"About the Preoccupation with Simple Things." That was the title of a group show presented by Monika Reitz in her gallery years ago. Christopher Muller took part in that show and has dedicated himself to this preoccupation almost unlike anyone else. He is now showing new works in Reitz's space under the much more mundane title "Where does This Go." Put as a question, this always arises whenever one is engulfed by the world of things and cannot decide whether to keep something or throw it away. Muller, born in London in 1967 and now residing in Dusseldorf, has a ready solution to the dilemma. By omitting the question mark, he frees the things from the obligation to belong to a special place, or to be used for a particular purpose. His photos manifestly complement the exhibition's title: the things belong precisely here – everything has its place. Thus, Muller's work is also borne along by a strong undercurrent of reconciliation with the world.
A lamp with a white shade stands in front of a white wall; the plug lies next to it. At its foot is a simple white stool (Unplugged, 1999). Lined up next to each other in another photo: a bright blue plastic bucket with a slightly rusted handle; a wooden object whose use is not visible; in it are a purple dustpan and a brush. To the right is a wooden stool, painted green, whose legs have been shortened (In the Box and Out of It II, 2000).
All these things, which one has seen a thousand times, come face to face with one, perfectly illuminated, and yet surrounded by a veil of mystery. Because we've never seen them like this before? No, the mystery of the things emerges because Muller has taken these serviceable, unremarkable things out of everyday circulation, and set them before us. Because one must look at things that one normally uses and then clears away.
"It appears to me as if there is still a great deal to say about the most simple things." This famous sentence of French author Francis Ponge might be the right motto to inscribe above Muller's photographs. However, his work is liberated from the pathos of dignity that still drowns Ponge's texts about ordinary things. More important to Muller is disturbance, occurring when one sees two leaves lying in a collection of cream, medicine, and toothpaste packages (Forever, 1999). Or humor, when a Q-tip lies next to two halves of a chocolate ice cream (N.N., 2000). These photographs then become snippets of stories that one can make heads and tails of. The objects are brought into social contexts that remain invisible. That is, they have been so until now; but Muller has begun to focus more intensively on this aspect of his work. In The Students (1999), one asks oneself why the introspective-looking woman holds a hammer in her hand, and what does she have to do with the young man who stands behind her, absorbed in reading a book. This is the first photo in which Muller works with an image of people.
He has been taking exterior photos for a longer period of time. A large format cityscape (Around the Corner II, 1999) shows half of an advertising billboard combined with a photograph of a street corner. Despite the dull motif, the imagination is nevertheless moved by the details. There is a bicycle tire, an empty water bottle; a plastic tub lies in the street. One would usually pass by all of these things without noticing; in Muller's photographs, one cannot ignore them.
Translated by Allison Plath-Moseley