A DEAD WHALE OR A STOVE BOAT
A DEAD WHALE OR A STOVE BOAT
A photograph taken on 24 February 2022 at the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Shy Plumber – Anti-War Journal of Art and Anti-Art, Issue III
Ilya Orlov (Helsinki), Matthew Cowan (Berlin), Andrey Ustinov (Berlin)
Shy Plumber is an independent international art periodical issued in Helsinki and Berlin.
Mock Rabbit | Track: Decommissioned spies (extract)
exhibition: "Findungen" Gallery Deutscher Künstlerbund, Berlin, 2021
Der Wolf im Schafspelz
Traces of Truth
The dead are not real, neither are the living.
The collective memory, introduced in the early 20th century by the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs as a derivative of the collective consciousness described by Émile Durkheim was closely linked with photography from the very beginning. The medium is essential as a bearer of information about things, places and situations, always taking on meaningful functions. For example, the majority of early childhood memories can’t be traced back to actual memory, but to the fact that one has seen oneself in family photos. Souvenirs or objects related to specific narratives complement these formations with the logic of circumstantial evidence.
This is where the work of Jana Müller begins. During her studies, she had already begun to systematically create picture archives for different categories of things. Houses and factories that were left abandoned and cannibalised for an uncertain future were just as much part of this as the empty wall unit of her own parents' home. At some point, things also found their way out of the pictures and into the studio. This was the beginning of a process of increasing separation of the image from reality, the images developed more and more of their own life. In Traces of Truth, they are presented in parallel or together with objects in the cramped environment of aquarium-like cubes or between glass panes like samples under a microscope, thus assuming the character of circumstantial pieces of evidence that initiate a play in the viewer's mind. Akin to the substantial shift in recent research on material culture - for example in the fields of ethnology, archaeology or sociology - objects appear in this constellation as independent actors. Things are no longer seen only as passive objects, but also as producers of knowledge and memories, meanings and values. Given her sense of the effect of objects and images, the artist's more recent focus on crime and its substantiation through evidence is logical. But what does it mean when actual criminal exhibits or police training material appear in an art exhibition? What happens when art sets out on the trail of crime?
There is always great public interest in real crime scenes and objects of evidence of any kind. In the exhibition Traces of Truth Jana Müller follows this curiosity in pictures, collages and installations. However, contrary to the title of the exhibition, neither her new film traces (28 min, 2019) nor the central installation A-Z | There is nothing that does not exist (2015/2019) uncovers any truth whatsoever. Rather, the artist takes up the fascination for scientific police work, as reflected in so many forms of media, and further develops it for her own purposes. Since 2015, she has documented countless pieces of evidence and their preservation in evidence rooms of state prosecutors - often trivial places such as garages and empty shops. As banal as the individual objects often appear, a layer of evil yet remains. Just like the podcasts, television series and true crime novels, Jana Müller's phenomenology of proof harks back to pre-Enlightenment emotions. But unlike these popular genres, her production denies the viewer the narration, explanation or clarification of crime. Individual objects are consistently isolated, their asocial, marginal character underlined, while others are brought into new contexts in stage-like scenes. Every picture and every installation becomes the germ of sublime ideas that offer eschatological dimensions. To avoid misunderstanding: the results are fictions that are in no way comparable with fakes. The difference is that, at best, fictions can show what the fake wants to disguise.
A central element in Müller's storytelling strategy is the glass plates on which the artist arranges findings on the floor and on tables. If they first remind one of microscope slides or showcases from a natural history exhibition hall, they turn out to be by no means so objective or neutral. On the plates are monochrome prints, shadowy transparent images of individual pieces of evidence. Like afterimages or faded memories, they exist in a seemingly gaseous chiaroscuro, floating above and beyond their real counterparts. In this way these objects are given an aura. Presented like this, the actual objects and our sense of them are inseparably blended. This leads us to conjectures and theories that don’t require or allow a distinction of their context or origin.
The artist takes a similar path in video. The source material is a police training film from the 1950s. The architecture of this current film image is again a double, because it shows, in strict symmetry, the historical film document as it is played on the archive film player, as a projection on the wall. In this arrangement, the source material acts as a small image in the centre, offering the only movement in the film, like a mixture of altarpiece and puppet theatre. The sound is assigned to the actual exhibition space and transforms it into an acoustic and visual unit of irritating intensity. The relationship between image and object tilts once again in three parallel-projected sequences from the same film. In one, as if under a magnifying glass, hands tirelessly attempt to put together pieces of glass, which not by accident, belong to a mirror. Projected onto a stack of glass panes leaning against a wall, which formerly conveyed the objects from Easy Crime (2010, new version 2019), only the images from the film now exist between the panes.
