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Paul Mumme

Andrew Frost

In Paul Mumme’s Earth Mover [2006] the artist pulls valiantly on a rope that’s secured firmly to the earth. Dressed in a suit and tie and sporting highly polished black shoes – a costume he wears in many of his videos - Mumme strains at the impossible task, immaculately dressed, yet comically pathetic. In Man with Umbrella [2005] the artist is seen up to his waist in a swimming pool holding an umbrella over his head as rain pelts down, while in The Hero [2005] he squirts kitchen cleanser onto a raging fire. Mumme’s video work explores the hinterland of the visual gag, finding bleak existential humour in deadpan cartoons.  For Flight [2007] Mumme holds the controls of a remotely-controlled plane that strains on a rope attached to the artist’s leg. In a tightly composed single shot Sprinkler with Buckets [2007] revisits Mumme’s favorite tropes, but removing the artist in favor of a minimalist composition of blue buckets and a yellow water sprinkler.

The immaculate formalist composition of Mumme’s single shot videos are impressive, recalling the work of narrative photographers such as Boyd Webb and Gregory Crewdson, and Mumme, dressed in his suit and tie, has a look that invokes the glossy precision of fashion photography. Yet this stylish visual vocabulary comes into collision with the absurdity of the performances, static moments of comedy Zen. Mumme meanwhile is subtly playing with our expectations. In Earth Mover it is not immediately obvious that Mumme has altered the flow of the shot, smoothly shifting back and forth. While it appears the artist is shifting his weight he is actually being “rocked” by forces outside the physical limits of his actions. In Hero, the flames of the bonfire lick up and then down again, while in Man with Umbrella, rain water streams off the umbrella into the pool, and then spirals back up again. Mumme’s videos exist in an uncomfortable time outside time, the performer stuck in an exemplary moment while the audience is cut adrift from narrative closure. An exhibition of Mumme’s work in 2006 exhibition was aptly titled Time Memorial.


b. 1984
Selected works
Earth Mover
Earth Mover, – from Earth Mover, via YouTube 
Man with Umbrella
Man with Umbrella, – from Man with Umbrella, via YouTube 
The Hero
The Hero, – from The Hero, via YouTube 
Flight, – from Flight, via YouTube 
Sprinkler with Buckets
Sprinkler with Buckets, – from Sprinkler with Buckets, via YouTube