Miranda July, the artist who aims to build a new society

The American artist over the past three decades has been telling the story of who we are and who we could be, exploring the narrative possibilities of performance, film and writing. Now she is on display in Milan.

Filmmaker, artist, and author, Miranda July has been exploring the narrative potential of gestures, words, and images for more than thirty years. 

Miranda July, July, @craigmontyjames (C.M. James), and @thongria (Zoë Ligon) in F.A.M.I.L.Y. Ceiling, 2024. Still from video .Courtesy of Miranda July Studio

Growing up in California, here she began staging her first works as a teenager while attending College Preparatory School in Oakland, then enrolling at the University of California Santa Cruz, which she left before finishing her degree to move to Portland, Oregon.

This city, historically receptive to the cultural influences of underground movements, from the jazz nightclubs of the 1940s to the punk and grunge scene of the 1980s and 1990s, is also where Miranda July came to the punk feminism of the Riot grrrl, giving rise to her first performance acts, including taking part in the queercore group CeBe Barnes Band with which she began experimenting on West Coast stages.

What is saved is remembered, and what is remembered becomes history and history creates reality

Miranda July

For the first time, her multifaceted work is being celebrated in an extensive solo exhibition entitled “New Society,” curated by Mia Locks, and hosted in the spaces of the Fondazione Prada Osservatorio, through Oct. 14.

The exhibition primarily highlights the performative aspect of her production, which may not be as widely known as her works in film and literature, mapping its coordinates based on chronological order.

Our first glimpse into the exhibition features two performances from 1997, The F-A-T-E and I Can-Japan, which are flanked by various props and a pamphlet from Big Miss Moviola, an underground distribution network dedicated to women founded by the artist in 1995.

The archive aspect is among the most brilliant in the exhibition: so many materials including clothes, sketches, writings and objects collected over the years. A collection that began by chance, when she accidentally met an archivist, from which came the understanding that The act of preserving these items ensures the remembrance of their original owner, contributing to our collective history and influencing the reality we live in. “What is saved is remembered, and what is remembered becomes history and history creates reality,” July says.

July (“Sophie”) in The Future, 2011. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

In the following decades Miranda July has given voice to her multifaceted creativity through different media: from film – to which the Fondazione Prada’s Godard Cinema’s March programming is dedicated – in which she tries her hand as both director and actress, as in Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Caméra d'Or award at Cannes in 2005; The Future (2011), and Kajillionaire (2020) her latest film starring Evan Rachel Wood. Film production is complemented by collections of short stories, also published in the world’s leading magazines, and her first novel The First Bad Man (2015). The characters imagined by Miranda July are characterized by an eccentric attitude, vulnerable and often searching for meaning in their lives. Loneliness, identity, and family are all issues explored in her stories, leading back to the aspect of emotionality and relationship with others.

@domus La prima personale di Miranda July è a Milano! Ti portiamo con noi #davedere #imparacontiktok #miranda #july #fondazioneprada ♬ suono originale - Domus Magazine

In works of the last few years, the link with technology – a constant in July’s work – also emerges in a relational sense, in a collaborative process undertaken primarily with strangers invited to interact via social media, as in the work F.A.M.I.L.Y. (Falling Apart Meanwhile I Love You) (2024) in which collective participation is turned into a work, thanks to basic editing tools such as TikTok ones. Similarly, in Learning to Love You More: Assignment #43 (2024), July through her Instagram profile engaged her followers by asking them to make an exhibition out of the artworks in their parents’ home, opening a window into each person’s personal history and experience.

Loneliness, identity, and family are all issues explored in her stories, leading back to the aspect of emotionality and relationship with others.
Miranda July. Photo Valentina Sommariva

When we look at the works of the American artist, we perceive the evolution of her practice on the themes of power and vulnerability, in the relationship between author, audience and work. More than ever, according to July, it is necessary to create a common ground with the audience through performance, to make the artist feel vulnerable on a space that is the stage, and it is essential to allow the viewer to interact with what is shown.

The exhibition’s title, “New Society,” is a nod to a piece from 2015 that marks the end of the first-floor path, and indirectly it also encompasses all that is Miranda July’s artistic corpus, imbued with her ambition to create a new world on a social scale, a new society in fact, regulated by different power dynamics, where it is possible for everyone to play with their role and the expectations attached to it. Her call is an invitation to feel vulnerable, to show openness to new possibilities for the exercise of power, and a reflection on these issues which are so prevailing.

Miranda July: New Society
Osservatorio Fondazione Prada, MIlano
from 7th March until 14th October 2024

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