THE BROTHERS MUELLER: LIVING DECORATIVE OBJECTS
We are all fascinated by twins, even more so with identical twins, and then there’s gay identical twins! It’s at this point that the interest in twins flips from an anthropological one to one slightly less savory. But of course we at EVB would never find ourselves sliding down that slippery slope. So it was with a set of questions that mined the issues of nature and nurture that I went off to meet The Brothers Mueller, Brooklyn’s very own app-developing, arts-and-craft-creating, lederhosen-wearing ex altar boys.
Portraits of The Brothers Mueller shot for EVB by David Kimelman
Richard Welch: Who popped out first?
Kirk Mueller: I popped out first
Nate Mueller: I was born three hours later, which is a long time, especially for twins.
Richard: Who came out first?
Nate: I came out first, at the age of 14, as I joined high school.
Kirk: And then I came out four years later, in my freshman year at college
Nate: Everyone took it very well, except our parents. I think Kirk saw their reaction and decided to wait, but by the time he came out they were completely okay, it had finally sunk in!
Kirk: We also went to two separate high schools. You went to a state high school and I went to a Catholic high school, so that was another reason to stay in the closet. It wasn’t really acceptable! However, having said that, all of his boyfriends came from my high school!
Richard: Were they all in the choir?
Kirk: No they were altar boys! Ha, no no, they weren’t!
Richard: But you were both altar boys weren’t you?
K&N: Yes, we were.
Richard: So I’m assuming you come from a very Catholic family?
Kirk: Yes, we went to church every day in grade school. We went to church in the morning and then the school day started.
Richard: Wow! That’s a lot of church!
K&N: Yes, it sure was.
Richard: Tell me a little about your altar boy experience?
Kirk: One of our main reasons for being altar boys was the outfits–they were lavish. It was a very traditional church so they practiced many pre-Vatican II traditions. There were only altar boys, no girls and there were lots of ornate vestibules. We always ended up fighting over who could wear the gold robes!
Richard: Were you aware of the latent homosexual culture of the Catholic Church?
Kirk: I don’t think we were necessarily aware of it when we were young, but we certainly gravitated towards the camp nature of it.
Nate: We liked it because it was stimulation overload–gold, incense and statues everywhere–and all in suburban Ohio! It was a great escape from the blandness.
Richard: What was it like growing up in Ohio?
Kirk: We grew up in Akron, Ohio. Cleveland is all about steel and Akron is all about rubber! There are like three or four huge tire plants.
Nate: But surprisingly Akron had a load of gay bars–they had one for twinks, three that were mixed and then they had a leather bar. We would go to the leather bar when we were 17 because they would let us in!
Richard: And how did you go down in the leather bar?
K&N: Ha ha, we were high school students so we went down really well!
Richard: Did you wear any leather–or would it have been rubber since it was Akron?
Nate: No, it was called Daddy’s, it had a leather bar up top, and then a rubber crowd in the bottom.
Richard: Is it usual for identical twins, beyond the physical similarities, to also share similar interests?
Kirk: I think it depends. Some work and collaborate together, and some don’t want anything to do with each other. It’s like a 50:50 thing. So far we’re the only twins we’ve met who are both gay. Usually only one is gay and one is straight which is really odd because you then have both nature and nurture against you.
Richard: Are you members of a society of identical twins? Is there an annual Twinfest?
K&N: There is a giant convention called Twins Day in Twinsburg, Ohio. Twins from all over the world go there. Our parents took us there from a very young age, but we stopped going at around four years old?
Kirk: We couldn’t fit into our lederhosen anymore, and we simply refused to go!
Richard: You were quite feisty for four-year-olds! Do you still own lederhosen?
Nate: We don’t but we’d like to get some, that would be fun!
Richard: Through your work, you’re known for your love of ornamentation, and arts and craft, but sitting here in your apartment it’s quite the opposite. It is positively minimal!
Nate: Yes! We’re making everything white. All the books as you can see are white. It helps us rest our eyes because work projects get very crazy and stressful and so we like our living environment to be as minimal as possible.
Richard: How do you know which book is which?
Nate: They’re all organized into sections, like computer, art etc–but we’re very tactile, we know each book by its size. Well, within one or two guesses.
Richard: How did your love of decorative arts evolve?
Nate: One of the things that drew us to the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Aesthetic Movement was how it opposed the ‘art hierarchy’. Artists like William Morris and Oscar Wilde were democratizing. They understood that we all make great things, so for example, to us wallpaper is just as important as painting.
Richard: By the time you were in college were you both collaborating on your work and also your ‘look’?
K&N: Yes, it was the very early stages, even when we were in high school we wore blazers and ties, which weren’t required. Other kids were just wearing khakis and Converse. We had always been drawn to a smarter aesthetic, and we just fine-tuned it and started coming together and playing around with dressing similarly. We have had a shared a wardrobe since we were in high school.
Richard: When you wake up tomorrow will you have already planned what to wear?
Nate: Yes. There’s always a discussion, a bit of back and forth, but for the most part it’s natural. If there’s a big important meeting we dress more alike. It’s not always exactly the same it’s similar.
Richard: Do you go to the gym? At the same time?
