the making of mother/ life/ return, to die
When in 1986 Pieter Baan Müller finished his studies at the AKI (Academy for Art and Industry) in Enschede, he had already completed a number of video productions. He set out as a painter, but quickly turned to video, to which he had been introduced at the AKI. He felt that painting was too complicated and time-consuming. It took him an average of three months to produce a painting with which he was satisfied. He takes more pleasure in the production of videos, which better suits his purposive and direct way of working.
conception/ become car/ death
Müller feels that the technical quality of his work is of minor importance: As long as you can still see what is happening, as long as you can still see that a hammer is a hammer, everything is all right. In his work, the idea is the most important aspect. The medium and the techniques employed are important only as useful means for the expression of the idea. If an idea can be expressed more clearly in a booklet than in a video, he will opt for the booklet.
birth/ learning to fly/ new life
The video work of Müller testifies to a great simplicity, which does not mean that one cannot argue about the contents. It rather means that this content is expressed in as simple a way as possible. His most recent installation The car in my life as a bird (1986) illustrates this point rather well.
On a small piece of paper, the artist draws a little woman. The sound of birds can be heard. The artist places a hard-boiled egg on the piece of paper in such a way that the oval form of the egg almost completely covers the woman. The bird sounds are replaced by the sound of a car starting up. A car, of which only one wheel is shown, drives across the paper and the egg. The artist sweeps up the pieces of the smashed egg and folds them in the piece of paper, all the while imitating the sound of a car. When he removes the piece of paper, a blue toy car emerges, a Beetle.
Pieter Baan Müller walks barefoot across a sheet of paper. His footprints are black. He lets the toy car drive around his footprints, while he is making car sounds. Finally it ends up in one of the shoes standing at the end of track. A large sheet of paper has been attached to the wall; on it a blue car has been painted, in profile. The artist is standing next to the car; then he jumps. The sound of a car starting up can be heard. Each time the engine misfires, the artist remains suspended in the air. Then he disappears from the screen, leaving the car behind.
In a painted decor, the Beetle is driving along the road through the forest full of singing birds. Then it smashes head- on into a tree.
The following images were shot in the open air: a bird is circling in the air, while in the background we hear the sound of a bird's whistle. This sequence is repeated several times.
In The car in my life as a bird, Müller lets phenomena that are familiar to everyone, spring from each other. In this way he establishes relations between things which in ordinary life are quite unconnected. In spite of this illogical construction, a statement is made: life and death are part of a cyclic process. The bird from the smashed egg returns to earth as a toy car. When the Beetle crashes into the tree, its life flows back to the bird's nest through the tree.
Even though the images are crystal-clear, this tape must be seen several times before a certain meaning can be distilled from it.
In this tape and also in his other works, Pieter Baan Müller uses other media from the visual arts, such as painting and performance. He does this mainly on practical grounds. When a certain object he needs is not at hand, he paints it. A performance is the simplest way to express something on video. Müller himself functions as the actor, because he knows exactly what to do. He does not use a text, because he sees a text as an obstacle in getting across an idea which should have universal validity.
Pieter Baan Müller The Queen in Russia 1985
A certain development can be seen in his work. If at first his work was mainly narrative, at present it tends to become more abstract. The car in my life as a bird provides a good example of this trend. Compared with The Queen in Russia, which forms part of the tape Travel scenes (1985), The car in my life as a bird is much more metaphorical in nature.
The whole story of The Queen in Russia is set in a painted decor. Through a snowy landscape, a coach is riding pursued by howling wolves. The clippety-clop of horses' hooves can be heard. The coach comes to a halt and the queen alights. She shakes hands with the subject who is welcoming her, and gives out orders in a peeping voice. The birds are warbling. The trees in the landscape lose their leaves. The subject who welcomed her sings the Wilhelmus (Dutch national hymn. ED) for the queen, before she rides away in the coach, once again pursued by a pack of wolves.
In this tape, Müller alternately plays the subject and the queen. All the phenomena and the characters have their usual and most obvious meaning.
Pieter Baan Müller The Queen in Russia 1985
In his more recent work, objects and living beings are put together in new relationships and function as symbols. In this wayan individual image-language is generated, capable of expressing ideas in an original way. We need not be surprised therefore that the artist refers to his latest work as video poems. For the artist, these video poems often help to define his position about certain ideas. He is very much interested in the process of thought. His video installation About the inside of my head (1986) was devoted to this subject. In this three monitor installation, several things that can take place in one's head are depicted; the thought of a woman, the idea, forgetting and remembering, and the problem.
Especially the way in which he depicts forgetting and remembering is striking. The installation is organized as follows: three monitors in a row; the monitor on the left shows the unclear image of a bunch of keys, the monitor on the right shows a lock. The real action is on the monitor in the middle. Pieter Baan Müller goes shopping. He takes his money and shopping list and his bag. He walks to the front door, opens it and sees the lock. These last images are in slow-motion. In his mind he goes over all kinds of objects. This is visualized as follows: the greater part of the screen is covered by a plate, in which a keyhole has been cut. Through this 'keyhole', the spectators see the objects that were on the table in the room move past. When the keys are moving past the keyhole, the images of the-two outer monitors become sharper. Müller walks back, picks up his keys and walks out.
Thoughts and mental leaps are recurrent elements in the work of Pieter Baan Müller. He uses different media to ex~ press these thoughts in a coherent way. He expresses himself in a very simple, yet individual way. He confines himself to the essentials, and in this way forces the spectators to determine their position towards his work. He creates visual poetry in a characteristic style: apparently simple, and very expressive.
Translation: Fokke Sluiter