An Interview with Marta Kuzma, director of the
Washington Project for the Arts/Corcoran:
Marta Kuzma: As a someone who is a multimedia performance artist (for lack of any other
type of neat category), do you find that the larger art world has difficulty in
placing you and identifying where you might be able to fit in terms of
presentation, promotion, possible sale?
Miranda July: I have only just been noticed by the art world, I mean like starting last week
when I was in NY. I differentiate between this world (commercial galleries and
museums) and the performance world, which I am more familiar with. The other
"worlds" have been the film world (independent and mainstream) and the music world
(independent). Each of these spheres has some influence upon me, some small area
where I can be for a moment before their Real people come out. The real musicians,
fimmakers, actresses, artists. In integrating the media I have also had to
integrate the venues and their economies and audiences. Yesterday I was realizing
what an actually wonderful, free position I have created out of seemingly blind
desperation and perserverence. I was talking with experiemental film heavy Ken
Jacobs and he was asking about my college tour and asking 'why aren't they calling
ME?' and since he is 30 years my senior and really very estblished and respected,
I didn't know what to say. But later, on the train, I realized that it isn't the
teachers or the institutions that are calling me, it's the kids, the students.
And this happens because in punk rock you can convince the band to come to your
town if you promise them food and a place to stay. So I am following the model
that I learned when I was in bands. In other situations I pretend that my live
performances are movies, and enter my live person into film-festivals. I
don't know what I'll do with the commercial galleries. I like to sell my work,
but do not rarify it or charge a lot. We'll have to come up with a plan; surely
it will be something uniquely labor-intensive, like pay me to have your emotions
for you. On this (mostly) college tour I am showing movies, my own and other
women's and then I'll talk a little, perform or do an interactive movie-making
thing with the students. I am at Amherst College right now, using the computer.
MK: Have you consciously decided to simply pursue your "placement" independently?
You seem to extend beyond the traditional role of the artist into curator who
gathers material of others, in critiquing that work in terms of selection, and
initiating a broader dialogue that circumvents this traditional way of networking?
I specifically see this in your initiation of the film distribution network by the
name of Big Miss Moviola which acts as its own type of institution responsible for
compiling and selecting movies by young women for distribution by mail order.
MJ: It has been conscious in the sense that I have been conscious of my own needs
and desires and tried to create systems that satisfied me. That they have been
"independent" reflects I guess my sense of myself in relation to the world: that
I both won't be accepted by and won't be excited by what exists. There are of
course many gorgeous exceptions, and these are the people/places where I attach
and make alliances. With other artists, with brave institutions, with more
mainstream exceptions. The only thing is this: I don't have a lot of grief over
the differences between myself and these people/places-I have no time for dashed
hopes. Or only about 3 minutes and then it's onto the new plan.
MK: I also see that this sense of independence extends into your own work where
you have full control over your own performances, overseeing and monitoring the
operation of the technical aspects of coordination, providing a full closure
between artistry and technology. This in light of so many contemporary artists
who are dependent on commissions by producers of objects, films. You seem to be
quite certain about technology as a means. However, it appears that language is
a base where you explore error, redundancy, and mishap.
MJ: Yes, well the integration of "mishap" into Love Diamond came partly from
realizing that I had created a work that would never be performed perfectly
because it is too hard! And also my sense that there are constant
miscalculations within every science. It is only horrifying when it is
not acknowledged; when the doctor doesn't admit that there is no way my eye
test could be accurate since I am crying and so my vision is blurred and I
am just randomly calling out : better, worse, better. The main reason I
control my own vcrs and slide projectors in Love Diamond is because it
never occurred to me that I could pay someone to press the buttons for me.
It still seems unlikely to me, but I realize it would allow me to perform
way better. Do you know that the whole time I am performing I am staring into
the beam of light from the projector, and when the light turns red, for
example, I have five seconds to pause the video. It is really exausting. Now
that I am done with that show I can say that.
MK: In referring to the breakdown of language or the limitations that language
imposes in providing a vehicle to express ourselves, you have a way to try to
extend language into the creation of new terms to describe situations, things,
MJ: Like everyone else, I am trying to make you feel something very specific.
Sometimes it is so specific that language has to be used almost as a decoy, to
distract the guards while I rush the gates. Or sometimes, if it can be done in
a familiar way, language is not neccesary, there can be visual cues, gestures.
But I am not interested in divesting people of what they know though
experimentation---I instead build on what is so commonplace that it is
almost impertinent to reference. It is these limitations that inspire me: the
pull of simple, un-ending desire and boredom.
