hovering over a landscape—“Lock the lock. Is this thunder Heads or Tails? Only time will tell.” 2) An illustration of Father William standing on his head—“The young man said to Father William, ’Call it. Heads or Tails.’ Father William flipped onto his head and said, ‘Time will unlock the lock.’” 3) A padlock with key inserted, attached by string to (2)—“Tails. Unlock the lock with tails. And don’t waste time.” The vocabulary repeats, inverting, recombining. ’Logic in one context apparent illogic in another. But what constraints limit the structuring of language? Where are the boundaries that make one order sense, another non-sense? I think of children’s stories. A kind of magic believed in, accepted. And perhaps we’ve become as old as the young man thought Father William to be.

Susan Heinemann