Martina Mullaney's Turn In series abstracts roomscapes of worn-out beds in bleak temporary accommodations into faded bands of color. We see signs of anonymous and absent sleepers in the stains, dents, and creases that mark these degraded spaces. The subtle paths of Mullaney's photographs hinge in part on the dismal inadequacy of these night shelters: a last resort in the yearning for comfort — a thousand troubles away from the luck, normalcy, and love that determine where we privileged others lay our heads to sleep. But Turn In resolutely does not depict the inhabitants of these shelters, and this brings Mullaney's narrative into the realm of universally felt and understood experience. The physicality of the rooms' details triggers a visceral response to this aberrant version of that familiar point where a bed meets the wall. Mullaney worked in shelters and soup kitchens over the course of two years, but her photographs are not simply empathetic representations of homelessness; rather, the images of Turn In embody our fears and deepest understanding of loneliness.
Head of Creative Programs, Art & Commerce, New York, NY. Former Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, U.K.
That concern with the everyday and the ordinary as a space where the constitution of power might be resisted or subverted — even unknowingly — is where Martina Mullaney's work enters the equation. Her photographs of beds, made in hostels for the homeless in Cardiff, South Wales, in 2002, seem to me to describe an example of Foucault's model of the heterotopia as a place of multiplicity and crossing. Through their traces of the human, they also suggest to me a model of dissent, of a kind of re-empowering of 'invisible,' unacknowledged, individuals through their claim to an ownership of space. Mullaney's photographs are at once formally engaging - we might even say 'beautiful', though I don't want to venture into that particular aesthetic minefield — and repellent. They are "marked": by the stain (of human sweat and urine), by the trace (directly, of human excrement, or indirectly through crumpled sheets, sagging mattresses and pillows) of lives that are "excremental," abjected by and from a pathologically convulsed culture. We see those marks in a few pathetic belongings (a machine for making roll-up cigarettes, a box of tissues) or in signs of displacement: we see where the subject has been, never witness corporeality.
Martina Mullaney is an Irish artist currently living and working in London, where she received a M.F.A. from the Royal College of Art in 2004. Her work looks at uncomfortable social situations, mainly those of solitude. She has worked extensively with the homeless communities of Ireland and Britain, teenage mothers, and abandoned children in China. Participation and process are important elements of her practice, and she often collaborates with large groups of people to make her work.
In 1999, she was invited by the British Council to attend the International Artists Camp in Sri Lanka. Her first publication, Turn In, was published by Ffotogallery, Cardiff, Wales, in 2002. In 2003, she was artist-in-residence at the Loft Gallery in Kunming, China. In 2005, she will have her first solo show in New York at Yossi Milo Gallery. Her work has been published by Portfolio: Contemporary Photography in Britain, Source Magazine, Belfast, and Zoom, Italy. It has been reviewed by Afterimage, New York and the Sunday Times, Dublin. She is currently represented exclusively by Yossi Milo Gallery in New York.