Jana müller’s oeuvre explores memory, the cinematic, and storytelling. the human being between public and private space and the construction of identity lie at the heart of her works. the artist lays out clues and evidence that evoke numerous tales. For her work Dirty Laundry Jana müller borrowed a container of dirty laundry from a hotel close to the exhibition space. the piece has an enormous sculptural presence, but it is also ephemeral and refers to intangibility. the dirty laundry symbolizes intimacy and seems full of secret stories. so the work is like an investigation of the human being. the sheets in a clean state mirror luxury, while in a dirty state they evoke disgust, until they are clean again. the container, used for the transportation of things, refers to a shift of contexts and to change — e.g. the change of value.
Marion Scharmann, 2015
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
Gib den Raben Futter
Sie hat zwei Seiten
Bonbon I und II
Taschen voller Glas
bill, bracelet, bling-bling, cheap, fable, flowers, futile, glamour, glimmer, gold, head, hype, lip, manhunt, nail, promise, rowdy, scent, schmaltz, sharp, steel, street
bargain, blinking, cap, coin, colour, cut, décor, dizzy, dreams, drive, edge, fate, greed, grey, gums, hand, image, impostor, judgement, layers, leather, lift, mirror, mystery, pink, press, rats, robbery, seams, stage, strand, stratification, swindle, tame, umbrella, vein, violet, walls, walnut, wengé, white, wrap, woman
Stories from the Everyday Out-of-Field
Everyday life is interspersed with little episodes of gruesomeness, which are consumed in various dosages: be it the evening’s TV crime film, the inexhaustible supply of the Internet, or the latest news headlines. What is fascinating about the periphery of the normal, or rather the transgression of its boundaries? Jana Müller’s Blackout (2006) deals with this fascination not so much through revelation or narration than concealment and withholding. The artist isolated five stills from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), enlarged them and produced them as C-prints. The images each still show a small detail of the scene – such as a door frame, a few glasses on a table, a bandaged hand – but the greater part is obscured by a dark surface, for example someone’s back or the lid of a trunk. The events are withdrawn from us for a moment and remain in the dark. When shooting the film, Hitchcock used a trick in order to avoid visible edits: Rope was filmed in ten-minute shots (the maximum length of a film reel) which each end with actions that briefly mask the camera and create a blackout. The film tells of two young men who murder a mutual friend. Afterwards they hold a cocktail party in the presence of the body – hidden in a trunk – which only the two murderers and the viewers know about. The murderers put on an almost perfect act of normality, and invite relatives of the dead man, who remain unaware of the appalling other side of this performance. Jana Müller’s appropriation of these film stills is an indication of a theme that runs through her work like a leitmotif: an interest in cruelty in the disguise of the everyday, in the far side of social agreements and rules, in avid curiosity, pleasure in crime and the transgression of boundaries.
The plot of Rope is not comprehensible to the viewer of Blackout; instead, we encounter a permanent and impenetrable out-of-field. The image sequences of the plot become single frames; the order of events coagulates into a single moment. The shortage of visual information, which in the film only lasts a few seconds, becomes absolute darkness without continuation or resolution in the still. In his discourse on cinema, Giles Delueze writes: ‘In one case, the out-of-field designates that which exists elsewhere, to one side or around; in the other case, the out-of-field testifies to a more disturbing presence, one which cannot even be said to exist, but rather to “insist” or “subsist”, a more radical Elsewhere, outside homogeneous space and time.’ The work Blackout takes this insistence and subsistence literally by isolating the brief moment of darkness within a sequence and turning it into the main motif. We are not shown the complete blackout, however, but the moment just before it occurs. The images present us with the coming of something that evades visibility. The imagination replaces representation, or as the artist John Smith puts it: ‘The monster in the horror film is always less frightening when you see it.’
The fragility of normality and the invisible potential horror just below the thin layer of everyday life are also the subject of Jana Müller’s TAGEBUCH eins [DIARY one] (2005). This consists of five photographs, a video and the intersecting plans of three rooms taped to the floor of the exhibition space. The photographs show the contents of wall units and cupboards: various items such as books, a framed photograph, ornaments, decorative pottery and glasses, a lady’s jacket patterned in black and white. But there are noticeable gaps: something appears to be missing or to have been removed. Perhaps the diary mentioned in the title can provide more information– however, it is only present in the space as a photograph, together with a ruler, as if to establish its actual size for forensics or as evidence. Its cover states ‘You are required to make proper entries,’ followed by the initials J.M. Another photograph in the same format shows a house – perhaps the photographed shelves belong to its furniture. What has happened here? Does Jana Müller have a connection to this house? Is this her diary? On the screen of an old-fashioned television, a looped two-and-a-half-minute video shows a wide, dilapidated cupboard, whose door opens as if by magic after a while and then closes again. When the door opens, it reveals empty compartments – only the bottom one contains a full, corded-up garbage bag.
