Patrick Mueller grew up in Lakewood and then left town for schooling at Pomona, where he started out a visual artist and through a new-found interest in theater, came away a movement and performance artist. A period of wandering followed, during which he lived a "nomadic lifestyle," exploring the scope of new performance both in the states and abroad. It had been ten years by the time he came back to Colorado on a break in 2007 and decided to stay. "I realized there was a change in the air here, that there was a different climate in the arts," he recalls.
Once back in town, Mueller created the live avant-garde performance troupe Control Group Productions, buoyed by the new, young artist community he saw emerging here. Denver, he reasoned, was on the edge of something, and he wanted to be a part of it: "I prefer to make work that has a larger impact on the community," he explains. "To make work in New York...it would be unique, but just one of so many pieces being put on stage. Here, in a way, there's a greater possibility of doing something that might change people's perspectives, if not their lives."
The nonprofit company settled into the Packing House, a raw space in RiNo, and began to produce its own shows and collaborations with others. Also on the Control Group agenda were artist residencies, classes and workshops. Cross-fertilization with artists in the Boulder Fringe pipeline also took place, and unusual productions ranged from an avant haunted house one Halloween to a witty "Dance Night for Beginners" series, a mixture of pure dance and humorous commentary. Control Group is, really, a little bit out of the arts loop, but for those who dare to seek it out, the troupe promises a different experience.
But there is a wrench in the works: The company lost its home base late last year when the landlord couldn't afford to make city-mandated improvements to bring the building up to code as a live performance space and dance studio. Currently caught up in the search for new digs (a possibility is out there, but it's still too up-in-the-air to report), Mueller and Control Group are still carrying on, with an April show, when we were beautiful and all that came after, scheduled to play, ironically, at the Bindery, where it will be the last performance at that space, which is being vacated by the Lida Project. A working space of its own, though, is Control Group's goal.
"In the long-term, I would like for the company to be an international presence," Mueller says. "Our work relates most closely to the aesthetics and style approached in Europe. We'd like to bring this work to that culture -- I think we have a valuable contribution to make in that dialogue.
"I'm not certain what route that will take," he adds. "Our funding is up in air, but I think we have a core group here and we are pulling together. Using the network I've laid down during my nomadic period, I see the potential for collaboration with fringe and other artists and companies in the world. It seems like a good route to take to spread those opportunities further."
Here's more from Mueller on Control Group, wish lists and the state of the avant garde. Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why? Patrick Mueller: Oh man, in what context? As a performing artist, I think I'll need to call together a full creative team: Jack White, Tom Waits and Mark Ribot on sound design; Matthew Barney and David Lynch on visuals, Benoit Lachambre, Miguel Gutierrez and Lloyd Newson for movement -- and all with plenty of cross-over in their contributions, of course. All of these artists know how to sink their teeth into the concrete and the surreal with equal meatiness, and they own their craft -- they use it to render exceptional experiences, as the vehicle for displaying and exquisitely framing content.
Westword: Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why? P.M.: Well, a lot of the artists mentioned above are part of movements that are about crossing over between genres with the goal of existing simultaneously in multiple forms -- sound, image, movement, narrative. This is different than the first generation of multimedia art, which tended to be arduous in the way that it tried to knit elements that were clearly of a single genre -- some music, some dance, some acting, some fine art, used toward common purpose, but without compromising integrity. I'm excited about the movement toward exploding that integrity into singular art works where the pieces are no longer separable.
It's also worth noting that, in terms of the avant-garde (and yes, I claim that term proudly), Europe is far ahead of the U.S. in terms of the experimentation, research and rhetoric in the arts. This isn't because they're more sophisticated generally, but a mature culture realizes that the arts are the vehicle for its continued vibrancy, and it realizes that the arts are a commodity that can't be measured in works or tickets sold, but must be supported centrally as well as individually in order to flourish.
WW: What's one art trend you want to see die this year? P.M.: I'm tired of the increasingly clownish costumes sported by hipsters trying to find what's retro-awesome about the '80s. The parts of the '80s worth re-conjuring are the forgotten parts -- the gritty cultural commentary, the growing insanity of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall...
WW: What's your day job? P.M.: I teach dance and performance classes at Naropa University and Red Rocks Community College. I also occasionally gather a paycheck from activities as Executive Director of The Packing House Center for the Arts (currently on a brief hiatus).
WW: A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it? P.M.: Unlimited is big. Really big. But for starters, I create a true avant-garde multi-arts center in the heart of Denver, something modest enough to populate densely, but versatile enough to serve the full spectrum of needs for creating live, recorded and static art. Let's say: two state-of-the-art performance spaces, some large-scale gallery space, six to ten rehearsal spaces with sound stage capabilities, a recording studio, a solid set-up for 3-dimensional visual arts and a bunch of loft-condos. Then I start inviting artists -- rotating residencies for those with roots elsewhere, permanent homes for artists interested in investing in Denver and the area, and educational opportunities (full scholarships with room and board in return for work in the community). Residents have stipends and their work is fully funded. I let this percolate for a couple years, then sit down with the associated artists and create a true school, with a set of degree programs and strong associations to the local universities. Then (or at the same time) I establish similar institutions in other developing cities -- Austin, Portland, Baltimore, New Orleans...
WW:What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts? P.M.: Create opportunities for research, collaboration, and advancement. We've got a great community of artists working non-stop to stay above water and pursue their visions -- they need the stimulation of opportunities that they don't have to create from the ground up -- platforms that make deep research and training relevant through opportunities to interface and collaborate with other artists and other arts.
Also, we need to centralize artists of similar mentalities and approaches. There's enough of an community here that we can't simply think in terms of "the arts", broken out into various traditional media -- we need to focus communities around the reasons we create, the goals and visions that drive us. Being committed to innovation and experimentation, I feel much more closely connected to the MCA, RedLine, and the Lida Project than I do to dance companies that are ostensibly within my genre.
Finally (sorry to multiply my answers to every question), we need more work from outside coming in, and more of our work going out. Denver is moving beyond the provincial, inward-looking approach taken by most middle-American cities through the latter 20th century. We're becoming part of the national and global arts dialogue in a way that it feels like we actively avoided through the 80s and 90s, and we're getting over our fear that we don't understand or that new developments in the arts cultures of the coastal metropolises (metropoli?) don't belong to us. There's a lot of excellent art in the world, and Colorado artists and audiences need to see it and claim it as their own.
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WW:Who is your favorite Colorado Creative? P.M.: As a curator of an arts center, that's not only a tough question, but also a dangerous one. There are a lot of excellent artists working in this area, at many levels of visibility and establishment. In terms of developing the whole local field, though, Adam Lerner belongs at the top of anyone's list. I have immense respect for his vision and his savvy approach to making meaty work digestible and creating a culture of discourse about art as well as reverence for it.
Throughout the year, we'll be turning the spotlight on 100 superstars in Denver's rich artistic community. Watch for the next installment on Show and Tell -- and go to the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
Who rocks YOUR world locally? Do you have a suggestion for a Colorado Creative? Leave it in the comments section below.