BROOKLYN | Ulrike Müller, an Austrian-born artist in New York City, had a great idea for a mash-up. What if she gave found descriptions of T-shirt images stored in an archive of lesbian history to 100 artists? Her invitation: Make art.
Then, what if she took the keywords she used to access that archive to make a selection of objects from the Brooklyn Museum‘s collection? The job: Enter search terms like “flower,” “hand,” “rainbow” and “triangle” and “axe/labyrs.” (The labrys or “lip” is a double-headed axe and a ritual symbol in ancient Crete. It was carried only by women.)
Te result is Müller’s conceptual project, “Herstory Inventory” (presently on view through September 9, 2023). This theatrical installation pushes together two sets of created inventory.
The first group is a collaborative feminist drawing project. Starting in 2009, Müller handed out descriptions of T-shirts (from 1970s onward) as drawing assignments to 100 international collaborators, many of them feminists and queer artists. A volunteer of the Lesbian Herstory Archive in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn had scribbled T-shirt descriptions. “A graphic of the island of lesbos with icons depicting different sites and tourist activities” reads one description. Müller found their language (“Peace symbol, heart, and upside down rainbow triangle” and “Many women’s symbols interlocked in a square pattern”) intriguing: “equal parts found poetry and historical record.”
Translation for academic-types: The Lesbian Herstory Archives becomes an imaginative source for “political fantasy and libidinal projection.” The period of time these images, insignia and symbols first appeared coincided with U.S. feminist discourse since the 1970s.
The second inventory comes from Müller’s selection from the lesbian archive based on the search terms she entered. She found ancient Egyptian amulets, colonial and Native American objects, an Alma W. Thomas watercolor, a Robert Mapplethorpe dinner plate and other museum-owned objects. All of this new and old “Herstory Inventory” now extend across four floors of the Brooklyn Museum.
From 2005-2008 Müller co-edited the gender queer feminist art journal LTTR. So naturally pieces from her self-organized “Herstory Inventory” have previously been shown in different iterations in publications and at the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria.
At the Brooklyn Museum, Müller’s press release states, the show “creates an experimental, speculative space.” It goes on:
The exhibition formally challenges the distinction between group and solo show and the notion of invisibility by putting aside preconceived notions of what can be found in museums and countercultural archives. It examines the visibility of queer bodies within mainstream culture and the museum and gives insight into artistic strategies of representational politics and formal invention.
A collective project that meets the imagination of individuals, it uncovers complex structures, in which the social and the individual become inseparable as personal, even intimate, experiences, are entwined with culturally shared ideas. Müller opens up a space for possibilities and dialog in a museum in which, rather than solidifying into a closed pictorial representation, individual and collective, contemporary and past gestures interweave.
Open and polyvocal, this installation practices a trenchant form of performance design. It’s got sociopolitical content. It’s interdisciplinary in form (artistic activity through drawing, painting, video, sound works, and performance”). Its mode is investigative and activist. Its desire is to push the boundaries of artistic critical engagement. — randy gener, in the theater of One World
Currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum, June 29–September 9, 2012, as part of the series “Raw/Cooked,” organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.
An Austria-born, New York–based artist. Ulrike Müller’s work has been shown in numerous group exhibitions internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include those at the Brooklyn Museum (June-September 2012), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2012), the Cairo Biennale (2010), and Artpace, San Antonio (2010). After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Müller took part in the Whitney Independent Study Program (2002–2003) and the PS1 International Studio Program (2003–2004). She currently serves on the faculty for the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA in Visual Art program and for the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.
Herstory Inventory artists
A. K. Burns, A. L. Steiner, Adriana Minoliti, Alhena Katsof, Allyson Mitchell, Amy Linton, Amy Sillman, Anni Viinikainen, B. E. Wiest, Barbara Eichhorn, Carola Dertnig, Carrie Yamaoka, Cauleen Smith, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Chitra Ganesh, Chris Castillo, Cristina Gómez Barrio, Dawn Kasper, Dean Daderko, Edie Fake, Elke Krystufek, Emily Roysdon, Erika Vogt, Faith Wilding, Fiona Rukschcio, Fox Hysen, Gabriela Santiago, Georgia Sydney Lassner, Ginger Brooks Takahashi und Dana Bishop-Root, Gregg Bordowitz, Guadalupe Rosales, Hans Scheirl, Iris Andraschek, Jamie Chan, JD Samson, Jennifer Montgomery, Jibz Cameron, Jocelyn Davis, Johanna und Mona Gustavsson, Johanna Kirsch, Jonah Groeneboer, Joy Episalla, Julie Evanoff, K8 Hardy, Kate Huh, Katherine Hubbard, Kathleen Hanna, Keltie Ferris, Kim Kelly, Lee Maida, Lee Relvas, Leidy Churchman, Leigh Ruple, Lily Benson, Linda Bilda, Linda Stillman, Lisa Ulik, Louise Fishman, Lovett & Codagnone, Lucy Dodd, Malin Arnell, Marget Long, Maria Gafarova, Mariah Garnett, Marie-Thérèse Escribano, Marlene McCarty, Math Bass, Matthew Lutz-Kinoy, Michaela Mélian, Michele Araujo, Michelle Dizon, Mitra Wakil, Monica Jane Peck, Moyra Davey, MPA, Myriam Lanau, Nancy Brooks Brody, Nicole Eisenman, Onya Hogan-Finlay, Pam Lins, Patricia Reschenbach, R. H. Quaytman, Ricarda Denzer, Robert Bordo, Robin Hustle, Sadie Benning, Sam Miller, Samara Davis, Shelly Silver, Simone Bader, Sowon Kwon, Tara Mateik, Taylor Davis, Terrilynn Quick, Therese Roth, Travis Boyer, Ulrike Müller, Wolfgang Mayer, Wynne Greenwood, Xylor Jane, and Zoe Leonard.
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