Me and You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July

Every time someone used to ask me about my dream job I would answer “Miranda July’s”. That answer always followed opinions about her work but that had nothing to do with it: I don’t want it because I like her work, I like it because I would love to be an artist who occasionally directs feature films. Oddly enough, I had never watched a film of hers. People always told me it is hard to ace both mediums, either you are a good artists or a good filmmaker, rarely both. Maybe my reluctance to watch one of her films came from a place of uncertainty: she symbolized my hope of everyone being wrong, and I didn’t want to be proven otherwise.

Sadly, in this case, this is partly true.

This film is a brilliant as it is faulty. With great photography, this narrative-loose film ends up being a boy-meets-girl told in an odd Miranda July way. The main issue of the film is that it is trying to tell a story: this piece would be great if only it was poetry and not prose. There are beautiful, subtle, powerful and even funny parts of the film that take advantage of the film language to exist; snippets of poetry embed in every day life that function as metaphors of the character’s state of mind, fueled by sound, movement, images and acting.

July fails in fitting this beautiful nonsense into the box of sensical drama.

Towards the end, there is a scene in which of the characters asks another one why is he doing what he’s doing, and he says just to pass the time. The film works best when it shows scenes that don’t help the development of the story at all. I’d rather just scrap the narrative altogether: I’d rather think “oh, so this is about nothing” than to think “So, they end up together, of course”. I’d rather have an emotional poem about passing time.

Fun

The first year of grad school is over. I’ve spent the last three weeks in culture shock, trying to figure out how to live at a slower pace.

My goal for the summer was to focus myself, to teach myself things I’ve been aching to learn. The plan is to make myself smarter and find a clear idea of what I want to be when I grow up.

Whenever I’m idle, a big sense of anxiety hits me. I always need to be doing something, to be productive and make the most of my time. Therefore, when I was given the assignment to blog about “the fun I’m having” once a week, every week, I wasn’t enthused. I was up for the challenge… but definitely not excited.

When I think about having fun… I think about being on a roller coaster, about traveling, or going away. Fun means completely letting go.

So my challenge for the next few weeks is, where can I find fun in the everyday? How can I find it in the quiet and unexpected moments? My task is to reflect on my week and take note of the moments I feel free, the deep laughs, and moments of joy.

The Virgin Suicides by Sofia Coppola

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I never understood why people liked Sofia Coppola’s movies. I’ve seen a lot of her films but for one reason or the other I had failed to see her most iconic one, her opera prima, “Virgin Suicides”.

What I usually don’t like about her movies is that they tend to be boring movies about how boring it is to be rich, with leading characters that are passive and whose intentions, passions and motivations remain a mystery even to us. This movie is different, it not only touches on something deeper, but it is this passiveness and mystery that makes it more poignant and unbearably touching.

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It poses the question “Why would teenage girls take their own lives?” but doesn’t really answer it directly. The main characters are the Lisbon sisters: five virginal sisters whose overprotective parents trap inside their own house. We see the movie not trough her eyes but through those of neighbourhood boys who start obsessing with them. Boys who can’t pin them down themselves.

This is a slow movie that relies on accumulation, it is a story that could only be said trough film, no other medium can be so subtle that it relies on the viewers looking not at what’s pointed out, but at what’s happening in the background.

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Opening with a red notice being placed in a tree, not with tape, but with the violent pierce of a nail, the only red in an otherwise pastel palette. The omen that even the title pronounces: the ending is not important, we know how this will end, it is the unfolding of the events that is important. Said tree has a disease, “brought from Europe by the bugs”, they pour plaster into it trough a hole, Cecilia touches the plaster and an imprint of her little hand stays there longer than her. After Cecilia’s suicide, a green pamphlet is distributed in their school, a voice over says that t is green because it is lively color, but not too lively, and it is certainly better than red. Later on, the sisters try to avoid the tree from being cut down by “risking their own lives”, the man in charge of this says that will only make the rest of the trees sick, but he remains helpless towards the girls stubbornness and we soon see all of the other trees with red notices. The last time we see the house, the tree has been cut-down: We never see how this happens, we only see the after-math, the same way we only see the death girls.

