Born 1975, Basel, Switzerland. Lives and works Fremantle, Western Australia
Building on existing bodies of work exploring the themes of perception, and the invisible aspects of natural phenomena, through the use of temporary time-based installation connected with apparitions and mythological landscapes, Tom Mùller explores expansive geographies, sweeping timeframes and sequences of history. And yet, at the same time, he is attentive to fine detail, to the specificities of things local, to the poetry of small, momentary and fleeting things that resonate. Mùller is the co-founder and current Artistic Director of the Fremantle Biennale.
by Robert Cook
Tom’s on the phone.
I’m reminded: his accent, still Swiss-ish, always muscular, makes words that are substances.
When he says, ‘thick, white, milky’, he’s not describing but creating the physical quality of the ‘fog’ – (talking it into reality) – the fog that’s the medium he’s using for Ghost Line (2019), the stuff marking out the space and time of what is, I guess, a large-scale site-performance in its way, a line of cloud (though still fog) that rushes into dispersed being, on the hour, creating, well ...
The fog ‘is’ the ‘smoke’ of the steam trains that once passed through and rested, awhile, at Carriageworks when it was the Eveleigh Railway Workshops, announcing itself as poetic (poetic because impractical?) ‘evidence’ of industry and a social and cultural and economic world that is basically a chain of vaporous connections, an associative network re-tracking itself as a haunting (not a reminder).
Haunting (not a reminder), because it comes to life at the level of magic, the conjurer’s medium, (in a puff of) smoke concealing, (as much as) revealing et cetera, pulling us into focus, when, hey, should we be looking elsewhere?
We don’t know! We are overcome! As Tom says, ‘when the smoke [that it is fog, first, and as well] appears, there is an immediate confrontation and it is oppressive [his wonderful word]’, and then you lean into the work: ‘you can master the apprehension without visual reference points’.
Such great, heavy words, their stern stoicism, their purity, their overcoming of the self-ness, pushing into the unknown, moving through our instinct to panic in the face of a sudden sublime as Ghost Line works at the combined level of meniscus, border crossing, faith: that level-state where stories begin and end ... as the piece brings the phenomenological back to bear on the historical, the transcendent on the pragmatic.
Oh, clearly, there is something still unsettled, not wholly site-specific, about all this (transient, transitional activity). Confirming it, Tom tells me about a cloud phenomenon, Sils Maria, a snake-like cloud that moves down and through a very high-up valley, swirling. He sends links to a recent-ish film about it (Clouds of Sils Maria), and one from 1924 too, the early one so painful in its longing, the slicing of the human world by something else, displacing us, even now we as we watch it, a mordant shock to the self, such that ...
Ghost Line is for sure as much cloud formation as smoke, as fog, too, and I realise in saying this, that I’m right in thinking that it’s as if the work is escaping itself. Staged at Carriageworks, it is always leaving that site even as it brings us back to it. Given that, Tom’s passing phone reference to the Sils Maria cloud formation as ‘mythological’ applies here too. It’s like the modes of mapping he’s dealing with are processes whereby the ceaseless flip between covering, smothering and opening, between this place and all the other places (they multiply), that are the very essence of mapping (that is at the heart of so much of his work), are re-performed in this piece as thickly experienced tricks that captivate, wrong foot and send us back to our bodies, by way of casting us beyond them.
Ghost Line is activated at 11am and 4pm daily.