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Ontario
Kim Neudorf
Stephen Mueller at Artcite in Windsor
July 16, 2013

Ways of Living, Stephen Mueller's current exhibition and durational performance at Windsor's Artcite, is roughly in the middle of its two-month run. On the left side of the gallery, the artist (completely covered by a floor-length sheet) sits silently and motionlessly at a small table. The chair opposite him is "occupied" by an upended table upon which several chairs perch tenuously. This silent dialogue, contingent upon the gallery's public hours, is to last uninterrupted until August 3. To Mueller's right are two white sheets hung as screens that face each other (echoing Mueller's performance on the left) at opposite ends of a plinth and vitrine, inside which sits a jar of dark liquid. Projected upon each screen is time-lapse documentation of a previous durational performance wherein Mueller meticulously de-bearded his face, hair by hair. Inside the jar is the remaining evidence, indifferent to the abrasive presence of the twin projections surrounding it. The somnolent, vaguely haunted feeling of the exhibition is heightened by the gallery's darkness, as it is lit only by a dim afternoon pall and accompanying slippery play of sunlight upon surfaces.



Stephen Mueller, Still Believing, 2013, durational performance (photo: Rory O'Connor)

The formal and logistical configuration of this face-to-face work immediately references the vast array of images and reports of well-known durational pieces such as Marina Abramovic's 2010 performance at MOMA. Mueller acknowledges this in an accompanying text, suggesting that this inherent and/or deliberate quotation is meant to "conjure and reconfigure," rather than merely rely on validation via such well-known performances. Additional pop-cultural links are also deliberate but transitory, such as the ghost-assembled chairs in the 1982 film Poltergeist or the chess match in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Mueller's work feels as though it strives for its own kind of eventfulness.

Throughout my visit, ambient noise and traffic fluctuated, consisting of much gallery staff banter (including phone calls, coughs, sneezes, and some loud sighs) amongst themselves and with visitors. The frenetic pulsing of Mueller in the projections became an exaggerated version of the invisible assertion of his body in real time. My own tightly knitted anxiousness on behalf of the artist was repeatedly amplified by the interruptions and surrounding noise, creating more distance between me and the performance itself. These are some of the palpable (and perhaps deliberate) contradictions within his self-imposed durational isolation and his interest in direct, if silent dialogue with his audience. While this seems in keeping with his broader interest in personal stubbornness, failure, and futility, it also evokes several questions about the inherently territorial nature of both social space and the very un-neutral (or unnatural) space of a gallery.

Mueller's work reminds me how these and other phenomenological factors become an inescapable and yet vital part of my experience with any exhibition. The competing push-pull behavior of the exhibition space, its staff, the work (not to mention the artist himself), as well as the comedic "noise" of my own body, fascinates and grates at me long afterwards.


Artcite: http://www.artcite.ca/
Stephen Mueller: Ways of Living continues until August 3.


Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer currently living in London, Ontario. Her paintings have shown widely in Alberta, including the Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Stride Gallery, and Skew Gallery in Calgary. She has contributed writing to FFWD, shotgun-review.ca, Prairie Artsters, Hamilton Arts & Letters, Stride Gallery, Truck Gallery, and most recently Susan Hobbs Gallery. She is Akimbo's London correspondent and can be followed @KimNeudorf on Twitter.

 

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