The Safest Place, photo courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
Miner’s video charts a lone man rotating endlessly, floating in an undefined space ship-like interior. As he spins, the figure clasps his knees in perpetual fetal-positioned prayer. Lost in a space of contemplation, he becomes a kind of everyman who quietly reaches out to the great beyond. The music, recorded by Miner, is a reinvented southern spiritual whose song becomes incantation:
No harm have I done on my knees / When you see me on my knees / Come here, Jesus, if you please.
The searcher takes comfort in this act of petition, though his waiting, like the silence of the answer, is infinite.
Kristan Kennedy: What does it mean to be human?
Christopher Miner: Maybe, just to ask that question. Or to try to answer it.
KK: Your work has a slow, methodical, and repetitive pace, which is supported by its beautiful and eerie score. I grew up attending mass every Sunday, and there is something similar in the meditative pacing of your video; even though the figure is suspended in an anti-gravity chamber, it might as well be a church. Can you talk to me about the religious under/overtones in your work, and in particular in The Safest Place?
CM: This video makes me think about man’s ongoing effort to know God. I’ve always liked the idea of space travel as a literal example of man blasting himself into the heavens to gain some kind of connection with an ultimately unknowable expanse. There can be something wonderful about feeling lost, when you’re lost in the presence of something larger than yourself. My own experience growing up in the church was very much focused on the “being found” part—the salvation and redemptive aspects of faith—with a clear suspicion of any mystery or uncertainty. In the video, I like the idea of the old spiritual’s lyric of, “no harm have I done on my knees”, where just the act of subjecting yourself before heaven, like a man in space, is comforting.
KK: When you turn the camera on your life, are you creating a document or a diary? Is the subject you or how you see/feel the world?
CM: I don’t want the subject to ever be about me, or how I feel about the world. I try to use myself and my life as materials to build work from, but I’m never satisfied with any piece that feels like I’m just ‘expressing’ something. Even if the work is 30 minutes of me talking about my life, I try to compress the video and narration down into an impenetrable event for the viewer to experience. I was with a friend of mine once when his father sliced into his own hand with an electric knife while cleaning a fish.
I was standing 2 feet away and when his father raised his hand up from the cutting board there was blood going everywhere and his fingers were hanging from his hand in an unnatural way. It was horrible; but really, my experience viewing this had nothing to do with the actual details of what the man was feeling. I remember looking down at my own hand while he was screaming and it was like I’d never looked at my hand before. I remember thinking that it looked like this beautiful, miracle object, and I was amazed that my brain could control my fingers the way they did. I want my work to function this way: where the events of my life just act as a singular, specific event to create a unique experience for the viewer.
Miner is represented by Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
This conversation was excerpted from a collection of interviews published on the occasion of Human Being, a series of exhibitions, installations, and happenings curated by Kristan Kennedy, for PICA’s 2010 Time-Based Art Festival. You can download a PDF of the full ON SIGHT catalogue here, or pick up a hard copy at the Washington High School galleries (through October 17), or at the PICA Resource Room.