Stephen Mueller's Please Don't Go
Stephen Mueller's Please Don't Go resumes and reformulates an earlier performance (The Ways
In Which We Keep On Dying, 2005), and ultimately confirms the artist's work, through its ritual,
custom-made iconography and promise of adherence to a symbolic scripture, denying all that is
futile in mortality.
In the most recent rendering of this endeavour, the artist performs a seemingly grueling task of
writing an elegant, if not neurotic, repetitive text in the confines of a laboratory-style
workstation, designed to accommodate his body. A two-way mirror allows the viewer in the
gallery to clearly observe him, while he cannot see beyond the internal reflection. The imposition
of infinity on the replicating self in the interior workspace, places the subject at the locus of the
event, constrained to the quietude of the claustrophobic structure. The minimalist aesthetic, from
the acrylic plexi-architecture to the surgical instruments and Stender dish data containers,
showcases Mueller's ardent consideration of every facet of the installation and performance. The
austerity of the aesthetic serves as a kind of cold veneer for the heart-wrenching act unfolding in
the confined space. Being in the gallery while the artist accumulates data, then assimilates and
catalogs it, leaves one feeling disquieted and consumed by the kind of reverence one might have
for a beautiful machine at work.
The artist serenely plies a unique trade; an obsessive pleading with his loved ones to not leave.
His course of action is to utilize a braille slate and stylus to poke the shape of inscribed
characters onto a strip of paper, only to obsessively cut out each raised marking with surgical
acuity moments later. The words I Miss You are then dissected from the paper as each braille
character is excised from the script, resulting in twenty-four specimen groups in separate glass
medicinal-looking containers. A strip of time is engulfed in the duration, falling as expired white
data and coiling the way paper's weave forces it, downward in gravity, becoming a tangle of
ribbon on the container’s mirrored floor. The ribbon, in the course of the performance, is more
and more complete, while they are closer still to going. The neurotic calculation evidenced on the
page embodies a formulation of scripture.
Mueller has acknowledged that fear of death is the driver for his work, citing
Terror Management Theory (TMT), which postulates that anxiety of physical annihilation is a
determining factor for human behaviour at both micro and macro levels. TMT contends that a
fear of death is suppressed through cognitive dissonance, and individuals exhibit symbolic rituals
and actions that adhere to a manufactured system that covers over this suppressed societal terror.
Against this backdrop, Mueller develops his strategy for art production.
Through master themes of infinity, death, ritual and scripture, the narrative of a newfound faith
plays out in real time, with those the artist holds dear to him as stakeholders in the ultimate writ
for Mueller's evolving system. Infinity and death at two poles, navigate a physical labour that
stands in for a transgression of tenured cultural belief systems. A brazen, obsessive enterprise
verges on the advent of personalized religion that contends openly with the suppressed fear of
annihilation. The ritualized act subsumes its futility in
an injunction that flirts with an ultimate redemption. Mortality salience (acknowledgement of
one's imminent death) becomes fully the unfinished project for which all symbolic structure and
arduous feats of remembrance enlist repetition and ritual. The living icons that represent
Mueller's closest relations and familial ties, also vie for the prospect of a realized iconography,
and potentially, an exacting, calculating belief to transcend the assurance of death as an end to all