Regardless of the particular physical conditions, a suggestive meta-narrative prevails throughout the exhibition, derived from the fact that all the objects originate from the realm of the amoral and captivate as evidence of boundary crossing. These objects seem to allow a direct view of evil, of obscure power apparatuses and of secondary and parallel worlds. Certainly, one may feel caught in one's own voyeuristic pleasure when observing the show, but essentially curiosity and sensationalism are highly prevalent as two of the most important basic impulses of civilisational development. However, they also mislead us into anecdotal detail, overlooking an important subtext in Traces of Truth. Jana Müller takes up a strand of research that the Dresden public prosecutor Erich Wulffen began in the last century in his essays on criminal psychology (Psychology of the Criminal, Berlin 1908/1913). For the first time he introduced scientific claims of psychological insight into criminology. Interestingly, Wulffen constructed a connection between creative power and criminal intent and remarkably, suggested that the instinctual egocentricity of artists resembled that of psychopaths and criminals. However only the former have an objective and practical possibility of sublimation through their artistic production. For Müller, the key questions here are the extent to which criminal and artistic transgressions are currently comparable - and in which way the consciousness or conscience of observers is triggered by the direct confrontation of images and objects, when these are no longer embedded in their original narratives.
A–Z | There is nothing which is not to be found there
Das Material der klugen Köpfe
ON ROUGH DIAMONDS
On Rough Diamonds is a project that involves the entire space of the gallery through a series of single works. Combined together, they create a whole installation regarding the common themes of the German artist: those of archival research, of investigative activity and an artistic practice that has many things in common to the fields of criminology and forensics. The exhibition leads the visitor inside a hypothetical crime scene where objects and images seem to be mysterious traces of circumstantial evidence. They demand the observer to go in a search for the truth, real or presumed, that hides behind them. Jana Müller seems to be attracted to the darkest sides of man and society as well as to all the manifestations of the unconscious and the uncanny, especially when they lurk behind the facade of normality. Social catastrophes, urban threats and collective fears in their relati-on with the media give strength to her work that looks like an inquiry into mysterious events that range between reality and fiction. On this occasion, new photographic works will be presented that re-use some of the artist’s precedent installations in order to create another short circuit, a mirror-game. Müller’s practice becomes itself evidence of a new fictitious narration that unveils itself only to a certain degree, never totally. It is the research of the truth that is the real theme of the artist‘s work, like a rare rough diamond that pushes the human being, as well as the artist, to constant digging and interrogation.
Paolo Maria Deanesi
They were always happy / They were never happy I and II
Man and Woman
Through the appropriation of the press photos and their placement in the exhibition space, as well as their formal treatment and the narrative impulse triggered by filmic movement, Jana Müller makes visible the media infiltration in which fact and fiction combine to form a never-ending story.
By staging this processual act, the artist confirms Ernst Gombrich’s account of the viewer’s expectations of a work’s medium and style. Gombrich’s argument draws on Edward C. Tolman und Egon Brunswik’s notion of “adaptation level”, which alongside the familiar factors such as cultural conditioning, convention and experience also implies style-based expectations. Already the style, that is, the medium and its (formal) treatment, arouses expectations of a work to a similar extent as does cultural conditioning. The adaptation level is constituted through individual experience and memory, which vary according to the environment and social conditioning, therefore accounting for differences in perception.
Jana Müller searches for traces and at the same time leaves imaginary traces. She invents and tells stories, lures the viewer and withholds an unequivocal closure. She dissects an object, places it under glass as if in a laboratory experiment and by so doing, draws attention to missing elements and that which remains offstage.
Nadia Ismail, 2016
 Cf. Lippmann, Walter: Public Opinion. New York 1922, p. 228.
 Cf. Sielschot, Stephan: Stereotypen-Framing – Eine theorienintegrative und interdisziplinäre Analyse der Zeitungsberichterstattung über marginalisierte soziale Gruppen. Phil.Diss. Marburg 2012, pp. 24–28.
 Cf. Gombrich, Ernst: Kunst und Ilusion. Zur Psychologie der bildlichen Darstellung. Stuttgart, Zürich 1978, p. 9
 Cf. Tolman, Edward C./Brunswik, Egon: The organism and the causal texture of the environment, in: Psychological Review 1935, Vol. 42. No. 1. S. 43–77. Quoted after Zschocke, Nina: Der Irritierte Blick. Kunstrezeption und Aufmerksamkeit. München 2006, p. 31.
