Presented by The Institute of Contemporary Art
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Boston) The Institute of Contemporary Art is a glass and steel structure near the shore. On a gray, rainy Sunday, it looks imposing and a little unnerving. I’m reminded of the cold skyscrapers in Manhattan in my first visit there to see Miranda July on stage. This isn’t a bad state of mind to be in. Coincidentally, my first exposure to Miranda July was when I lived in New York and read her book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007). I was enchanted with her writing, its self-deprecating jokes and nervous whimsy. It appealed to me in a city where I often felt unanchored.
In her live performances and films, July radiates the vulnerability in her writing. Her characters are often shy and awkward, deceptively artless while embodying the nerve-wracking, uncomfortable moments in life. She creates work about (and perhaps for) the shy and the lonely and she seems to want to keep it that way.
In Lost Child!, Miranda July describes her work up until now. She expresses an urge to remain unconfined by medium. Rather than remain in the movie industry (her most recent film is The Future (2011)), she talks about wanting to carve out a place for herself. This starts early with the book she wrote as a seven-year old about a lost little girl and then the two-person play she wrote and produced at sixteen, the latter based on her pen pal letters with a jailed convict. Her journey is excessively personal, her early performance art largely controlled and acted out with her in all the roles. She doesn’t flinch when she talks about dropping out of college to do performance art and briefly live with a bomb-making girlfriend.
From her early development as a writer, actress, and director, July is all about reflection and interviews between “a larger, higher power” and herself. She slowly steps away from the familiar to include audience participation in her live performances. Eventually, she talks about her relatively recent interviews conducted with people she’s met through ads in the Penny Saver in Los Angeles. Her exploration of disconnection becomes a way to connect.
Her work remains concerned with high art and thoughtful meandering. Never does she come off as proud or snobbish, however, remaining humble and humorously disarming as she describes her web site community projects and break out hit film, You and Me and Everyone We Know. There’s something in her voice and posture that’s steely and sure. I think she’s perfectly aware of what it means to be alienated, in life, theater, and the film industry, but continues to make stories for those who feel adrift and isolated.
Lost Child! leaves a lot for viewers to chew over. It seems, principally, like it would be best experienced by those who already know who July is or are interested in thinking about and developing their own art. It’s a show of cliff notes, moments that show where July has been as a creator and individual and hint where the film director and new mother is headed next.