ELLEN MUELLER: ON SURVIVAL AS SUBJECT MATTER
a micro-interview with Elaine Sexton
Elaine Sexton: Something clicks when we learn movement and performance plays a role in your making of Survival Skills. Feasting, gathering, churning, evaluating, all titles of individual collages, mix history and whimsy in this new body of work. Would you give some context to this portfolio of work shown here, and your focus on the hands, in particular, which is very much front and center in many of these pieces?
Ellen Mueller: What we are looking at is a series of small collages (5″x7″ each) and a zine (8.5″x5.5″) that came into being after the collages. While I was in residence at Weir Farm Art Center, I was exploring the idea of survival, from stereotypical wilderness tactics to intellectual survival. After an artist talk with the community, it was clear that people wanted a closer look at the small works, which often leads viewers to find further connections. The zine felt like a natural next step, as zines satisfy a deeply human desire for tactility and intimacy, while also being easily distributed. I also like how a zine provides further opportunities for visual juxtaposition as one flips through the pages.
Modes of Survival, 2018, color laser print on bond paper, 8.5”x5.5”
I used this format to delve deeper into my interest in adolescent literature focused on self-sufficiency and survival situated in nature (My Side of the Mountain, Swiss Family Robinson, Little House on the Prairie books, etc.). I use images from these novels, combined with imagery from old art history textbooks and personal training manuals. Combined, all these sources address various modes of survival, from physical to emotional to intellectual.
Hands come to the forefront in this zine, as I am also investigating how gestures can convey meaning that language cannot. With a multidimensional idea like survival, working beyond the bounds of language (through gesture and performance) is a way to discover both common ground and new information.
I’m also very interested in the role of mimicry: what does it mean to embody someone else’s gesture or pose? How does repetition of a particular gesture build meaning or emphasis? I want to explore using gestures and the body to liberate, amplify, or extend communication and speech.
Ellen Mueller (she/her pronouns) has exhibited nationally and internationally as an interdisciplinary artist exploring issues related to the environment, hyperactive news media and corporate management systems. She creates experiences that engage with social and political issues through a variety of media. Recent exhibitions include Body + Camera Festival at Mana Contemporary’s Chicago, Jersey City, and Miami locations; Color of the Year at Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids MI, and Land-Sc(r)aping at Living Arts in Tulsa OK. Artist residencies include Ucross Foundation, Santa Fe Art Institute, Nes Artist Residency in Iceland, Virginia Center for Creative Art where she was a Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Creative Fellow, Ox-Bow, Coast Time, Signal Culture, Playa Fellowship Artist Residency, and Künstlerhaus Lukas in Germany (full scholarship). Mueller has published two textbooks: Elements and Principles of 4D Art and Design (2016, Oxford University Press), and Remixing and Drawing: Sources, Influences, Styles (2018, Routledge Focus). Mueller is the director of the MFA Program at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Previously she has been a member of the faculty at UMass Dartmouth, West Virginia Wesleyan College, and Colorado State University-Pueblo. She received her MFA in Studio Art from University of South Florida. She completed a BA in Theatre and Art, and a BS in Design Technology from Bemidji State University. Additionally, she has obtained performance training at Dell’Arte International and the Brave New Workshop. ellenmueller.com