They were always happy / They were never happy I and II
A-Z / Es gibt nichts, was es nicht gibt.
A-Z / Es gibt nichts, was es nicht gibt.
While in her earlier installations Jana Müller staged traces of fictional crime scenes, her current work-in-progress “A–Z / Es gibt nichts, was es nicht gibt.” [“A–Z / There is nothing which is not to be found there”] features relics of actual crimes. Its central element are items of evidence used in criminal procedures and stored in secure areas at police or public prosecutions departments.
The work´s title, drawing on a comment made by a German public attorney, vividly conveys the wide array of objects to be found in these places. The artist has so far visited and documented evidence rooms in Oldenburg, Lüneburg, Hildesheim, Frankfurt/Main, Karlsruhe und Halle/Saale. These “archives of crime” serve both as an object of investigation and the work´s starting point. How can this parallel universe of things, together with the invisible stories inscribed into them, be explored and represented?
In these locations Jana Müller observes and photographs both the individual objects and the entire settings, with a special focus on the underlying classification systems and methods of managing crime.
Moreover, she collects memories of employees of the evidence rooms, which serve as a basis for short stories. These revolve around art objects that were kept as evidence, but have in the meantime been transferred to new, unknown contexts.
In the exhibition installation this juxtaposition of images which show mute things qua traces and texts whose point of reference remains invisible, is combined with “real” objects from evidence rooms. The viewer encounters fragments and moments from migratory trajectories of items of evidence. Precisely the kind of things which are particularly subject to processes of de- and recontextualization.
Coming into being is an ensemble of various representation, evocation and staging modes, which raises questions about the circulation of things in general and our access to them.
Vanja Sisek, 2016
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.
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