Michael Mahalchick and Material Magic
Michael Mahalchick is a man of mystery, an icon of the downtown milieu who has one foot in art, one foot in performance and a third foot in dance. He is represented by Canada on the Lower East Side, and has had a solo museum exhibition at the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut, performed at the Kitchen and has received a New York Bessie Award for dance, just to name of few of his comings and goings. I once attended a performance of his that took place the night before his show, IT opened at Canada. I arrived at the gallery which was pitch dark and stuff: oranges, blankets, a hot plate, bacon, and a broken wheelchair, among many other objects, cluttered the space. Over the course of two hours, Michael performed in the gallery by candlelight, and slowly assembled “the stuff” into an exhibition while he sang, spoke and played guitar. At the end, the lights came on and we all stood inside a finished exhibition.
Michael approaches sculpture and image-making like a witch doctor approaches a voodoo ritual, it’s all about the source of the materials. He has been working on a series of rock and movie posters for the past two years and I asked him a few questions about his philosophy surrounding his art making materials.
Melissa Brown: Where do you get your materials?
Michael Mahalchick: The materials come to me.
MB: You mean that all of your art materials come to you just through the circumstances of your life, can you give an example?
MM: The rock posters were in front of the first apartment that I moved into in Brooklyn, they were rolled up in front of the house. I moved them in when I moved the rest of my stuff into the apartment. That was 2000.
MB: So you started working with them 15 years later.
MM: A show I did before the posters came from fabric that was supposed to be donated. A friend dropped off bags of fabric at my apartment to be picked up by a charity, but the charity never came. I didn’t choose the material, the material really chose me. Once my brother came to visit and when he got home he couldn’t find his sweatpants. I later realized that I had put them in a sculpture. That sculpture is now in the collection of the New Britain Museum.
MB: Do you think there is power in materials?
MM: Yes, of course.
MB: In what way?
MM: In their capacity to make you feel something. I don’t use new materials.
MB: How to you usually start working with things? The posters, for instance?
MM: I just start with the poster, then add stuff that’s lying around the house – detritus, candy wrappers, notes people give me, shiny stuff, movie theater tickets, religious tracks, lottery tickets, postcards, flyers, pipe cleaners, ads that come in the mail – then I just start mixing and matching until something rhymes. I start putting stuff on and taking stuff off, reacting to the image that is on the poster. I don’t tear anything. I don’t want to interrupt the integrity of each object. I don’t force rips, cuts onto the material, the material is just what it is.
MB: Do you look back at your work and does it function like a time capsule?
MM: Of course, because I have a relationship with every material I use. I can tell you where it came from, or who gave it to me. They are triggers. In the work, I hope they also trigger for other people, and that they can see their own experience.