Jana Müller puts various elements into a context that remains fragmentary – no information is given about the house, its location or occupants, and just as little about the objects in the photographs, the obvious gaps, the mysterious garbage bag or the diary. Instead of a self-contained narrative, we see ourselves confronted by signs of the apparently domestic and familiar, which in this context feel more uncanny than homely. Sigmund Freud describes the uncanny as ‘that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar’. Freud also maintains that ‘this uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old-established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression’, and that ‘the uncanny [is] something which ought to have been kept concealed
but which has nevertheless come to light’. The works of Jana Müller seek this moment in which the familiar becomes foreign and terrifying by – as here, for example – staging the domestic and private as the potential scene of a crime. The house in this work is in fact Jana Müller’s parental home, which she turns into a ‘criminalistic object’. In this quasi-documentary inventory, a setting from her own past becomes a place of mystery, unsolved incidents and unease.
TAGEBUCH eins plays on the active positioning of objects and images into an arrangement that produces meaning. The inscription on the diary refers to ‘proper entries’ – but how are we to understand this in the context of a diary, which is intended to record experiences from a decidedly personal perspective? The outlines of the rooms under investigation recall crime-scene reconstructions or schematic portrayals, as in Lars von Trier’s film Dogville (2003), for example, whose narrative unfolds exclusively within such floor plans. In Dogville the monstrous breaks through the fragile surface of the normality established by social conventions. In TAGEBUCH eins the surface remains intact, but is under exact observation and appears fragile and suspicious.
The installation Never-Ending Story (2012) also deals with the attribution of order and its disruption. Precisely positioned items of clothing lie in between panes of glass stacked in layers, whose arrangement is determined by the rule that every pane has to be exactly horizontal. Each ensemble contains several items of clothing, which can probably be assigned to a particular person. A pane of glass also covers the upper layer of clothing, making the objects beneath visible but unable to be handled, and offering a reflective surface in which the exhibition space, viewer and object meet. The glass surfaces emphasise the act of presentation, of exhibition for the purpose of observation and ensuing interpretation. In conversation Jana Müller has called these objects ‘preparations’, accentuating the aspect of examination: microscopically, systematically – the clothing appears as a piece of evidence, a souvenir or a remnant and is here presented for scrutiny. Since 2009 Müller has recurrently integrated such objects into her exhibitions in various constellations. She carefully assembles the items of clothing, mindful of colours and patterns, sometimes including a rug or a scarf. Each ‘preparation’ is an image, or spans the area between image and sculpture, between surface and body – and between a formal, abstract sculpture and a possible reference to a real person, incident or place. The clothes can be identified socially, temporally and geographically; beneath the glass lie possible clues, fragments of stories, which the viewer discerns in the presence of his or her own image reflected in the glass. This exploration has to take place via the surface; touching or examining the objects more closely is impossible. The glass creates a boundary, and separates any traces of violent incidents from normality – but this boundary can rupture at any moment and abolish the division between past and present, between crime and the social contract.
On the walls around the floor installation hang five large-format black-and-white photographs behind glass, mounted on decorative wooden boards. The images show people hiding their faces from the camera; people who can’t see anything, but above all who don’t want to be photographed. Their clothing appears to come from the 1950s, and written markings at the edge of some of the photographs indicate archival origin. Müller did in fact find these pictures in archives; they show people in court or its immediate environs. The artist writes about their postures as follows: ‘The people are attempting, poignantly, to hide their identity behind bags, newspapers, pulled-up coats. They turn themselves away, contort themselves into strange choreographies, like figures in a social ballet.’ The faces concealed from the camera engage the eye, suggesting shame or fear. Taken together with the ‘preparations’ and their spectral hints of human presence, the question of culprit and victim arises, and that of the crimes that were committed here. In the juxtaposition of archive material and the ‘preparations’, which the artist relates to the photographs as the remnants of fictive stories, the further question arises as to the temporal context of the fictive or real occurrence. Are we looking at traces of the past that protrude into the present, perhaps elements of unsolved cases that should be reopened but won’t be brought to a close? The works bridge the temporal gap through the simultaneous presence in the exhibition space of documentary image and ‘preparation’, which belongs to the realm of the fictive. From the present, Jana Müller produces fragile, many-layered image-objects that tell of the fundamental instability of both past and present constellations. The installation thus comments of the sensationalism of the media and their consumers, and the transaction in acts of violence and private fates, which are marketed in headlines and reportage. The form of presentation of the photographs underlines their sensationalist overtones: the glass, the wood and the clips on the sides recall decorative frames, thus hinting at the voyeuristic interest in crime, the pleasure taken in gaping, scandal and getting the creeps.
