Artist Talk Background of the Background

Traces of Truth Exhibition, Detail © Jana Müller

Fri, 11.03.2022

2:00 PM


Artists Jana Müller and Matthew Cowan present their newest project research.

The project Background of the Background is a collaboration between visual artists Matthew Cowan (NZ) and Jana Müller (D). Their artistic practice is concerned with the role of museums and archives in the representation of identity and history and is intertwined with the potential of photography as document and performance.

From an artistic perspective, Cowan and Müller aim to uncover narratives unfolding from these archive materials, while developing a better understanding of how these backgrounds functioned on a practical, economic and artistic level. Alongside the engagement with the archival materials, a new series of works using analogue and digital materials is emerging.

The question of identity and its staging in reality or virtually is an omnipresent concern. Especially in the times of the pandemic, the background comes to the fore in digital encounters. The question arises: what do backgrounds mean from today's cultural level with a renewed understanding of how we present ourselves on Zoom, Instagram and other forms of image-based social media?

Matthew Cowan and Jana Müller are grateful for the support of the Nelson Provincial Museum and Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington as well as the Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa, Berlin.

Artist Biographies

Jana Müller, born in 1977 in Halle/Saale, studied artistic photography at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig and lives in Berlin. In recent years, she has taught at the Kunsthochschule Mainz and at the Universität der Künste Berlin. As an artist  she is a researcher in the field of criminology and forensics. In her research, she is equally concerned with the materialisation of memory and deals with diverse forms of archives and records. Currently, in her long-term project Falscher Hase (Mock Rabbit), she is following the traces of her father, who was a detective in GDR times. Her artistic works are exhibited internationally in a wide variety of contexts and she has received numerous grants for her projects, such as Stiftung Kunstfonds. Also worth mentioning are her regular collaborations with other artists, such as Matthew Cowan, for the project Background of the Background.

Matthew Cowan is a New Zealand artist based in Berlin. He is also a Doctoral candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts Helsinki, working in the realm of traditional European traditional customs. His works are photographs, videos, installations and performances, which play with the inherent strangeness of the continued popularity of long established folk customs in a modern world. These works can be viewed as performative, playing with the elements of folk rituals that give people a link to the past. Recent exhibitions have included artistic responses to artefacts and folk objects in museum collections, delving into structures that guide perceptions of popular histories and re-examining what is suggested as evidence in the historical presentation of identity.