Miranda July, “How To Make A Button” (2008)
It’s not just her face, is it? This is what I have to ask myself. Her perfect and always opening face, as if the world was busy being born every time she looked at it. What if she was a burn victim, what if the cancer which was threatening my dear Matthias’s face had found her too, in our culture which believes in hiding only the most pure and functional and beautiful parts of the body (the genitals), while staging in demonstration, again and again, the most obscene and difficult and unbearable moment of the body: the face. What if she didn’t have that face, the one that invites me to share her look and looking, that promises an easy landing? Would she still have the endless charm of July?
Wherever I look there is always the irresistible tyranny of the face. I return to it again and again, the open wound of the eyes, the mouth issuing words I have already heard, but now in new combinations, salted with a personal touch. As I get older I have stopped trying to impose my face on all those who stand around me, and instead I am opening to them; it began as a kind of party game and turned quickly enough into habit. I stand in front of him and her and let their faces enter me, and always their solitude hurts me, no matter how often it happens, it takes me by surprise. The loneliness and pain. The childhood misunderstandings which refuse to heal. The old loops, worn into the ovoid mask of the face. Look at me. Listen to me. And then leave me alone in my loneliness.
Miranda appears in front of her camera like she’s been sunning herself there all day — her greeting is bright and casual and without effort. It comes from a place, or at least this is the promise, where all the dark things can be held, and turned over, and made light again and then blown off the end of your fingertips. That’s how she appears to me, with her almost studied clumsiness and her invitations to step right in alongside. The quick smile flashing across her face like a secret she can’t keep to herself. Her shy narcissism.
I try not to let her American drawl remind me of the secret torture prisons scattered around the world. “Were you ever a member of…” voices just like this one are busy drawling right now as they maim and drown and electrify their charge. She sounds like them but she’s not one of them, that’s what I want to believe, that’s what this face wants to make me believe. And more than that. I want to believe that even if all of my best friends were busy doing it, even if it was the only way to feed my family, even if I enjoyed it, even if my every cell sang with happiness at the pleasure of watching flesh separating from bone, I wouldn’t torture the man my boss refers to only as a number in a log book.
This July face offers permission to think past the worst thoughts. To pick up that darkness and keep right on moving. It is a face busy with its own transformations, unafraid of getting older. She is ready to observe that change too. And how easily and lightly she changes the ordinary things around her into something extraordinary. The darkness, the unwanted touch, the sad descent we called love, this is all called up from ordinary things. It rests in mustard jars and table cloths and denim jeans. The covers of unread books. A pencil not yet sharpened, pregnant with unwritten words.
In this video she shakes her head no, again and again, as if she were refusing the world she is inviting. Wearing her best Patti Smith Horses shirt and tie, is there anything here, even the sunlight, that has not been plotted in advance? But it is her voice that holds a secret. Something has happened to this voice, it should lie inside her just a little deeper, it should call out from the knot of her guts but instead it lies ever so slightly pinched at the top end of her rib cage, and along with a sing-song quality it grants her speech at once an airy lightness – oh, it’s nothing – and more than a hint that something has happened to her, that in fact her lightness is a way of coping with the too much that has already happened. Her voice is the reaction shot, it bears the wound, and how very well, even easily she seems to wear it. Like every artist I admire, she has turned her wound into something beautiful, and with typical generosity she offers her gift to everyone. Look, you can do it too! C’mon in!
- Mike Hoolboom