Jana Müller’s works don’t deal with specific crimes or the relationship between good and evil, but with the potentially other, uncanny side of the normal. They create a stage for stories which take place in the imagination. The viewer becomes part of a narrative structure as soon as he or she enters the exhibition space. This is also referred to by the installation Sie irren sich [All are mistaken] (2011). A disconnected microphone on a stand is positioned in front of a picture frame; on the other side of the space there is a blue curtain. In the frame we see the reverse side of a highly enlarged playing card. The curtain remains closed, the microphone silent and the card face down – these various elements only begin to speak when the viewer enters the ‘stage’ and interpretively follows and advances Jana Müller’s options in relation to images, objects and gestures. The resulting stories are perhaps about the realms of the irrational, the suppressed and the disturbing – about subjective and collective fears, memories and fantasies which persist in the out-of-field and resist visual portrayal.
Kathrin Meyer from the Cataloge Jana Müller " So jung, so schön, so kriminell", The Green Box Verlag, 2013
 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image (Cinéma I. L’image-mouvement, 1983). trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London, New York: Continuum 2005), p. 18.
 ‘John Smith talking film with Cate Elwes. Trespassing beyond the frame’, John Smith Film and Video Works 1972–2002 (London: Picture This Moving Image/Watershed Media Centre 2002), p. 67.
 Sigmund Freud, ‘The Uncanny’, trans. Alix Strachey, http:// web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/freud1.pdf (accessed 23.12.2012), p. 1f.
 Ibid., p. 12f.
 Translated from Lilian Engelmann, ‘TAGEBUCH eins – Eine Installation von Jana Müller’, Bilder no. 201, exhibition brochure, (Vienna: Fotogalerie Wien 2005, p. 10). This text goes into greater detail about the fact that the house shown is the one where Jana Müller grew up.
 Jana Müller in conversation with Kathrin Meyer, 18.10.2012.
 Jana Müller in an e-mail to Kathrin Meyer, 2.12.2012.
armchair, axe, cavity, delirium, floorboards, money, mother, pattern, silence
It is not over until the fat lady sings
Sie Irren sich
Ape-face, blue, calculation, change, chaos, circus, cracks, curtain, dichotomy, dizziness, gambling, game, gold leaf, loser, magician, mirror, norms, note, oak table, ornament, pedestal, sermon, stars, swindle, velvet, violet
Sie irren sich
Separated from the rest of the space by a stage-like curtain, the installation “Sie irren sich” (“All are mistaken”) functions even more visibly as an experimental site on which alternative modes of meaning are staged. Objects are brought into a relationship with each other without forming a coherent whole. The viewer is thrown back on his or her own imaginative capacity.
On view is a golden picture frame which contains an enlarged reproduction of the ornamental back of a playing card. The card is thus used not as a ready-made but an image, which foregrounds its sign-like and symbolic character. In another way, this also applies to the historicizing portrait frame reminiscent of ancestral picture galleries, which was transferred, in its capacity as a sign, to a different representational regime. Whereas the frame directs our gaze towards the past, the playing card can be interpreted as a metaphor for open questions about the future. However, since it cannot be turned, the alleged meaning-infused front remains hidden. A potential message doesn’t show up – or at least we have no access to it.
As a result, the non-penetrable, self-referential surface of the card causes a communication breakdown, which is followed by yet another one. Following the spatio-situational logic of Jana Müller’s mise en scène, the card is directly facing not so much the viewer themselves, but a microphone with a cut-off cable. An instrument intended to facilitate communication is here set to obstruct or bring it to a halt. A missing statement, a mute microphone: A space of potential generation and transmission of ideas appears to be affected by a systemic error. Perhaps a sign of a crisis of prevalent questions and communication patterns? A call to break the latter? And who is actually “wrong”? Due to its fragmented and uncommented staging of narrative and semantic structures, the installation resists the pinning down of a single sense. And therein lays its subversive force.
Vanja Sisek, 2016