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Very early in the film the younger sister, Cecelia, tries to take her life away, she fails and when questioned by the doctor about how many troubles may a young girl have to decide to take her life, she answers “you’ve obviously never been a 13 year old girl”.

In our class, David Dietcher recently mentioned how in her movies, you always get to see Sophia Coppola’s extravagant and removed life. That is in-your-face obvious when an ignored wife of an image-maker finds herself alone in a foreign country or when the child of a famous person in the film business has a complicated life with her dad who never manages to really be there for her but takes her to luxurious trips. In The Virgin Suicides it is not as evident: to be a tormented thirteen year old is not a privilege we all have, you can only worry about existentialism when existing is very easy.

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As a small parenthesis I’d like to talk about Federico Fellini and his unapologetic portrayal of himself. About how he even made 8 ½ about how he can’t help himself from putting his life into his films. I also think about posing: it has always been very funny to me that every time you see a character that was obviously him, it was either Marcelo Mastroiani, or a Marcello Mastroiani type. Sophia Coppola goes for skinny, silent, mysterious and ethereal beautiful blondes.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that this movie, although not perfect, shows more passion and depth than the rest of her career. I don’t want to be that they-were-better-in-the-ep person but there is something that Coppola lost along the way of making her movies more high-end, a brilliance and innocence that she hasn’t been able to repeat in any of her following films.

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Interview with Mary Mattingly

Recently the ICP-Bard MFA first years were able to spend some time with Mary Mattingly in her New York studio. She welcomed us into her space and gave us a comprehensive view of her ongoing project and a brief history of her work and the issues she addresses. Recently the ICP-Bard MFA first years were able to spend some time with artist Mary Mattingly in her New York studio just before she headed to Havana to participate in the 12th Havana Biennial.

http://www.marymattingly.com

  1.  Environmental issues seem to be the forefront of your artistic focus. Why is this an important topic to you?

Well, oftentimes it’s not an immediate concern for people (although more and more it is) but it’s a long view, and one of the most important ones. If we can live together in a way that is less harmful to our environments, ourselves, and each other, we can actually begin to reimagine our future, in a long view. Right now I can’t imagine that future. Since I make art that’s largely about living, it’s one of the topics I can’t avoid if I wanted to. It also has to do with growing up in a town with environmental problems, most notably surrounding toxic drinking water.

  1.  We noticed that a solution you had was self-sustainability. Do you believe your goal is to teach people what to do in a potential post-apocalyptic world or do you want to show these images as an attempt to persuade us to change our ways before we need to take such drastic actions?

I believe in interdependent sustainability more than self-sustainability but they do go hand-in-hand. Yes, I think it’s important to always be learning from each other, and hope self-reflection is a part of that and change is a part of that.

  1.  You work extensively with collaborators. How much does that affect your work as compared to work you do alone?

Working with collaborators many times becomes the subject of a collaborative work – the process is inextricably linked to the outcome. It’s about compromise and chance. While working alone I’m still compromising, but with materials, with equipment. The work I do alone is also about coming to terms with how I occupy space inside of a social, political, and even art-world apparatus. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can be understood and heard.

  1.  How different is working with unfamiliar and foreign communities as compared to your own?

While many places are foreign including my own communities, I still find myself becoming part of many networks inside of each place, even if it is the network that brings me to a foreign place (whether it’s a museum or another entity). Because I’m usually operating within these different structures to some extent, there is always a foreign and familiar or even familial level to a place. People drawn to participate in the projects I do in NYC can be strangers just as much as people I’m working with in Havana. It’s as much a learning experience to navigate barter in Havana as it is to navigate the world of New York’s waterfront. They are both equally intriguing proposals.