Stories are dummies
Puppets and performers: world premiere of Ivana Müller’s « Working Titles » in the brut co-produktionshaus
Helmut Ploebst

Ivana Müller has discovered an especially painful use for vivisection: dissecting the “story” while the patient is alive. This is painful both for those modernists who still believe in the power of the great narratives, and also for those who espouse the worn-out method of post-modern deconstruction.
This Croatian-born performance artist with a background in dance, whose latest piece Working Titles received its world premiere in the Brut im Künstlerhaus theatre, represents a new generation of critical artists who focus on communication culture in arts and the media. And thus a generation that has an extremely difficult time finding its way through the jungle of factions, hypes and power structures in entertainment, culture and politics. Parody no longer has any effect whatsoever; and moralizing has become a complete waste of time, too.
So what can one do? Müller takes as her point of departure a product dear to both culture vultures and entertainment consumers: the narrative. To this end she summons not only live performers but also puppets onto the stage. The live actors animate the dead ones, and that’s something we already know. However, Müller’s animated puppets, with names like Adam, Eva, Tina, Tom und so on, are all headless. So in a way they are doubly dead. And they are not simply puppets, but personified stories, dummies for the gush of narrative, as interchangeable and mutable as one can wish.
The eight scenes of Working Titles all bear apparently significant titles that active the audience’s imagination. In the scenes themselves, stereotypes of narration are mercilessly exposed. The aim of each told story, namely to be interesting, is undermined with ironic gestures and efficiently played into the ground.
During all this the performers remain as speechless as their dummies. The entire narrative material is beamed in brief sentences onto the backdrop of the stage, accompanied by sounds reminiscent of gongs or ping-pong balls and by a little music. The headless puppets are constantly being newly arranged, while sensational elements – terrorist attack, accident, Bollywood, fame, flirts, lonely death – are evoked but given no substance. The magical element of the suggested stories is half-conjured out of the hat and then, in a malicious turn of events, stuffed back into it again.
By the end of the piece, the product sold by the culture and communication business to its clients as “stories” has died under Müller’s artistic knife – but the sales pitch itself still remains, as paradoxical as the metaphorical tail that wags the dog. This is the most optimistic that a fundamental critique of culturtainment can possible be.

published in DER STANDARD, 13./14.02.2010