Jana Müller. Archaeology of Crime
The pieces of everyday clothing comprising the work Jane Doe (2015) are placed on a rectangular, dark, flat base and covered with protective glass, resembling relics. By virtue of a conspicuous contrast between the low material value of the garments and their prominent position underneath a sheltering sheet of glass, the industrially crocheted summer dress, sewn together from dusky pink and white flowers, yellow yolks and lime-green foliage, takes on a heightened significance. This discrepancy applies even more vividly to the three pairs of partially ripped stockings, which, carefully draped, lie next to the dress. Each taking up the color of one of the floral elements, the stockings are loosely placed on top of each other and separated by glass plates. This segmentation generates an associative shift from a found everyday object over a pseudo-iconic veneration of relics allegedly touched or worn by a saint to a piece of forensic evidence.
The artist Jana Müller, born in 1977 in Halle/Saale and living in Berlin, carries out subtle formal interventions and thereby deprives the everyday object of its actual function and transforms it into an exhibit and even more emphatically a carrier of meaning. By de-contextualizing the object, she sets the scene for a sensitive and fresh perceptual engagement with it, while the staged manner of presentation points to its special status. Suddenly the viewer perceives the exact position of the garments and even more so their external arrangement. Even though the transparent glass plates enable a view of the whole arrangement, it is primarily their separating function that conjures the suggestion of a crime scene. The dress and the stockings serve as a synecdoche of the human body, while the violent associations of the way they are presented turn the exhibit into a piece of criminal evidence.
By incorporating a glass-printed photograph from a U.S. press archive, Jana Müller expands the imaginary play of crime-related associations and points to the influence of the media, which proves key for the interpretation of the exhibits. Without even consciously perceiving the photograph or its genre, its subject and placement seem to attribute the dress to a specific female wearer. The upper body of the female in the photograph is anatomically positioned in such a way that she appears to be wearing the dress. The glass plates generate a blurring of the image and the object, which due to the seeming presence of a victim´s body reinforces the initial impression of a crime scene. As suggested by the title Jane Doe, which in American English refers to a fictional or non-identified female person, the woman in the photograph is unrecognizable. Covered by a scarf or coat, she is hiding her face from prying glances. The garments in the photograph visually merge with the pink lining of the dress, which winds around the woman´s head. The exposed inner side of the dress is thus deprived of its protective function, which in tandem with the ripped stockings creates the impression of latent violence emanating from the exhibit. Nevertheless, it is eventually the viewer who, thanks to his or her media-saturated visual memory, perceives the subtly suggestive work as a crime scene.
Searching for the origin of memories, Jana Müller’s work Man and Woman (2015) also features press materials from 1950s Hollywood. Taken by press photographers, the black-and-white photos show defendants before and while being taken to the courtroom or waiting there. The artist enlarges the archival press images, in which people are trying to hide their identity by covering their faces and prints them directly onto glass. These roughly life-size images draw the viewer’s attention away from the subject matter and instead foreground sensation-seeking curiosity as the actual object of observation. The enlarged photos reveal neither the type of the alleged crime nor the person’s identity. Rather, their stereotypical imagery suggests a sense of familiarity and a promise of disclosure, normally facilitated by textual cues provided by the journalist, which place a singular photo into a specific (crime-related) context and in turn the chance to decode it. The absence of this kind of information in Man and Woman throws the viewer back onto the image itself and makes them question the actual subject matter. What is actually represented and when does the influence of the media become a factor?
Moreover, in Man and Woman Jana Müller lends the originally static images a film-like sense of motion by placing three glass plates behind each other, each printed with the identical yet slightly differently placed image. Depending on the viewpoint, the persons in the photos – a man and a woman hiding their faces from the camera – are relatively clearly visible, yet even upon a smallest change of position they blur, seemingly moving. Is it this particular mode of presentation that makes the photograph indistinct or do viewers themselves change it by changing their position? By formally visualizing the narrative element inherent to movement, Jana Müller delves into the issue of the role of the viewer and its mediatized perception.
American journalist and media critic Walter Lippmann argued in 1922 that humans acquire a mediated view of the world shaped though education even before they have developed a perceptual or experiential horizon. In particular, Lippmann notes the influence of the mass media, which through selection, reduction, frequency and repetition significantly affect and direct an individual’s perception and evaluation of the environment. Media such as newspapers, photographs or documentary films suggest a high degree of objectivity and authenticity, subversively creating, guiding and manifesting mental images, which do not correspond to but increasingly come to replace reality.