‘There Is More To This Place Than Meets The Eye’: 
A Guided Tour Through A Theatrical Body
Laura Karreman

In Ivana Müller’s Under My Skin, a group (maximum 20) is invited to ‘step inside’ Müller’s own body to participate in an intimate guided tour through its interior. Ivana’s ‘body’ consists of a maze of wood-framed, variously sized rooms, separated by red curtains. Each room contains different body processes, accomplished by the body’s inhabitants. Tour guides explain the phenomena encountered by the spectators. For instance, the guides point out how body tissue can be repaired (by seamstresses, in the Mending Room) and how accelerated heart beats, which are produced by amplifying the sound of a fly swatter, are pre-recorded in the Sound Studio. In this bodily maze, the guides try to orientate the spectator by means of a map of the different rooms, and how they are connected. The body is a maze, and also a theatre, most specifically backstage. Entering this theatrical body, the audience literally is offered a look behind its curtains.
Under My Skin can be regarded as the second part of a performance diptych in which Ivana Müller explores her imagining of the relationship between body and mind. In the first part of the diptych, How Heavy Are My Thoughts, Müller asked: ‘If my thoughts are heavier than usual, is my head heavier than usual too?’ She then proceeded to subject this essentially metaphorical question to a series of empirical experiments, presented on stage in the form of a scientific lecture. Engaging in Under My Skin with themes similar to those in How Heavy Are My Thoughts – such as the comparison of scientific and artistic research, the identity and presence of the performer, and the reflection on ‘non-theatrical’ modes of representation – Müller continues to explore the relationship between body and mind, but now with a focus on the body. In the performance announcement she provides an explanation for her fascination with her body interior: ‘[T]he most physical part of me is the most difficult to imagine, and once I do it becomes an invented fictional place.’ Under My Skin is a theatre performance that explores the metaphorical concepts and ideas we use to think and fantasize about our bodies. By employing the formal conventions of a guided tour, it evokes questions about the representation of the body as a space that can be explored and mapped.
After the first tour guide has introduced himself to the audience, he opens a curtain covering a screen on which a picture of Ivana Müller, standing on a sidewalk, is projected: ‘This is an external view of the body we are all standing in. It is, as you can all see, a female body. She is known by the name of Ivana Müller.’ The image zooms in on Ivana’s head, the screen fades white, and then zooms out again, now showing a heavily schematized image of Müller’s body. The ‘inhabitants’ of the body and their different rooms can now be seen. In the middle of the screen a red circle starts to blink, marked with the words ‘you are here’.
The spectators are invited to look at this abstract overview as a ground plan of the body they are in, which they are about to discover in a guided tour. The schematized representation of Ivana’s body inevitably evokes associations with anatomical imagery. The image, with pathways connecting the rooms, is reminiscent of depictions of the network of blood vessels that links the organs in a human body. The ‘you are here’ sign emphasizes the function of the representation as a means to orientate the spectators, and invites them to consider the bodily space that is surrounding them as a topographical terrain.
The representation of Ivana’s body as a space that can be explored and mapped is directly reminiscent of the features of anatomical imagery in the early modern period. The visualization of the body in the ‘anatomical atlases’ of that time was based on a similar metaphor. Jonathan Sawday has argued that the journeys of discovery in the sixteenth century were not accidentally coincident with the emergence of these first modern scientific works on human anatomy. (Sawday, 1995, p. 23.) Sawday observes that the way the geographic discoverers were mapping the world influenced the conception of the body as an ‘undiscovered country’, an alien, unknown place that was yet to be explored. The anatomical atlases presented the positivist promise that, just like the most remote areas in the world, the body was a space that could be colonized and charted through the efforts of the anatomists.
The relationship between visualization, knowledge and control of the body that Sawday refers to is also one of the leading themes of Under My Skin. The tour guides are clearly concerned with showing the audience that they (the guides) ‘master’ their surroundings. Their intention is to present the body as a comprehensibly structured system. Yet, they have a lot of trouble with trying to maintain their authoritarian status when, time and again, they are confronted with various bodily phenomena they cannot explain nor control.
