Lilli Muller, based in Los Angeles, California is a multi-award winning and internationally-collected artist. She has been honored by the City of LA and Art Share LA with the “Arts Incubator Humanitarian Award” for contributions in the arts community and many years of arts advocacy and recently recognized by the City of Los Angeles for The Mandala Project Los Angeles: The Wall installation. Lilli was born in Germany and grew up observing the Renaissance castles and the social, economic and political situations of European world wars. Her contemporary art pieces are based on present humanity, social, psychological perceptions around the world depicted through well-planned, studied objects, elements, textures and setting the right sources and reflection of light in and around her artworks. It’s just a difference of time and situations between the Renaissance and the present. Lilli’s artworks could be well-said as contemporary Renaissance. Her desire to freely create and find her own voice was debarked on a 6-month cross-country journey throughout the United States and then chose to settle in Southern California in 1980. Let’s learn more about her journey and artworks.
Portrait of artist in her studio 2019
Photo by Roch Armando
Lilli you recently launched your show “Headtrippin” in the most technologically advanced way through social media, that is IGTV, you are truly a multimedia artist. You call them quarantine works, what is it that relates to the quarantine time period and how would you describe it? You also have prints for the same, what are these prints about?
Inspired by our current events in this time of self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine, I felt compelled to explore a bit deeper the notions of what confinement really means to each of us individually, as the news - as well as our personal conversations - are dominated by this world-wide situation.
I don’t find the idea of self-isolation and staying at home to be a problem, especially as an artist, when much of my time has always been spent alone, creating. The concept of being responsible towards others in a global health crisis like this – when the whole world is affected – is not an infringement on anyone’s rights or a political statement as some see it, rather it is only a minor inconvenience to help stop the spread of the virus. In a time of crisis, it is not about “me” but about the global “WE.”
For this project, I questioned how the degree of feeling isolated, locked in, confined, and blocked relate to and are developed through the space and environment we are contained in.
Hence, I experimented with various stages and degrees of confinement in my own house and surroundings, to gauge the intensity and feelings the project would evoke, both in myself and the viewers of the various situations through my visual documentation.
My findings have led me to consider the relationship between physical and mental confinement, and how physical confinement does not necessarily confine your headspace. Your mind can still wander, travel, envision, create, be inspired and expand while being stuck in a contained space. The mind can take you on adventures, invent things, and even have relationships with others. Sometimes the best of what you feel or experience is all in your head.
On the other hand, we can all be completely stuck and locked up in our head while in the abundance of nature, in a crowd, even in our own home or studio.
How do we stay inspired, and can we inspire and empower others while in physical confinement?
With this work I was trying to push my own comfort threshold, as I experienced and explored the differences of confinement related to space and mind. At the same time, I wanted to mirror others and possibly show them a different perspective and angle to consider. The photographic documentation shows the various levels of confinement and subsequent discomfort endured throughout the photo shoot.
It was important to me that since the presentation could not be an immersive, in-person experience in a gallery space, it had to work in a way that would evoke just as much of an emotional response and reaction as if the viewer were looking at the actual artwork in person. I had to figure out how to create an experience that would be emotionally impactful and thought-provoking while the whole world was social distancing.
To accomplish that, I had to create a multi-sensory experience. Hearing is such an important sense, with sound having the ability to really touch a person deeply, thus it became another essential element to the presentation. I had a custom soundtrack created by SONGBIRDOFFICIAL (www.songbirdofficial.com) that emphasized the tension and the effort to achieve the contortions required to squeeze myself into these spaces that are normally utilized in a much different way. This was the kind of discomfort I wanted to illustrate. The soundtrack set to the images (first close-up then full frame in slow -motion) helped to magnify and approximate a close intimate experience.
Limited edition prints (Edition of 100) are available in 4 different sizes. (please contact the artist directly)
“Headtrippin’ in a time of crisis: in my studio – close-up”
from the latest photo series : “Headtrippin’ in a time of crisis”, 2020
©2020 Lilli Muller. All Rights Reserved
artist Lilli Muller
camera: Joe Moralez
How was the period of transition from two-dimensional to plaster casting a realization of your true artistic vision and made you a multimedia artist?
Before I came to the US, my early works consisted of drawings and collages based on my personal experience of being a woman in today’s society. My topics included personal growth, human relations, trials and tribulations, and heartache I experienced and witnessed in others. The drawings were never completely satisfying to me however, and I was always searching for another way to express myself and bring them to life.
I wanted my work to be more intense, more engaging with the viewer, more real. The day a friend invited me to assist him with creating a plaster cast of a torso I had an epiphany, as I finally discovered “my way”. I was not as interested in the liquid pour of a plaster mold that could replicate a perfect image of the subject and all their imperfections, rather I hoped to achieve something a bit more interpretive through that medium. He showed me a much quicker, more intimate and more immediate method of casting utilizing plaster gauze strips. It was my holy grail, my newfound 3D canvas, and a technique and process that would become my signature framework upon which I would build a new narrative.
