Culture & Arts

Miranda July Interview: 'We Think Alone' Delivers Intimate Emails To Your Inbox (INTERVIEW)

Miranda July wants to send you emails from famous people. Sign up here and the writer and filmmaker will convey secret transmissions every week from July until November. It's part of an art exhibition called "We Think Alone," and it takes place in your inbox.

The performance artist is best known for writing, directing and starring in the 2005 film, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" as well as 2011's "The Future." But she's also famous for her crowd-sourced projects; in 2010, SFMOMA purchased her seven-year online artwork titled, "Learning To Love You More," in which July created assignments like "Make an encouraging banner" and "Make a field guide to your yard." Thousands of user-generated results rolled in.

A similar mission guides her latest project, "We Think Alone," where strangers become privy to the private emails of Lena Dunham, Catherine Opie, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kirsten Dunst, Sheila Heti, Etgar Keret, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Lee Smolin and Danh Vo. In this banal yet confidential space, emails become striking self-portraits.

"A quiet person might !!!! a lot," she explains on her website. "A person with a busy mind might write almost nothing."

We reached out to her to learn more about the project. (Scroll down for the interview.)

miranda july

Huffington Post: How did you come up with the idea for "We Think Alone"?

Miranda July: I was invited by the museum Magasin 3 to do a project in the medium of email. They were fans of another project I had done in email where people could subscribe for fortunes; I would send written fortunes to them each week. For this one I didn't want to have to write anything -- I am writing a novel right now -- and I have always loved reading other people's emails.

I've tried to get friends to do this with me before: let's send each other emails that we've sent to our moms or our boyfriends or something. There is something about the mundane-ness that feels very intimate to me. I thought I would do that idea on a grand scale. At first I thought I'd do it with my friends but then I realized no one would care about them as much as I did. So I chose some of my more famous friends, or famous people that weren't friends. I came up with 10 topics and they had to scavenge through their inboxes for an email that fit each topic.

HP: So every week we receive an email from each of the participants?

MJ: Every week there is a topic; for the first week the topic is money.

HP: How did you choose the people involved?

MJ: I started with people I knew that were somewhat famous and that ended up being a lot of artists and writers so I tried to reach outside of that and invited a theoretical physicist that I didn't know, Lee Smolin. And I thought I should have someone from sports so that is how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became involved. It was about trying to make a diverse group. Actually, the reason I knew Kareem knew who I was was because he mentioned me in a Huffington Post blog and I was like, well, I guess he knows who I am, so I looked him up online and emailed him.

HP: Was anyone hesitant?

MJ: No, I mean with Kareem there was an issue because he doesn't write all his own emails, which is understandable. You probably wouldn't either if you were him. But that was interesting to me too; I thought people would be curious to see whatever his reality is. There was some kind of negotiating about that, but really everyone kind of jumped into it.

HP: Next question... Does self-awareness lead to creativity or conformity?

MJ: It is interesting because not everyone has the same goals for their self-portrait. I think some people's goals were to share as little as possible and in a way that is a portrait. It's like, Oh, that's a private person. With other people you could see they were sharing things that they were proud of -- of all the emails they chose this one. Then again, not all the categories allow everyone to show themselves in the best light, and that was interesting too, the points where people really had to reveal themselves. People use email so differently also; Catherine Opie has these long correspondences that are very integral to her relationships, which is something I identify with. But then there are other people who almost use them like texts. That juxtaposition was very interesting.

HP: Can you recall a particular work of art that shook you when you were younger?

MJ: I remember staring at some pointilist painting in an Impressionist exhibition when I was younger and thinking that I was being really moved by it. I felt like I was in the painting. But gradually I realized what was happening was the sound of the air conditioning and the perfume of the woman next to me were combining with the image to create this immersive experience. I remember thinking that was interesting. The whole thing is the art; the painting would be nothing without the cooling system.

HP: Do you find it harder to connect with your audience the bigger you become?

MJ: Not really, it just shifts a little. Now there is such ample opportunity to connect with fans; I mean, I could do it all day long on Twitter if I wanted to. I am interested in projects like this where every single person is going to get something from me in their inbox. I like that bizarre intimacy.

HP: What tip would you have to help others become less self-conscious?

MJ: You have to let go of watching yourself to make something, at least at the beginning. Everyone knows the difference between being inside yourself and watching from the outside. The important thing is realizing you have a choice.

Get more information on "We Think Alone" here; the first email arrives on July 1.

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