Soon after their entrance the visitors are informed that seventy percent of the body will be left out of the tour ‘due to safety reasons’. The tour guide explains that two Japanese tourists recently got lost and still have not been found. Despite these precautionary measures, at the beginning of the tour black creatures are already invading the room, crawling over the floor and harassing the audience. As the creatures return throughout the tour, the spectators are encouraged by the guides to stamp their feet at the floor next to them, to chase them away. Despite this, it is clear that the guides cannot control the creatures’ behavior, and that they are unnerved by these recurrent appearances. The mysterious black creatures also appear on the screens of the ‘monitoring system’, which shows the images of cameras that are supposedly set up all through the body. According to the guides, this surveillance system was installed to prevent disturbances and irregularities in the interior.
The monitory system in Under My Skin presents a view of the body as a repressive political system in which alien or dangerous elements, like the black creatures, are to be kept under surveillance to prevent any possible revolts that could threaten the existing establishment. This system illustrates the endeavors of the guides to exercise power over the body by means of visualization. Moreover, a successful demonstration of the body as a fully intelligible system contributes to their authoritarian status.
Just like modern anatomists, the guides set out to show that every phenomenon encountered has its own function, one that fits logically within the functioning of the body as a whole. They present the body as an anatomical body, which is visually represented in a way in which it can be known, and, hence, can be controlled. Near the end of the tour, the keeper of the Forgotten Space confronts both guide and audience with this (their) view of Ivana’s body as an anatomical body: ‘I suppose you want to see all the exciting and more glamorous places… but there is more to this place than meets the eye,’ he tells the audience. ‘The body has its mystery things that it doesn’t know what to do with.’ In this way, the keeper challenges the ability of using either functionality or spectacle, which are both features typical of the anatomical body, as a means to understand the body.
At the end of the tour the body map of Ivana Müller returns. The guide uses it to retrace the route that the group has just followed. A red dot appears on the screen and starts to move, following the quirky turns of the schematized paths that connect the rooms on the map. Although the audience members can recognize the names of the rooms they just passed through, the weird twists and turns of the connecting paths hardly correspond with their experience of the tour. The tour guide confirms this observation: ‘I suppose this schematic diagram is not so much like your experience of being here inside the body, is it?’
Once again, a specific feature of the visualization of the anatomical body is brought to the fore. Proceeding from Sawday’s remarks on the anatomical atlas, the sociologist Catherine Waldby, who has specialized in the social aspects of biotechnologies and the body, has observed that anatomical representation relies on a spatialization of the body in order to create a communicable knowledge (Waldby, 2000). Waldby argues that the form of the atlas ‘suggests both a spatiality and a temporality, insofar as one reads and turns its pages in a sequence [and hence] lends itself to a spatialized narrative about the body’s constitution’ (Waldby 2000, p. 94). The body in Under my Skin is similar to the body as it is represented in the anatomical atlas because in both cases it is impossible to perceive an overview of the whole body at once. Just like different pages in an anatomical atlas, every room in the tour through Ivana’s body represents a different bodily function or process. The guided tour in Under my Skin can also be regarded as a spatialized narration of ‘the body as a sequence of systems’. (Waldby 2000, p. 94.)
The representation of the body as a theatre in Under My Skin draws attention to the metaphorical nature of our conceptualization of the body interior. Müller presents the body as a dramatic world, a fictional place that we can only enter through our imagination. Whether we consider the body as a scientific object or as a fantastic space that can be explored, our understanding of the body is constructed by the way it is visualized and narrated in representations. The inability of the tour guides to explain and control the body reiterates the fascination, the wonder, but also the fear that characterized some of the main questions of the sixteenth-century natural philosophers’ main questions about the body: Will the soul be able to control the body? How do the soul and the body relate to each other? Under My Skin playfully engages with these questions, bringing up issues about the relationship between visualization and knowledge that have all but lost their relevance. ‘We’ve spent an hour discovering the inside of the body,’ the tour guide concludes the tour, ‘and we have only seen a glimpse of the body at work. Which is not surprising because the body is as infinite as the imagination.’


Sawday, J., The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture. London and New York, 1995.

Waldby, C., ‘Virtual Anatomy: From the Body in the Text to the Body on the Screen.’ In: Journal of Medical Humanities, 21, 2000.

Text published in Anatomy Live: Performance and the Operating Theatre, edited by Maaike Bleeker, 2008, Amsterdam University Press – www.aup.nl