The Living and the
Dead Introduction

What is a family and why make a big deal of it?
In the end, it’s just a show.
– Andreas Mühe

What is a family and why make a big deal of it? In the end, it’s just a show.
– Andreas Mühe

© MÜHE I, series Mischpoche, 2016 – 2019
Exhibition curated by Kristina Schrei und Udo Kittelmann
26.04. – 11.08.2019, Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin

For his solo exhibition Mischpoche at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, the artist Andreas Mühe (born in Karl- Marx-Stadt, now Chemnitz in 1979) has made several large-format photographic family portraits. These form the basis for a new series of works in which Mühe gets to grips with the trials and tribulations of family ties. In constructing settings that are obviously artificial and in using the iconography of traditional portrait painting, Mühe presents key figures from his family, including his father, the actor Ulrich Mühe who died in 2007, and his mother, the theater director Annegret Hahn. Around them are grouped others still living and those who have passed away: brothers, sisters, children, ex-wives, and grandchildren from four generations. They meet all together in these pictures for the first and last time. Based on photographs taken during their lives and using a complex production process, Mühe reproduced the individuals who have died as strikingly lifelike puppets. And there they stand now, as the dead among the living, all rendered the same age as the artist himself at the time of making the work.

In an interview with Udo Kittelmann (director of the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Mühe talks about photography, family, and the ideas behind the exhibition.

Udo Kittelmann: Andreas, does photography have a future?

Andreas Mühe: There is now no mass medium that is more prominent than photography. People are snowed under by pictures and the constant flash of cameras, yet this seething mass of images does not in the least contribute to sharpening the vision of people who are serious about photography. I think there have been times when photography was valued more highly and was more attractive. Right now we’re exposed to a deluge of pictures, a picture tsunami. No one knows anymore what they take on board and what they release to the world. Photography has come to resemble white noise.

UK: Out of this photographic hotchpotch, this white noise of trillions of images, how does one succeed in developing a personal style, something that bears an unmistakable signature as in your case?

AM: Control of your own tools is really the be-all and end-all. At some stage, I definitively settled for one camera type—no doubt a restrictive step to take. I commit to only a few tools, perhaps to achieve better results. Apart from restricting myself in this way, there is another aspect that has gradually come into being, step by step. Until two years ago I had to release the picture myself. This is changing right now. The pictures develop in advance and the camera has forced me to allow them to do so. The camera I’m using is so inflexible that the facility with which the camera can normally handle the object gets lost. To balance this I have to construct everything in advance or concentrate to such a degree and make suitable adjustments, so that everything becomes quite easy again, or static, or that it doesn’t matter. The camera is like a translator, and sometimes I feel that the pictures are already completely there in my head and all I would need is a printer; this would perhaps simplify my medium even further. But all those steps toward the finished product which make photography what it is would be cut out, including the constant self-questioning. Today, everything is all there on your mobile phone: you press the release button, you press “send,” and it’s gone. In analog photography, the process is different: you press the release button and you get a Polaroid. Already at the stage of the Polaroid you ask yourself, is this it, is this what I want to achieve? Then you expose it to film. The film goes to the lab. These days it takes one or two days; it used to take two hours. But even two hours was long enough to put everything into question again: yourself and what you’re doing. So all these corrections in the end lead to a result that maybe looks a bit more satisfactory.

© KONSTELLATION XXIII, series Mischpoche, 2016 – 2019

UK: In your new photographic series, you have concerned yourself with your family or – to put it more precisely – with your families, and you have devoted what I would like to call “a cycle” to them. Is your family really interesting enough to be given so much space? 

AM: Hubris, megalomania, and irony are all part of a work such as this. And questioning one’s ego. Family can be both a place where you feel safe and at home and a place of longing and refuge, it can be all sorts of things. I do think that every family is highly interesting in its constellation and for each of its members and that it is capable of making history accessible and contemporary. As I discovered during the preparation of this project my family is quite large and complex.

UK: Would you say that the family you come from is famous?

AM: I come from two families, of course, from my mother’s and my father’s side. All I can say is that of those two families, one is perhaps more famous, but only in terms of how that designation is recognized these days. I believe that both sides of this family coin are equally interesting because they reflect a hundred years of German history. What happened during the last one hundred years? You meet several generations in these pictures. The different generations are all the same age. So, at one’s own halfway point in life, you get to compare yourself with what is, what was, and what lay in store for people who have already lived their lives and experienced all these things in having reached this halfway point in the past.

UK: Would you say that one also encounters different mentalities in your family?

AM: I think you encounter different outlooks on life. These may well give rise to different mentalities. While it is true that the deceased members of the family are all presented at the same age, you still get an inkling of different time periods: people who were born around 1920 stand next to relatives born around 1950. And the rest of us, born in the early or late 1970s, are also part of the group. What have we experienced? What has shaped us? What do we have in common? What separates us? And if there is any antipathy, where does it come from? What is a family and why make a big deal of it? In the end, it’s just a show.

