Ellen Mueller

What It Takes

This work was developed in the months directly before and after the 2016 American presidential election. I use the cheerleader as a compelling allegorical archetype when considering the paradoxical requirements of being a presidential candidate who identifies as a woman. I am interested in what it takes to maintain the duality of being both a leader and a conformist; to be simultaneously an individual and a team member; being cheerful, on-point, ready, and prepared. What it takes to be a follower, a supporter, a woman, a patriot, a hero, a human; being trustworthy, loyal, fearless, bold, loud, synchronized, and well-practiced. I am asking questions about how this cliché of coexisting opposites is constructed and what are we left with after deconstruction.

I use the action of seam ripping and cutting to represent the careful taking apart and examination of stereotypes about women in American culture. The footage of unmaking is presented simultaneously at various stages, mirroring the complexity of undoing harmful conventions. I used two cameras to shoot this work – one zoomed in on the hands, and one with a wider framing of the situation. The close cropping of many of the shots creates a sense of proximity and intimacy. I use this approach, keeping in mind, it can be more difficult to apply stereotypes to people we know more personally.

Many of my editing choices are influenced by the idea of holding attention, similar to that of an online or televised advertisement. I lean on the tools of storytelling and narrative: there is a definite beginning and end to each video in this series. Each piece has a slightly different rhythm and soundscape, with the goal of holding the viewer’s attention through the building and releasing of intensity, as well as varied pacing. Repetition, reflection, and audio interruptions are all used to catch the viewer’s attention.

This is a selection of stills from the videos, and documentation from some of the different screening locations.

Screening History

Anomalies, Drake Gallery, St. Paul MN, 2023
On Repeat
, Poole Gallery, University of Montevallo, AL, 2020
Revolutions Per Minute Festival, UMass Boston, 2019
Cube Art Project, Lincoln NE, 2018
MACAA Members Exhibition, Eisentrager-Howard Gallery, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2018
Converge, UMass Dartmouth Gallery 244, 2018
Cornered, WonerRoot, Atlanta GA, 2017
What It Takes, Bunker Projects, Pittsburg PA, 2016
Creative Pinellas Film Festival, Gulf Coast Museum of Art, Largo FL, 2016

Influences include the performative and video works of Yoko Ono, Joan Jonas, and Martha Rosler, as well as glitch aesthetics.

This performance consisted of cheerleading uniforms and seam rippers on a table. I was wearing one of the uniforms and invited participants to help deconstruct the uniforms with me, while holding conversation. Participants were told that the detritus would be used to create and installation in the space the following day. Conversation moved from issues of sweatshop labor and cheerleader compensation, to feminist and political reflections. Many remarked that the process of deconstructing the details on these items felt cathartic. It was striking to watch human adeptness at destroying things. It was remarkable the amount of damage they were capable of with such simple tools, once they were given permission.

After the performance, I spent time reconfiguring the detritus into a variety of hanging sculptures arranged in a dense  installation. Visitors are welcome to wander throughout the objects, which move and sway slightly as people pass by.