Living Still consists of five works: Cenotaph, a jukebox that plays a selection of moments of silence clipped from history ranging from John Lennon’s death to contemporary silent protests; Man in Black (after Sonya Vasquez), two projection screens simultaneously displaying the left and right ears of Johnny Cash wax sculptures; Plaza, a portable parquet dance floor standing perpendicular to the ground; The Toe of Toribio Losoya (after William Easley)*, a photo documenting an artist-initiated intervention to create a legend of the “Unsung hero of the Alamo”; and Shot, a single-channel video montage tracking visitors to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, the site of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination. By blurring what distinguishes memorial from entertainment, Mueller strives to capture the universal desire to commemorate, while seducing the audience to engage with a sometimes overlooked or forgotten aspect of history.
In Cenotaph, Mueller presents a 1995 Rock-Ola “Legend” CD Jukebox, which contrasts strongly with its deliberately sparse surroundings. Inspired by the JFK cenotaph or “empty tomb” in Dallas, as well as the Alamo Cenotaph in San Antonio (honoring those who died in its defense), the viewer is invited to insert a coin into the jukebox and choose a moment of silence to be played aloud. The collection of 100 selections is listed in a “book” of CD choice cards displayed behind the jukebox’s glass pane, providing a place for the artist to insert his own decisions regarding the visual and textual representation for each track. The vintage-inspired jukebox is a vehicle for nostalgia, inducing in the viewer a sense of familiarity, while easing his or her interaction with the sometimes uncomfortable silence. Through the exchange, the viewer is confronted with multiple levels of personal choice that inevitably become public: to select a moment of silence to play aloud, and once determined, to decide how to react to the selection.
Man in Black (after Sonya Vasquez) portrays the left and right ears of Johnny Cash wax sculptures on display at San Antonio’s and Grand Prairie’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums, respectively. The videos depict the ears exactly as they are seen at each site-lighting unaltered-to communicate the theater of the venues’ bizarre and commemorative interior. Though both ears look incredibly lifelike, the right ear is broken off at the tip, a scar from overly curious visitors. Presented back to back, the placement of the projection screens encourages the viewer to move around their perimeter, as if to mimic the experience of a three-dimensional memorial statue. The representation of the late musician’s ears is significant to Mueller because of Cash’s iconic status, and as a reference to Egyptian hieroglyphs in which the ear symbolizes communication with the gods.
Shot is a projection of an edited single-channel video documenting visitors at the site where President John F. Kennedy was killed. With no statue or obvious monument to interact with, visitors take part in an unsolicited and delicate dance in and out of the street that guided Kennedy’s motorcade, where the only markers are two white duct tape Xs indicating the places where the 35th President of the United States was shot. Without variation, visitors wait for cars to pass by, then shuffle out into the street and proceed to take “shots” with their cameras, recreating the spatial relationships of the original incident.
Mueller’s Artpace exhibition highlights a variety of commemorative traditions. Often disguising the uncomfortable subject matter of death, his works exude a certain absence, either of words or people, which encourages onlookers to interact-unscripted. The memorials also function as vessels of transmission for connection: wax figures as surrogates for their deceased counterparts, ears as divine communication links, and a jukebox for emitting moments of silence. Taken all together,Living Still underscores the sense of spectacle associated with memorials, offering a critical but affirmative view of our obsession with our own impermanence.
*For more information about Mueller’s The Toe of Toribio Losoya (after William Easley) click here