Angela Bulloch

Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst

The opening of Angela Bulloch’s recent exhibition, “Big Bottom,” featured a performance by a band of the same name with Bulloch (and four others) on bass guitar. The rumbling wave of sound lifted the red, yellow, and blue beanbag chairs in the museum’s back room slightly off the ground and made the dried splashes of mud (slung across the stage wall prior to the performance) literally vibrate. The thrumming didn’t stop after opening night, though: Anyone sitting on a nearby red bench tripped a switch that caused the beanbag chairs to emit a humming sound.

The doughnut-shaped beanbags dominated a landscape in which stimulus and response—the elementary behaviorist model—conditioned viewer perception. Stepping onto a certain mat lit up a colored orb on the wall or turned it off again (Red Mat Light/Yellow Mat Light/Green Mat Light/Blue Mat Light, 1996); sitting down on one of the benches in front of a series of video monitors activated the sound on the corresponding monitor (Sound Clash Benches, 1997). Stimulus/ response: This simplest mechanical form of interaction was repeated so forcefully by Bulloch that it became a dominant theme. One might imagine that such moments of control would occasion feelings of certainty; on the contrary, one experienced within the exhibit increasing confusion. In the instant between “on” and “off,” doubt arose, creating a sense of uncontrollable emptiness.

What raises Bulloch’s work above the current flood of benignly illustrated global melancholy is an ability to convey a postanalytic sensibility while at the same time revealing its presuppositions. In General Wall of Rules, 1995, a wall of texts printed on paper and Plexiglas, Bulloch reproduced various sets of rules and regulations culled from a variety of institutions—from a topless bar’s guidelines to a company’s policy on data protection. The status of the piece as both original manuscript and freely accessible printed matter undermines ideas of intellectual property. In Superstructure with Satellites, 1997, a deep red mural punctuated with anarchist quotations, Proudhon’s formulation—“Property is theft”—shone forth; the artist robs this proposal of its premise.

Bulloch asserts her own multiple presence via her many different roles, from performing in Big Bottom to coproducing (in 1997) a CD with the Zurich artist Stefan Altenburger to organizing a project in 1995 called “Panorama Island” on an unused pier in London. She is, as well, the programmer of a drawing machine whose mechanically guided pencil draws electrocardiogram-like patterns on washable plates of glass. While in much of her art (for example, Visual Music 8, 1998, a piece shown recently in Berlin in which a red light blinked on and off according to the rhythm of the music playing on a set of headphones) only one person at a time is able to experience the effect of full synesthesia, the “codes” she explores change (as much of her work itself does) with the reaction of each viewer. The Zurich exhibition demonstrated the heterogeneity of Bulloch’s work as a whole while also showing its higher-level unity, that is, its unity in the question concerning various rules of combination. “Anarchy is order,” Proudhon’s second formulation, is not reversible.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.