Paula Muhr is exhibiting her spatial installation RAGE, which she conceived especially for Likovni salon, for the first time. The project continues her longstanding artistic research into the concept of identity and mechanisms that underlie the construction of normative forms of subjectivity.
Paula Muhr creates installations in which she juxtaposes staged photographs with archival material, texts, moving images and sound. Through her artistic practice, she explores the historically changing politics of gender and sexuality and the extent to which they affect the individual’s psychology. In this respect, her work relates to medicine and neuroscience, and their use of images as research tools. She is particularly interested in how various scientific practices deploy the medium of photography for mapping and categorising an array of psychological phenomena in order to create apparently objective knowledge, which then provides the basis for wide-ranging social disciplining practices. In her work, she has devoted a lot of attention to hysteria and hypnosis, examining historical processes and contemporary approaches to treating these phenomena. The 19-century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was the first to systematically use photography in medical context to define and display hysteria. In several of her projects, the artist explores Charcot’s photographic archive and appropriates individual images. Through her artistic intervention, she questions the status of Charcot’s medical photographs as proof and foregrounds their constructed nature.
In her recent projects, Paula Muhr has shifted her focus to the analysis and representation of emotions. In Happiness (2013), she studied how neuroscience and psychology treat the feeling of happiness as a measurable and quantifiable unit. She playfully implemented the idea of accurately tracking her everyday activities and mapped her own feeling of happiness for 100 days by using a variety of encoding methods. In addition to recording her subjective search for the moments of pleasure, she joined a neuroscientific experiment in which scientists measured her brain activity while she played a game of chance. In the work Empathy (2015), which was produced during her residency in Celje as part of the Shame on you project, Muhr examined the rise in mental illness in correlation with unsustainable economic conditions and the underlying sense of personal shame.
Her latest piece, which is premiering at Likovni salon, deals with rage as one of the most intense and basic emotions. Muhr interprets rage as a response to the ever-growing pressures of contemporary society. The rage arises when an individual seemingly or actually loses control over his/her environment, feels threatened by it and reacts to this situation with aggression. At a time of permanent instability, repeated expressions of rage appear in the most intimate environments as well as within broader social and political frameworks, leaving behind destructive, often traumatic consequences. In an attempt to control and medicalise this potentially disruptive emotion, the field of science looks for its causes in the structure and functioning of the brain or the influence of hormones on the individual. More popular approaches focus on offering the individual – viewed as a potential consumer – a variety of self-help strategies for managing rage. In her new installation, Paula Muhr aims to circumvent such instrumentalisation and pathologisation of anger. She has staged a situation within the gallery space in which she recreates the stifling, suffocating and seemingly hopeless situation that an individual experiences when overtaken by rage. She has installed a cube-shaped object into the gallery, intended for only one viewer at a time. A new video piece is shown within this confined space, inviting the viewer to confront his/her own rage through snippets of neuroscience experiments and coaching sessions.
Paula Muhr (1977, Subotica) lives and works in Berlin. She studied Photography and Comparative Literature in Belgrade and received her master’s degree from the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig. She is currently undertaking a doctoral degree at the University of Humboldt in Berlin. She has presented her work in many international solo and group exhibitions, including at the Muzej moderne i suvremene umjetnosti Rijeka, Fotogalerie Wien, Kunsthalle der Sparkasse Leipzig, Fotogalleriet, Malmö, Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes, Tenerife, Centre national de l’audiovisuel Luxembourg, etc. In 2007, she received an award at the first international photography festival in Leipzig as well as the Sittcomm Award for Central European Photography (Bratislava). In 2014, she received the FEX Award for Experimental Photography (Dortmund).