As an artist, critic and musician, Miller has used mannequins in his work to explore the notion of subjectivity for more than 20 years. In “Mannequin Death” Miller works with long-time collaborator Richard Hoeck to develop this enquiry in relation to notions of identification and landscape.
This mesmerizing and disturbing video references the inherent violence Immanuel Kant proposes in distinguishing the sublime from the beautiful. Standing precariously on a bucolic Alpine mountainside, a string of mannequins plummet over a cliff’s edge into a quarry, one-by-one. The perpetrator, apparently, a mannequin arm that comes abruptly into frame. Though the victims are unmistakably mannequins, the image of them crashing onto craggy rocks, their plastic limbs dislodging on their descent, remains an irreconcilably violent one. Miller and Hoeck elicit this reaction through the meticulous styling of the mannequins, which, like those encountered in department stores and shop windows, encourage viewers to identify and sympathize with them. Remarking on this, Miller compares these doomed lone figures with those set amid the grandiose landscapes of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Like Friedrich’s characters, Miller states that these mannequins constitute “empty subject positions,” acting as stand-ins for the viewer.
In February, White Walls published “More Alive Than Those Who Made Them,” a complete overview of Hoeck and Miller’s mannequin works. The Kunst-Werke, Berlin exhibited their collaborative works in 1999.
The first in-depth American museum exhibition of John Miller’s work is on view at the ICA Miami through June 12. He has had one-person exhibitions at Kunsthalle Zurich (accompanied by an extensive catalogue), Musée d’art moderne et Contemporain in Geneva, and Ludwig Museum in Cologne, where he was awarded the Wolfgang Hahn Prize in 2011. He participated in the 1985 and 1991 Whitney Biennials, as well as the 2005 Lyon and 2010 Gwangju Biennials. Additionally, he has regularly contributed to art journals such as Artforum and Texte Zur Kunst. Last year, Afterall Books published "Mike Kelley: Educational Complex," his most recent book.
Richard Hoeck lives and works in Vienna and Breslau, Austria. He has exhibited throughout Europe and his had one-person and collaborative exhibitions at Kunsthalle Krems, Austria; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; Voralberger Kunstverein, Bregenz, Austria; and the Galerie für Zeitgenoessiche Kunst, Leipzig.