Belgian artist Sali Muller’s autobiographical oeuvre addresses the universal feelings of self-doubt, self-reflection and self-revelation, specifically in the digital age.
Coupled with our desire to better ourselves, is the desire to destroy or self-destruct. It is this thinking that forms the basis of Muller’s work. Focusing on base functions and psychological experiences such as selfishness, she deconstructs how we see ourselves and how we create separate identities. Through broken shards of glass, incomplete shapes and split time, Muller draws attention to a contemporary obsession with self-image, transparency and youth — evident in this selfie obsessed generation. Her installations prompt the viewer to question at what point the self becomes other, and how we can we objectively distinguish what makes us unique.
Hand in hand with the preoccupation with self-image comes an acute awareness of passing time and aging. By creating pieces that appear to lose their original form (such as the series of diminishing frames) Muller alludes to the transitory nature of material objects and the inevitable death of living things. This seems particularly pertinent when considered in relation to society’s desire to remain young. In the following interview, we discuss narratives of “anti-reflection” and manipulating perceptions with the highly acclaimed artist.
Since your first exhibition, how would you say your style has developed?
My style has become more and more destructive. My key themes are deconstruction, fragmentation and dysfunctionality.
How do you think your own experience of living in a visually dominant culture (one that is obsessed with image/selfies/cameras) influences your work?
With my works, I am trying to direct our attention to the possibility of getting to the bottom of our visual culture. I am doing this by treating the contemporary obsession with the transparency of all private processes with skepticism and irony.
You work across sound and the visual. How do the two interact in your work?
The sound, which the used objects always convey as a resonating body within the restrained sound installations, adds a new layer to the signification of the works. The recording of the sounds is made at the time of the act of creation, which in turn lies in the ear of the viewer and evokes a world behind the artworks.
“Not least of all, I am addressing the issue of how we alienate ourselves from nature and from our own self-image.”
You state that your work causes people to self-reflect. To what extent would you say that your work then is your way of ‘finding’ yourself?
With my concept art, I am trying to investigate the role of the individual and my own role in relation to himself/myself and the environment. Not least of all, I am addressing the issue of how we alienate ourselves from nature and from our own self-image. My work stimulates reflection and, quite significantly, consists of mirrors which for the most part do not reflect images and have been treated in various ways. The mirror-works belong to an aspect of my oeuvre in which I am focusing on the subjectivity of perception. I am taking the mirror as the point of departure for a narrative of anti-reflection.
Can you explain what intrigues you about deconstruction or ‘decomposition’?
As time goes by, the installations are going through substantial changes, just like human beings. During the continuous disassembly into elementary parts the artworks are taken apart, losing their original shape and steadily their raison d’être. The presence or substance is reduced to a minimum through the destruction until only the spiritual existence remains. Those works confront the viewers with the destructive mentality andbehavior of human beings and their own self-destruction.
Your work centers around a “lack” or a sense of incompleteness. Where does this stem from?
I am tending to obscure the view onto my objects, something which causes the viewer to turn his attention back onto himself. Standing opposite the works, he is thrown back to what remains, what lies behind: in other words, to the question as to which substance he can possibly find in himself, or which instability he must endure in the dissolution of his self-image. In the encounter with my works – and with ourselves – we can learn transitoriness. But not only that: the latent melancholy disappears as soon as we face up to the latent self-image with which we are confronted and begin to see it as a given condition in our existence. Experiencing evanescence as something incomprehensible and fragmentary but also as something that belongs to us: my works allow, there where they draw the curtain, a new openness to be experienced.
All images © Sali Muller