Finally, I could express my content as a much more sensory-intense experience! I found myself not only replicating our own human patchwork with the layering gauze strips, but the yin-and-yang, positive and negative, concave and convex sides of which we are made. I discovered the balance is the opposite.
Detail of a “skewer” of 3
sculpture of stacked body parts on 3 “skewers”
from the “collateral Damage” sculpture body of work
©2020 Lilli Muller. All Rights Reserved.
You talk about differing perceptions, roles and culture in Europe and in the U.S, what different experiences and knowledge have both the places given you? How have the two different cultures transformed you into what you are today?
I decided to leave Germany for the United States in the 80s, and embarked upon a 6-month cross-country solo backpacking trip. It was a trip that changed my life. It was an opportunity for me to find my voice by exploring, discovering a different continent, a new culture, and experience the vastness of this country, so seemingly similar to Europe, yet so different in so many ways. I left Europe for the “Land of the Free” in order to have the opportunity of freedom to expand, grow and develop my own individual language and artistic voice. Being an artist in Germany was very difficult, due to an extremely conservative and structured bureaucratic system with rigid rules and regulations. It did not really allow for freedom of expression, or provide creative opportunities to discover the artist within and at the same time make a living. However, I was very surprised and at times shocked about the religious conservatism infiltrating everyday life in the US, the brutal truth of “survival of the strongest,” the homelessness, lack of a real health care system, and the problems concerning women’s rights and sexual freedom. Some of the adjustments were hard to take, and coming from a very sexually liberated Europe, I was constantly confronted and clashing with social norms, even in my artmaking and the use of nudity. But the freedom was essential to developing and evolving in my work.
Today I am most concerned about the vast differences in value systems and moral codes, which now after four decades, brings me 360 degrees around, back to traditional ways and ideologies of my homeland and the old country. I am now interested in using my experiences and my work here, and morphing it with my past, reimagining the traditions and structures of European history and bringing them back altered and fresh, transcending as a beacon of hope and faith. Only by learning from our past can we move forward, and be able to make decisions to bring this world into a new era of humanity.
Louise Bourgeois, whom I discovered through an article in Vogue a Magazine, was another turning point of your journey, also here is a deep connection with your “The Mandala Project Series,” Would you like to talk about it?
The first day I met Louise for an afternoon tea she began our conversation with one question that changed my life: “Where did you study?”. All my life I was anxious about that question, since I never studied formally. I took art classes here and there, studied life drawing on my own, and am pretty much self-taught. To my surprise she replied: “Good! I am glad, because now I don’t have to send you back home and undo everything you have learned, and start all over again.” Then she sent me outside to her backyard to “talk to the birds” while she looked at my (old-school) slides. This was all I needed to hear, and years of insecurity and anxiety disappeared. I felt transformed and empowered. “Authenticity is the key. Don’t listen to what the agent says, or what the dealer says, or what anyone says. You find your own unique voice, and you go for it. The rest is for the birds.” This was my mantra she would tell me over and over during our visits. It was a game-changer for me, and I follow that rule every day to this day, making art the way I see fit, from my gut - not what the market can bear, or what the latest trends might be. It is all about Humanity – and greater vision.
Those visits continued every year - sometimes twice a year - up until her passing. The first many year’s solo, later in great company during her then famous salon tea times. Those conversations changed my life and my artmaking profoundly. It clarified a challenge of what I really wanted to achieve in my artmaking as a life-time goal: to create a body of work that morphs over time, yet stays valid with time, therefore timeless.
I think the “Mandala Project Series” is the closest I have gotten to this goal so far. Yet, I am still on the mission!
An upcoming project where you plan to address the plight of thousands of unknown migrants who have perished in the desert while crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S, would you like to share more about it?
In 2018 I was invited to create an outdoor installation in the desert at Joshua Tree, California. I took this opportunity to create the “Mandala Project Desert: Collateral Damage”. It was an installation built upon the concept of a collective meditation on humanity, in response to the staggering worldwide numbers of lost and unidentified human beings trying to escape their homeland, risking everything for a better life. With this installation I created a 60’ diameter circle with raw bleached cast body parts, i.e. hands, feet, torsos, heads etc. set in the desert landscape. I met each visitor at the installation, and first walked them to the top of a ridge to look down upon it. The installation seemed small and removed from that distance, conjuring a similar reaction as the common response to the News; we are removed and detached, while the news continues to reduce human lives to political pawns and mere statistics and numbers. After the initial viewing, I would walk the visitors down the hill into the 60’ diameter circle, to accompany them to walk through a sea of body parts and limbs, a scene reminiscent of a plane crash or a battlefield, with sun-bleached symbolic “bones” that are still being found in the desert today.
“I wanted to give them an identity, a name, a respect for their struggle and their quest for a better life, and honor them for their lives that we will never know.”
You have also been working on some international projects, where could we see your works internationally and what would be the forms of art that would be presented there?
I have shown my work in Europe and the US, with multiple immersive and interactive installations.
