Miranda July: We Think Alone

Miranda JulyMiranda July is endlessly interesting. She writes, and makes films and multimedia art. Sometimes she acts. But for that pedestrian description to have any bearing you need to look at her work. If you’ve dismissed July on the grounds of quirky, hip, and cute, I hear you. I don’t like anything that wears those labels. I think her work rises above those things.

An article in the New York Times writes of July: ‘It’s odd that she has come to represent, for some, a kind of soulless hipster cool, because in July’s work, nobody is cool. There’s no irony to it, no insider wink. Her characters are ordinary people whose lives don’t normally invite investigation. So her project is the opposite of hipster exclusion: her work is desperate to bring people together, forcing them into a kind of fellow feeling. She’s unrelentingly sincere, and maybe that sincerity makes her difficult to bear. It also might make her culturally essential.’

I’m going with that interpretation. Anyway, she was born in Berkeley and her parents were publishers of alternative health and spiritual books, so it’s not entirely her fault.

Miranda July writes odd, fun stories. I suggest you start with It Chooses You (2011), which is an amalgam of interviews, snatches of her personal life, and fiction (if the rest isn’t fiction…). You can read an extract from the book at the New Yorker. She’s also written for the New Yorker, Paris Review and Harper’s. And McSweeny’s, of course.

She made a short film about procrastination called A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted, which is the best form of procrastinating ever. Her most recent feature film is called The Future (2011). She wrote it, stars in it, and directed it. But most people know her from her first film, You Me and Everyone We Know (2005).

Her art is in everything she does, from her website Learning to Love You More (a seven-year project which asked more than 8000 people to submit work in response to assignments like Take a Picture of Your Parents Kissing) to her interactive sculpture garden Eleven Heavy Things. She has also released several albums of music.

All of this is to introduce you to her latest project, which I came upon by happenstance last week. It’s called We Think Alone. Sign up and you’ll receive emails from the sent boxes of some of July’s friends, including Kirsten Dunst and Sheila Heti. The project starts on 1 July, runs to 11 November, was commissioned by Magasin 3 in Stockholm, and exists only in your inbox.

I’ve signed up to We Think Alone because I’m curious. Let me know if you sign up, too.

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4 Responses to Miranda July: We Think Alone

  1. I am enjoying your blog, Kirsten. I love Miranda July’s feature from 2005 but I’m not familiar with her other work. Thanks for pointing it all out. I’ll sign up for We Think Alone. Sheila Heti was the standout writer for me at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Fest…

  2. v11oyd says:

    Hi Kirsten,
    Thanks for this post. I have been receiving the We Think Alone emails since they began earlier this month. While I found the first one intriguing — each email ostensibly collects and presents emails from each contributor which refer to a common theme (nominated by July herself? It’s not clear) — the subsequent emails have been patchy with holes where contributors could not find relevant material. Maybe I’m too hung up on structure, but to me there’s an overarching frame/goal lacking for the project. That said, I think it’s fascinating to explore ways to generate (or curate, as July does here) artistic approaches to email, which is now so ubiquitous as to be invisible as a channel for art.

  3. Hi Virginia

    Thanks for taking the time to read the post. I agree with you. But maybe we’re coming at it from a different place than July – perhaps she has no goal other than to test-drive various ways of making art through words and images. Perhaps doing the project is the goal? I don’t think the holes in the narrative (writers being unable to find an email that fit the theme) bother her too much. I enjoyed reading Lena Dunham’s relationship advice email (which was pragmatic and compassionate) and wasn’t fussed that Kirsten Dunst is clearly not one to offer advice. Sometimes the gaps are interesting too?

    I find the idea fascinating, I love reading letters, and I’m much happier peering into the lives of famous people when they’ve granted me permission (as opposed to paparazzi pics or scurrilous articles). But it’s often the case, for me anyway, that an idea is more intriguing than its execution.

    I do love that July tries such varied ways of communicating with people. Some work, some fail, but each time she makes an attempt there is a new object/form/possibility for us all to consider. That seems a good and healthy thing to me…

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