K&N: Yes! We wear the same gym clothes, but in different colors. Our trainer gets a lot of pleasure from getting us to do the same exercises at the same time.
Richard: Must be a crazy sight, especially with all the reflections!
Nate: Yes, we freaked out this little old lady. She was staring at us, and when we finished she came up to us and said, “oh thank god, I was really confused I thought it was an illusion, or the mirrors or something!”
Richard: Does the constant attention and the double-take that you must notice, get annoying?
Nate: For a while we didn’t actually notice it, but we had a friend who was on the subway with us and he got freaked out saying “Do you realize people are staring at you?” and we were like “no, why would they be staring at us?” We know that people love the idea of twins and working it out, but we are slightly different in our appearance.
Richard: You are both interested in technology and decorative arts–those two aren’t usually connected.
Nate: We’re drawn to the decorative because things we work on get so technical, so when we silkscreen at the weekend we’re able to have time away from technology
Kirk: There’s technology, and digital technology. Something like silkscreening is technological but it’s a handcrafted technique that includes the potential for errors. We like silkscreen and wallpaper because there’s a lot of repetition. We see ourselves as imperfect replicas because we came from the same egg but we don’t look exactly alike, so it’s just like printing wallpaper. We’ve always liked patterns, whether that’s wallpaper or fabric or ties.
Nate: So we spent some time in our graduate work trying to bring in a digital component to our wallpaper, and that was a way to merge the two. That’s how we created ‘Viral Wallpaper’. It uses heat-sensitive technology like those Hypercolor t-shirts.
Richard: Where did the idea of using STDs as part of the wallpaper [below, top] come from?
Nate: Are you asking us if we got a bunch of STDs!
Kirk: We were looking at ways of elevating craft and taking things out of their context. Through researching we came across images of STD viruses and we found them very beautiful.
Richard: You have mentioned in previous interviews that you are rallying against the dominant masculine aesthetic associated with technology. Can you talk about that?
Kirk: There are different aspects to it. Early digital art was primarily from male artists, with a raw aesthetic, and so coming in as digital artists we wanted to be more finished, feminine and what we consider more beautiful. So with the ‘Wallpaper Machine’, we wanted to hide all the wires and controls and have just this pretty box [below].
Richard: Since leaving the Rhode Island School Of Design you’ve had great and rapid success developing apps for some major media brands.
Nate: Yes it’s been very humbling, and very surreal. Our first gig was developing the Martha Stuart Living magazine app.
Richard: How do you navigate the demands of your commercial work and your art? Do you see yourself as commercial developers or artists first?
Kirk: The design firm where we work, Studio Mercury, consists of only five of us. We all consider ourselves artists, yet the work we do is commercial, so we’re still trying to figure that out. It goes back and forth. We do a lot of commercial work and then we’ll have a backlash and lock ourselves in the studio and work on art projects.
Nate: I don’t know if it’s that binary, if you are more commercial or artist, or vice versa. We have to have both. We’d go crazy if we were just doing programming, which has to be so precise and exact.
Richard: Can you tell us about the current projects you’re working on?
Kirk: We’ve been invited to participate in Model Citizens 2012, a design show happening around the ICFF, so we’ll be printing a new series of wallpapers for that.
Richard: There are obvious comparisons between you and the British art duo Gilbert and George. When were you first aware of them?
Nate: I think in our graduate studies, four or five years ago. Their style resonates with us, we like their work, but we weren’t fully aware of their dynamic. They call themselves living sculptures and we see ourselves as living decorative objects.
Richard: Do you consider yourself a brand?
Kirk: I think so, we spent a lot of time developing this idea of us as a brand.
Richard: When I mentioned to friends I was interviewing gay twins they all chuckled and made a reference to twincest or some other sexually-oriented inquiry! Why do you think that is?
Kirk: We get that a lot, and it used to irritate us. We’d go out with friends and meet new people and one of the first things they’d say is “I want to have sex with both of you”. Today we just laugh at it, and go along and play with it. There’s something interesting about it. There’s this reality that twins are seen as objects. We get people coming up to us and saying things that really aren’t appropriate like “oh you’re twins but he’s a bit fatter than you”, or things like that!
Richard: It’s like you have become commoditized!
Nate: Yes, you either go with it or you spend your whole time fighting it.
Richard: Do you share dreams?
Nate: Oh, interesting question! We tend to never remember our dreams. We sometimes have dreams that are very similar, but we often have instances when, for example, Kirk will be running an errand and come home with a particular song in his head and I would have been humming the same song. That happens a lot.
Richard: Are you guys dating anyone?
Nate: No, not at the moment there just isn’t enough time. I was in an eight-year relationship which ended in grad school, and then Kirk was in a two-year relationship and I was single, so this is the first time we’ve both been single at the same time. We’ve been focusing on career and friends.
Richard: Do your partners feel there are three people in the relationship?
Kirk: That’s another issue. It’s really difficult dating a twin because there are a lot of challenges. We’ve grown up sharing everything, so we maybe have unrealistic expectations of our boyfriends. It’s a subliminal or subconscious thing–we expect them to know what we’re thinking, because we easily see it in each other, and when they don’t it’s difficult.
Nate: Quite frequently!
Richard: Do you share the same Grindr profile?
K&N: You’ll have to work that one out!