April 2010, Interview with Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen

Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen, "A Letter for the Girl Chewing Gum", 2007
Performance still, Artists space, New York

German artist Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen explores abstract relations between drawings, performances and video art. The result is a collection of intriguing video pieces which transgress the boundaries of the digital apparatus in so far as they are often grounded in the performative act.

Having studied with Marina Abramovic at the HBK Braunschweig, it comes as no surprise that performance is a substantial element of his work. In fact, his screenings are often accompanied by a live performance, sometimes carried out by the artist himself. This obfuscation of the limits between the two works simultaneously on view, video and performance, challenges notions of narration, plot, language and space. As Mueller-Friedrichsen states, “The setting and staging of the performance-film becomes a performance repeating and duplicating the experience of the authentic. It’s not only a filmed past, it provokes its own new performance.

Though we both live in Berlin, the interview was done online. Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen’s emails to me were constantly interjected with news of him first winning the Boskamp Foundation prize for young German artists, then with invitations to hold a solo show at Galerie Otto Schweins during Art Cologne and to participate at another group show. Just before this promising artist takes off, I got the chance to discuss narration, authorship, memory and relationships with him.

Hili Perlson: Your work is centered on language and textuality. In your videos, texts are deconstructed and words are given somewhat surprising physical interpretations. What does language mean to you?

Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen: I use language as a material which includes also nonverbal language through conscious or unconscious gestures and movements. We all use it, know it and we are all inspired by it. That’s why I like to work with it. Language is everything for me, unless you plan on keeping your mouth shut and living by what others tell you to do.

HP: Boundaries between narration and action are often obliterated in your videos and the lack of authorship gives a sense of volatility to the plot. It’s almost as if chance enters the story and plays a role in its outcome. On the other hand, the scripts - which often feature as objects in the videos, and are integrated in the narration/action – seem to be meticulously composed. How do you go about constructing a piece?

Usually I start with the script and drawings. Then I mostly already know which direction I have to follow by dealing with the material and the space. Then I start shooting. Later, the editing process is very important for me. I guess I work quite process-oriented and indeed, sometimes I let chance enter. For example in “Silence Delay” I handed out slightly different scripts to the performers. At some point during the shoot they realize that they have different scripts and start discussing how to react to that and how to continue the movie. I could never have written such good dialogs. After the shooting, I use all the material and sometimes I add material which just came out of the shoot and wasn’t intended to be included. After composing all the stuff, I usually try to simplify everything and kill my darling first.

HP: Kill your darling?

DMF: Mostly I fall in love with a special detail and then I focus on that for a while but when it comes to finishing the piece, it’s not really relevant for the whole piece. So I erase it later.


Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen, "Insert Subtitle Here", 2009
Performance documentation, The Office, Berlin


 Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen, "A Letter for the Girl Chewing Gum", 2007
Performance still, Artists space, New York

Space and time are also defragmented in the videos. Spatial boundaries are transcended to include both the video projection and the live performance at the screening space. What are the different spatial levels existing in your work?

DMF: Yes, you kind of answered this question already. I establish the space in the video and the screening space where the viewer puts text and image together. It’s like a 3-D Video.

True, I answered the question myself, but I was trying to get you to speak about another level that’s created, namely that of authorship in the piece. Since you yourself perform at the screenings, and are the creator of the piece, the question of authorship or an omniscient narrator enters the plot. It reminds me of the French
nouveau roman movement, where the authors would defragment space and time in order to question their own credibility as originator of the literary text, memory being an unreliable source.

DMF: Memory plays an important part. I’m fascinated with the way memories can change, especially bad memories, and how untrustworthy memories are. I question authorship by mixing performance documentation and fictional material while I play out a charade so it becomes a puzzle. I do this mostly out of pragmatic reasons and like it that it raises questions.

Can the work exist without the live performance? How is a piece changed when viewed without the performance?

DMF: Something exclusive is missing of course. Actually, it’s seeing part of the working process that’s missing. But the video is a trace linked to the performance. It`s a narrative tableau including a performative character in production process, through text, association and in ephemeral existentiality. So the setting and staging of the performance-video provokes its own new performance.

HP: Music is also an integral part of your pieces. How is the musical score created?

It depends, it is different each time. I always work with the same composer Markus Hinz. I like to work with the same people in general. Working with friends as performers documents my life in a certain way too and I like this aspect. So mostly I explain very roughly what the piece is about and then he come up with a few ideas. He has a good sense of what kind of direction I want to achieve. I tell him what sequence is important and in what direction. Silence is an integral part.

HP: Since you rather work with friends than with actors, would you say that the subject matter for you is often relationships?
DMF: Yes, or rather the impossibility of relationships. But mainly the relationships of the performers to each other during the process of the work. How they are shaped by the space around them and by structures of power in relationships as well.

HP: Your characters have complex relationships with each other, though, given that they move between different levels of narration. Sometimes, it even seems as if each character is given its own space and time and interactions move parallel to each other. Is language-based interaction for you something that always leaves room for miscommunication?

DMF: Yes absolutely. The worst comes out in love relationships. If lovers intend to understand each other they should avoid speaking at all. Otherwise they are just stuck in the communication paradox but sometimes out of this miscommunication a poetic outcome for a new story is created. 


Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen, "A Letter for the Girl Chewing Gum", 2007
Production still, Artists space, New York

To watch Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen’s video art, go to:

Upcoming show:
Daniel Mueller-Friedrichsen "Plot Holes"
From April 22nd through May 6th, 2010.
Galerie Otto Schweins, Mohrenstr. 21 
50670 Köln


Hili Perlson

Hili Perlson is a freelance art journalist and critic based in Berlin. She is a co-founder of Meta Magazine

view all articles from this author