MK: In much of your work you refer to the comparison of numbers to things, to
forms, to the bracketing of concepts. Why do you repeatedly repeat to the
MJ: This relates to the above answer. Numbers as decoys, familiar shapes that
are almost like childrens toys, we all know them: 5! Oh 5!
MK: Nest of Tens holds some uncomfortable situations such as the young
adolescent boy seemingly entrapped in the ascetic environment of his suburban
home and who voyeuristically attends to the baby in some type of ritual
of attempted communication, or the scene with the "new" boyfriend, or
possibly stranger, who seems frustrated, and consequently bored, by the lack
of sexual attention paid by the single mother amid the presence of her daughter,
or the African American speaking seemingly incomprehensively at the podium to a
predominately white audience. All three situations are controversial in the
context of film images shown to a public- the petting of the baby, the
appearance of the head of penis, the illiterate black man. Is this your intent,
to make society uncomfortable and to approach them in a direct manner about
their incessant need to feel immediately ok, to adjust themselves into
comfort positions, without understanding the zones of danger? Is this
reflective of the general disorientation of an alienated individual to talk
and act through alienation?
MJ: I think the answer is yes, but again I am working from a basically
subconscious place inside, so I would not articulate it in this way, except
perhaps in retrospect. So it is more like: how can I create this feeling I
have: would two girls work? No. A boy and a girl? A baby? Yes, a boy cleaning
a baby: that is the feeling. So to be honest, these things are within my
internal vocabulary, and so I thought maybe yours too. The little head of the
penis above the waistband, isn't that as familiar as the number 5? Less
familiar visually maybe, but certainly not internally.
MK: In Love Diamond, you proceed to work with ideas of environment - the idea of
the house as a real framework for life and juxtaposing this with space and
science and exploration. The idea of the Titan, as earth, or home, as the
reference point around which we circle, act, and operate influenced by
the continual need to set boundaries and welcome limitations. You've
countered this with the concept of the never-ending flight - the flight that
goes on forever and ever. Inadvertently you describe the challenge in
our reflective response to immediately cope by implementing the knowledge (even
if ungrounded) that pain has some type of threshold or parameter. Is
this fatalistic or is there some futuristic utopian vision behind this?
MJ: I might not understand the wording of the question.
I will answer this broadly by saying that the never ending pain and never
ending love are perhaps only bearable because of the limitiations of our life
here each day on earth. Though they sometimes seem to only make it worse,
these limitations make compassion and art possible. Art maybe is just being
inspired by the endless familiar but surprising limitations. And their
relationship to the things within that feel truly beyond all limits.
MK: Some of the strategies employed within your performance work - that is in
the minimalism and lack of theatricality in changing your physical identity
with the use of props such as wigs, clothes, reminds me of the strategies
employed in Cindy Sherman's early photographic work. I refer specifically in
the way you manage to transform your expression, and hence your identity. I
recognize that you are not concentrating on constructing self identity from
some type of media identity as Sherman had done. I think your identities are
too obscure and come out of something other that has to do with the everyday
more than Hollywood. Nonetheless your femininity is stylized.
MJ: I think this may just be carelessness on my part. The decisions on how to
look are made so impetuously, based largely on what is at hand. Nest of Tens
was the first time I was somwhat careful about costuming-probably because I
could see how things looked more because I didn't play all the parts. I'm
getting better at that. The wigs in LD are largely so that I don't have to
match my real hair to the hair in the video each night, I can just put on
MK: In the Amateurist, you position yourself as the spokeswoman, the
analytical purveyor, the collector of information, who inevitably looks at
yourself as a type of specimen, a lab rat, or what they call in the
industry... Why is it that you prefer to bracket this second self in black
MJ: Because I wanted to use a surveillance camera and these are mostly black and
MK: You often refer to science, and analytical studies of cells, or medical
or scientific type of experiments as explorations that individuals immerse
themselves in and voluntarily subject themselves to. Therefore the idea of
science, or the experiment, as a type of invisible agent intruding upon our
lives in the forms of surveillance, or surreptitious consumer research
methods, don't seem to be in place in your work. You provide a human's
interest in seeking out science and its structure, and in a way, as an
escape from history? Is it that you are positive about technology or are you
sardonic in referring to our phenomenal obsession with technology and our
inadvertent trust to wherever it may lead us?
MJ: Mostly I am sardonic and personally frustrated with western medical science.
But at the same time I have always been surrounded by people who have a real
love of science -and this sense of wonderment is not lost on me. My brother
is an enviromental scientist, Zac Love, my accompaniest on LD, is a
microbiologist. I am of course always dealing with equipment and lovers of
equipment. I sort of couldn't care less but like language, it is something
I have become proficient in and so I use it everyday to my own ends.