‘When I made the Prompter I wanted to make a house of memory, the mind you never see but is always there. It is like a stage set with no representation, no play, only one man trying to remember, trying not to forget’
(J. Muñoz, quoted in S. Wagstaff, ‘A Mirror of Consciousness’, in Juan Muñoz: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2008, p. 100).
Presented as a site of imaginative theatre, Juan Muñoz’s Souffleur (Prompter) offers the viewer an empty stage aside from a small drum and the shell of a prompter’s box at its edge. Problematising the notion of ‘theatrical’ effect, here, as elsewhere in his oeuvre, Muñoz constructs an ambiguous relationship between spectator and scene by excluding the audience from the staged event. Executed at a pivotal moment in the artist’s career, Souffleur marks the transition from the purely metaphorical work of Muñoz’s early years, where complex human activity is merely suggested, to the more narrative and figurative work of the 1990s.
In terms of their ‘theatricality’, Muñoz’s works are often linked to the Baroque aesthetic. In particular, the artist was fascinated by the work of the architect Francesco Borromini, known for his unconventional and dramatic spatial effects. Placed on an angle against the back wall is a drum whose skin is adorned with the pattern of the floor in miniature, which Muñoz described as a ‘Baroque device, a stage set for the image’ (J. Muñoz, quoted in ‘A Conversation between Juan Muñoz and Jean-Marc Poinsot’, in Juan Muñoz: Sculptures de 1985 1987, exh. cat., Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, p. 44). Elaborating on this comment, ‘the optical floors construct a mise-en-scene that tells you that you shouldn’t trust your eye, that calls into question the act of looking’ (J. Muñoz, quoted in S. Wagstaff, ‘A Mirror of Consciousness’, in Juan Muñoz: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2008, p. 100). Muñoz later likened the work to the entertaining digressions of the Mannerist architect Giulio Romano.
Evidently an important motif for the artist, in the same year Muñoz made a near replica of Souffleur inserting his first ever dwarf into the prompter’s box, a motif that has become synonymous with his oeuvre. Speaking about this seminal work which is now held in the Tate Collection, Muñoz recalled, ‘When I made The Prompter I wanted to make a house of memory, the mind you never see but is always there. It is like a stage set with no representation, no play, only one man trying to remember, trying not to forget’ (J. Muñoz, ibid.).