UK: We tried in a recent conversation to get to the bottom of what you’re doing in this photographic series about the families Mühe and Hahn or Hahn and Mühe. We examined different concepts and decided in the end that the analysis itself was an adequate concept. What does your analysis focus on in the photographs of your family?

AM: The theme of this work is the reliability of photography and calling it into question. To what extent is it possible to deliberately influence viewers? How far have I gone in my attempts in this direction in recent years? I have amalgamated fiction and reality to an extent where the hypothetical becomes real, even though the person depicted cannot possibly be whom he or she seems to be. How far can one go in this game? Is he or isn’t he the person he seems to be? What criteria does space have to meet for people to feel truly represented by it? How can you depict the social processes of our times? When does mediation set in and what triggers are needed for it to do so? If I claim to depict the truth, does that mean that I need to be highly credible? You catch sight of something for a moment and you think, this is how it must have been. Does capturing that moment constitute longed-for credibility? … Even in times when photoshopping is so omnipresent, people still want to see and believe. This is one side of the analysis in question. The flip side is, of course, questioning oneself with regard to the state of play. Who is one final, and what role pattern does one accept? Does one wish to confront awkward questions whose very formulation is difficult enough? This is the context where photography suddenly becomes a private matter of great intimacy.

UK: Which is something you can actually see in the photographs?

AM: I’ve had many discussions about this with my family. I grew up with an entirely different relationship to the public sphere. There has to my knowledge never been a “home story” or anything of the sort in our family. If one of these representatives of the art world put in a public appearance, it was always in connection with what they had achieved, their product. My work soon led my siblings to raise the question of where all this was heading, which they felt strongly about. It became clear very quickly that all this is no more than a staged event. This is not about truth or reality. As 70 71 stage director, I put something on the stage that hovers between longing and never having taken place. And this enabled me to put those at ease who worried about giving too much away.

UK: And what’s the situation like in the family now that you have completed the cycle?

AM: I’d like to say something about how all this began: During the A.M. trip across Germany [Mühe staged his mother as Angela Merkel traveling throughout the country, editorial note] we stopped off at the Villa Hügel in Essen. There I saw the Bohlen-Krupp-Halbach family portrait and couldn’t help smiling at the way the family presented itself. There were so many minute details; so much is conveyed with the help of color, proximity, who stands where with the help of … what’s the word I’m looking for? Codes! Decoding all that set me off on the path toward a large-format family portrait. That’s where it all began. What are the traditional occasions for such family reunions? Is it possible to organize such a gathering for no obvious reason? What happens these days is that everyone has their mobile phone at the ready and starts shooting pictures. In the old days, it was weddings, christenings, first days at school, confirmations, weddings again, and at some stage burials that caused the family to come together and have a photograph taken to commemorate the moment. All sorts of answers can be found for why you would want this memento. The proof for children that their childhood was wonderful or that once upon a time everyone was there … And now I find I have sort of lost the thread a bit …

© ETAGENWAGEN II, series Mischpoche, 2016 – 2019

UK: Let me return to my question: What is the situation of your family at the moment? 

AM: The family came together on days I had chosen for them, even though we had nothing to celebrate. In the end, they departed content and happy that we had found a moment to be together in hectic times such as these.

UK: The exhibition is titled Mischpoche …

AM: “Mischpoke,” “Mischpoche”: In Berlin, this term is often used to describe one’s relatives, one’s family, the tribe. It’s a collective term for the people you’re close to not by personal choice but because you’re linked to them by birth or, later on, by marriage. The title has several layers of meaning, including derogatory opinions, but the core meaning is that of family. The title is well suited to Berlin, precisely because of its Hebrew roots. It is typical of Berliners not to gush about their home and their family and in effect to be laid-back about them. However, even though their Mischpoke may cause them headaches and be a regular pain in the neck, they would never disparage them.

UK: A good deal of affection is always involved.

AM: Certainly, as far as I’m concerned, a good deal of affection is always involved.

This text is an edited version of a longer conversation between Udo Kittelmann and Andreas Mühe to be included in the forthcoming publication accompanying the exhibition curated with Kristina Schrei at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin.



Andreas Mühe (b. 1979, Karl-Marx-Stadt, Germany) lives and works in Berlin. His photography consciously creates staged images, permeated by themes such as power, ideology, past, and vanity. His photography analytically reconstructs images of German history that have long since been banished from visual memory. These images borrow the language of theater, as the majority employs professional actors, artificial light, and historically accurate costumes. His images thus capture seemingly authentic scenes that have been masterfully recreated to the smallest minutia. The inability to deny Andreas Mühe’s photographs of their supposed realism is ...
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