In November 1956, French Marxist theorist, philosopher and writer Guy Debord proposed the theory of the dérive. Literally meaning “to drift” or “drifting,” the dérive is an exploration without a destination, aimed at reawakening participants to the diverse but often unobserved cadences of the urban landscape. Not unlike the experience of art, the dérive is a counteragent to the rut of routine and familiar routes.
In his propositional essay, Debord describes the dérive’s active nature and how awareness of the terrain’s “psychogeographic effects” makes it distinct from a casual stroll, and he insists it cannot be effective in the natural environment. So while the works in Judith Mullen’s new show, “Linger,” are deeply informed by her ritualistic wanderings through just such a landscape, there remains something dérive-like about an encounter with the artist’s uncanny forms and the gallery in which they reside.
Composed of encrusted, bark-like ribbons, Mullen’s strange assortment of floor and wall-mounted sculpture is, frankly, an ungainly lot. The textural contrasts and internal relations that animate these fiber and plaster-laden shapes are slow to emerge. Their physical and thematic delicacy require active discovery. In time, they radiate care and emotional honesty, a moral beauty if not always a wholly aesthetic one.
In the show’s best work, less is more. Mullen’s twisted and knotted “Masks” derive their strength from simple juxtapositions. Soft yarn against hardened plaster. Vivified by clear color. In “Mask I with Stick,” the texture and surface qualities are elegant and refined, offset and enlivened by the balletic pose of the found stick of the title. However, even a little too much is often too much. The inclusion of glossy resin in “Drifting I” and “Shield II” introduces an unwelcome element of the synthetic in a show that’s otherwise grounded in the shape of the natural world.
In dérive-like fashion, Mullen’s “Linger” encourages us to experience her altered forms and the gallery they inhabit in new and novel ways. “Resilience,” the largest of the wall-mounted pieces, reads like a portal, or perhaps conceals a hole in the wall. When viewed in a suitable mindset, its woven strands of bleached-white bark are an entrance, maybe an exit, but most assuredly, an invitation. (Alan Pocaro)
“Linger” runs through October 10 at Devening Projects, 3039 West Carroll.