Tonight is Dylan Mira’s last performance at TBA. Don’t miss her at 8:30 PM tonight at 15 NE Hancock.
Ashley Stull Meyers: I’d hate to spoil it, but what can you tell me about “Woman Under the Influence of a Woman Under the Influence…”? Is the title a Cassavetes reference?
Dylan Mira: Actually, the title of my project is “Duty Free” but looking at the catalogue I would think the same! It’s interesting because the piece is all about these different connections being made, challenging perspective and assumed knowledge. Some part of me wonders if the description is misleading and another part of me is like, “Oh, that’s actually so appropriate.” The line you mention does reference the Cassavates film. I’m interested in “woman” as a hole in the symbolic order and how signs fall out of order. In the film, Gena Rowland struggles with how to live up to this idea of mother and wife. She keeps being told to be herself but she’s institutionalized for that very behavior. She’s falling through the hole! My piece weaves an associative history around Opium (the perfume) and what it connotes—the scent of a drug, the scent of the “Orient”, the scent of a woman. I follow these codes through time and space, trying to unravel how they’re built and how they function. Scent is our sense that is most attached to memory, so the associations I make just went from one thing to the next really fast. It’s a personal poetical theoretical speculative ecology.
ASM: We’ll come back to bodily association in a moment, but while we’re on the subject of the work’s title—You’re intently engaged with language and the sometimes disorienting nature of repetition. What’s at the heart of that exploration? What does it bring to light when giving words a bodily connotation?
DM: Yes, I’m interested in repetition and difference! The word orientation actually comes from The Orient, so I am working with this literal configuration of how the body is perceived and perceives from this demarcation of colonialism and history of trauma that is woven from a line in space.
ASM: What came first for you… the writing or the interest in the performative? When did you decide they should be married and to what affects?
DM: In my 2013 video Untitled (Agua Viva), my father reads aloud from this feminist experimental book by Clarice Lispector and keeps yelling, “This is bullshit!” Stubbornly, though, he continues to read. What came as a surprise for me was that he ends up embodying the text. He is very sick during this time and that fact brings this precarity and vulnerability to it, which I think is precisely what he hates about the book. My mother also appears and brilliantly argues with him about the book and her language is transcribed into titles alongside Lispector’s. In large part, it turns into poetry in conversation. This got me interested in what happens to text in speech and what sorts of language challenge power. The whole video was unplanned, so I started to trust chance in my process more. In some way, the performance is always already happening. I began practicing automatic writing shortly after that, which like this video, was something already in motion. It was language that I didn’t think onto the page. It was like finding keys at the bottom of my pocket, and when I read it out loud it goes back through me. My first performance of this was called Irredeemable Tender. I like that the exchange value of poetry doesn’t add up—it isn’t data, it’s viscera.
ASM: You recently had a show at Artist Curated Projects called As Above So Below Zero Zero Zero, where you invited guests to consume a bust of you, made from butter. As a performance artist, I have to wonder what sort of criticism you were making about consumption– and particularly the consumption of the female body.
DM: There’s a lot associated with that work. It was shown with my video A Woman is Not A Woman which goes into the history of the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen, which was decapitated by a Situationist in the 60′s. He admitted later he did it because he was angry at his girlfriend. Sexist aggression gets celebrated in art and politics because the feminine is always framed in service to spectacle or capital—old news. Eat me! The piece is called Butterface, so there is the joke “she has a nice body, but her face…” I was in Seoul just before the show and found this phrase in my English/Korean slang guide, so I was thinking about it a lot. Meanwhile, people I met on my trip kept asking if I was Russian. I’m mixed race Korean and white and rarely pass as Korean in Korea. There is the saying in Asia that white people smell like butter. I kept picturing my face melting. The body is always failing the idea of the body; we’re not passing in all kinds of ways. I want to restore the mermaid’s head. I want to look like myself, whatever that is. But, like Gena I’m falling through the hole. I’m losing my head. So, I am interested in what we can do with dispossession and abjection. In that video I also talk about how one of the oldest mermaid sightings is also the first written document of a European in Korea where women have been deep sea diving for centuries. Who gets to be human? Maybe it’s humanity that’s the mythology.
ASM: There’s another work from the ‘As Above’ show that reads in part, “I don’t believe in form but I would like to know my body better”. Is that sentiment a thread that runs through your entire practice? It’s a lovely one.
DM: Thank you! Yes, like I was saying before, this is a problem I’m always bouncing around. My practice is intangible, time based, ephemeral, like life—but there is a danger of getting stuck in my own head. This is why soma tics and poetics and performance have really made their way into my practice: because the body is a constant learning process. For me as a queer body, a feminine body, a raced body, these things can be a site of trauma and simultaneously possibility. There is so much radical thinking right now that brings potential back to the body outside this limited rubric of huMANity, coming out of Sylvia Winters and Hortense Spillers’ notion of the flesh and Sarah Ahmed’s phenomenology keeps cycling through to me as well. So, I’m trying to show up and let go.
ASM: Lastly, There’s no way I can ignore a work titled “Twerk, Bounce, Booty, Shake, Sexy, Dance, Clap”. Images appear to show a looping YouTube video and a real space component involving balloons. Tell me about your use of imagery from and the aesthetic of the internet. Again, it’s interesting to think about the tensions between the page (or webpage, in this instance) and a transference to a bodily experience.
DM: The more I’m interested in decolonizing knowledge structures, the more I’m interested in process entering the performance. I realize that process is a particular action that we’re often trying to hide. It’s interesting/terrifying for me to work with research as material, and sometimes that appears as found footage of the Internet, screen recordings of my computer failing, or my editing. I’m not super focused on the Internet as a subject per se. I’m maybe more interested in how we are the Internet. The information networks are user driven. its people’s content that makes the net. I’m interested in the diaristic form, because you see thoughts as they arise. It’s an exciting space for me to witness how the parts come together in that moment. Meanwhile, I am shy and awkward so it feels like a very conscious act to share these live moments, to be nearby and not know! I think that’s how I can tell it’s a performance—I start breathing faster.
Dylan Mira moves image and text recording language through body. Her recent projects have been presented at ICA Miami; The Drawing Center, Performa 15, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York; and 356 Mission, Museum of Contemporary Art and LACE, Los Angeles. She grew up between the Midwestern U.S. and East Asia, and now resides in Los Angeles.
Ashley Stull Meyers is a writer, editor and curatorial collaborator. She has curated exhibitions and programming for the Wattis Institute (San Francisco), Eli Ridgway Gallery (San Francisco), The Luggage Store (San Francisco) and the Oakland Museum of California. She writes for DailyServing, The Exhibitionist and Arts.Black, and has been in academic residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE) and the Banff Centre (Banff, Alberta). Most recently, Stull Meyers has been an adjunct professor at Wichita State University (Wichita, KS). She is currently based in Portland, OR.