In 2017 I created “The Mandala Project Venice: The Boat'' in the Chiesa delle Zitelle, in Venice, as a collateral event during the Venice Biennale, in response to the global refugee crisis. In 2019, I was invited back for another collateral event during the Biennale, and created an immersive installation to experience the “Mandala Project Venice: We Are Humanity,” in response to the global diaspora and displacement of millions of people every day. This experience included videos of the rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea by one of many NGOs SeaEye in particular (https://sea-eye.org/en/), and video documentations of other works I have done regarding the refugee and displacement situation worldwide.
My future plans include traveling around the world and making an impact in communities worldwide, collectively creating more installations as part of the ongoing Mandala Project Series. My work is about the people, for the people, and made with the people, for a specific space in time that will dissolve back into the communities after the duration of the projects’ life, where it continues infinitely.
I have created video documentations, interviews and books of these projects, as well as limited edition prints to finance these projects through donations, sponsorships, collector purchases and commissions.
Future Mandala Projects planned include “14 Days along the Berlin Wall”, a project addressing rape victims in India, a look back at 9/11, and many others as the world turns.
Talking about your multiple projects destined for Europe and the Middle East, you talk about the impact of one piece of art and one person at a time with complex multimedia exhibits. How would you describe these works of art?
The Mandala Project Series are immersive, interactive, time-based projects collectively-created with participation of the local community. The site-specific themes are based on the situation, environment, and surrounding significance in the communities, hence, the art experience is created in unison with, for and by the people. It is loosely based on both Eastern and Western concepts of the Mandala, and gives physical form to the human spirit, with the body as both literal location and esoteric conduit for attempts at a unified consciousness. It aims to collectively commemorate, celebrate, and heal, while offering a renewed sense of hope. The installation is designed to dissolve as participants and spectators claim and remove pieces of themselves from the circle. In this way the work provides a given community a physically unified form, literally built from the people who exist within it, and expresses the unstable zeitgeist of rapid cultural shifts, while preserving some of what is being lost. The art installation is complete when it is dismantled and no longer exists.
What are your upcoming projects? You are also planning to show in Venice Biennale and Cannaregio/Venice, would you like to share what kind of artworks would the audience get to see there?
I am invited to participate with another collateral event during the upcoming Venice Biennale in Spring 2022. This “Mandala Project Venice” is still evolving and morphing while the world changes around us at the speed of light. As “normal life” is re-defined by the pandemic, economic and government upheaval, and wide-spread death worldwide, there is and will be much more to discuss, dissect and disseminate. It will certainly have a spiritual theme regarding the global state of humanity.
Fundraising for that installation will be starting in January 2021. Sponsorship opportunities for art patrons, collectors and philanthropists are available; all are invited to join me and donate towards this amazing project. Packages are available to participate and spend time with me in Venice on a private tour through the exhibition and the famous historic, unique installation site, as well as the surrounding islands and special hidden gems. For more info please contact me directly (Tax deductible donations through a related non-profit 501c3 are available)
Being a multi-disciplinary artist, there must be some new creativity taking place in your studio, would you like to share what is it that you have been currently working on?
Thanks to social media and the digital world, I can now be more experimental, reinvent myself and create new kinds of work using all available digital platforms in new ways.
I am trying to expand and stretch the experience for the viewer, and create a place that allows the work to “get under your skin” just as much virtually as it might in person. It is exciting to evolve with new ways of creating and imagining how to touch and feel the viewer, while practicing social distancing and being at home most of the time.
Currently I am working on 6 different projects. A few use body parts and casts that I still have in my inventory. Others involve interesting materials found around the house, and a few revolve around the confinement and new social distancing reality we are currently living in. Exciting and incredibly inspiring times for me!
Do you see COVID19 affecting your artworks in anyways? How does it feel to be quarantined as an artist and what would be the piece of motivation for all the artist readers during this time quarantine?
Creating art that is meant to be interactive during a quarantine, lockdown and prolonged period of social distancing is a great challenge. How to create work that has the same impact of an installation collectively created without any actual physical contact? Those strict limitations required a new process, and utilizing social media and the digital platform in the artmaking methods which we usually don’t employ. I am trying to expand and stretch the experience for a similar emotional response from a virtual world that will approximate the experience as if it were an actual in-person one. It is a challenge but I think some exciting new work is coming out of it.
We are all in this together, and we are all affected by Covid-19. The world has changed drastically and is fluid now, changing every day, every hour, every minute.
As far as my work is concerned, I never look at the situation from a simply literal or isolated angle, but rather I imagine the perspective further out, including the entire planet as a whole. I ask myself what are the bigger issues / questions / problems / lessons to be addressed on a larger scale, behind this particular moment in time.
This is a time for change, a global reset.
As artists we have a great responsibility, as our work will provoke emotional reactions, revelations, experiences, and discoveries. This is an important time to create work that can help people look at things differently. Now, our roles as artists are to create, empower, teach and inspire others. To create the kind of art that will evoke change.
“Getting people engaged in the artmaking process offers them a different awareness while mirroring their own life experiences. As I have witnessed over the years, it is no longer simply about the artwork itself, but the personal impact it has on each individual, and any further change it may cause. This inspires me to continue making art for the people, with the people, and about the people.” By Lilli Muller