Review me, my army and Harvey

Any resemblance to real-life characters is purely accidental

on being Anja Müller (2)

Me, my army and Harvey / Concept and performance: Anja Müller
Seen: May 22, 2007, Dance Unlimited Amsterdam

In her last performance I4, Anja Müller engaged four performers to conduct a research into the
philosophical question ‘who am I?’. They made four attempts, but failed to reach a final conclusion
about who Anja Müller really ‘is’. As I4 ended with a coffee-and-cookies-break, ‘Me, my army and
Harvey’ may be seen as the second part of this me-search. But this time, there’s only one Anja Müller
on stage. The one and only, real Anja Müller. Or...?

Starting off in the same playful mood as her last performance, Müller answers un-asked questions
from the audience about herself. About her favourite colour (‘It’s blue, it’s a kind of dark blue’), about
her profession (‘I’m a dancer, yes... contemporary dance’) and her professional qualities (‘Yes, I can
stretch my legs really high’), but she also answers more intimate questions, for instance whether she
has ever kissed a woman.

The performance continues in a collage-style, combining stand-up sketches, songs and video. All
scenes however revolve around the same question about the notion of the Self in relation to the
(non)presence of the material body. If this is my body, why doesn’t it feel like it? Do we really need a
body (of our own) to speak of a Self? At one point we are even looking at an empty microphone in the
middle of a spotlight, while we hear a spooky voice singing ‘Ghosts like me...’. Gradually, the mild tone
of the performance develops into a grimmer one.

Walking backwards into the light, Müller’s body writhes, twists and turns the legs and arms in painfullooking
positions. Accompanied by the soothing voice of a crooner-like singer, she ties herself into
strange knots. She lets her body drop on the floor in a not so gentle way; the ease of the music
contrasting heavily with the unease of Müller. She motivates her actions by saying: ‘I need to feel my
body, I need to feel my bones, my blood, my hands, my head.’ The relationship between the nonphysical
self and the awareness of her material body is further questioned when she looks at her
hands, saying: ‘This is my hand... These are not my hands... This is my hand... These are not my
hands... This is my hand, but I would never move it so fast.’

In a following scene, Müller touches upon the question of ‘virtual presence’ and ‘virtual identity’
through the use of multimedia and communication tools. As in I4, Müller stages her Berlin boyfriend
using a webcam and Skype-telephone. Being unsure, she asks herself how she can know her
boyfriend really is in Berlin? A solution would be to let him film an outside-view of the Brandenburger
Tor or the Fernsehturm. But when she asks him to do so, he replies he can’t see both landmarks from
his window. As he speaks, a second Anja Müller appears behind his back, wearing a blue hooded
sweater similar to the one Müller is wearing on stage. Aghast, she says to the second Müller: ‘I really
can’t believe that you are in Berlin right now. I think you are fake.’ But the second one aptly replies:
‘You know you told you can’t feel your body? That’s why, because you’re not in Amsterdam or
anywhere else. Stop pretending.’

The performance ends in a bitter voice. In the last scene, Müller rolls up her trousers and her sleeves.
The instrumental music increases in rhythm and volume. Holding a bottle of ketchup, she splashes the
blood-coloured substance over her body, after that drops herself on the floor again and again,
covering herself top-to-toe in the smelly, gooey stuff.

This scene carries in itself a multitude of references: to cheap cinematical special effects, to fast-foodconsumerism,
to performances of Paul McCarthy, of Yves Klein, of ‘body artists’ and even to automutilation.
Here, I would like to cite the Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj _i_ek. In his
Welcome To The Desert Of The Real1, in much the same way as Müller does in her performances, he
connects what he calls the ‘passion for the Real’ and the search for the Self to the virtualization of our
society and the need to feel our body as a reality. According to him, the postmodern passion for the
‘semblance’ has lead to a renewed and sometimes violent search for the Real. In a passage that I
think is in some way connected to this last scene of ‘Me, my army and Harvey’, he writes:

‘Take the phenomenon of ‘cutters’ (people, mostly women, who experience an irresistible urge to cut
themselves with razors or otherwise hurt themselves); this is strictly parallel to the virtualization of our
environment: it represents a desperate strategy to return to the Real of the body. (...) Far from being
suicidal, far from indicating a desire for self-annihilation, cutting is a radical attempt to (re)gain a hold on
reality, or (another aspect of the same phenomenon) to ground the ego firmly in bodily reality, against the
unbearable anxiety of perceiving oneself as nonexistent.’

As he states, in our over-mediated and sometimes virtual reality the Real can only be recognised in
terms of semblance, resulting in the pure semblance of the spectacular, theatrical effect of the Real.

‘The authentic twentieth-century passion for penetrating the Real Thing (ultimately, the destructive Void)
through the cobweb of semblances which contitutes our reality thus culminates in the thrill of the Real as
the ultimate ‘effect’, sought after from digitalized special effects, through reality TV and amateur
pornography, up to snuff movies. (...) It was when we watched the two WTC towers collapsing on the TV
screen, that it became possible to experience the falsity of ‘reality TV shows’: even if these shows are ‘for
real’, people still act in them – they simply play themselves. The standard disclaimer in a novel
(‘Characters in this text are fictional, any resemblance to real-life characters is purely accidental’) also
holds for participants in reality soaps: what we see are fictional characters, even if they play themselves
for real.’

While I4 can be seen as a search for the self, frustrated by the discovery of an endless quantity of
multiple selves; ‘Me, my army and Harvey’ can be seen as a search doomed-to-fail because it is
literally self-destructive. Maybe Zizeks true message is this one, hid between brackets: the search for
the Real Thing leads us to a void. Save yourself. Stop searching, or there will be nothing left but a
fictional character bearing no resemblance to the real-life character anymore.

Raymond Frenken

1 Slavoy Zizek (2002), Welcome To The Desert Of The Real, Verso, pp. 9-12