Megan and Murray McMillan

I have been really interested in the work of Megan and Murray McMillan. Megan and Murray are interdisciplinary artists living in Rhode Island.  Their work merges  video, installation, photography  and performance.  I am interested in some of the questions they are able to raise about performance, and the integration of art and life.  Some  of their work involves intricate stage design, large scale sculpture and choreographed performance while, other elements of their work are un-scripted, and real. The  artists use people from their lives, performing activities that they would normally do in their everyday life, intermingled with choreographed performance. They also use “movers” as a catalyst for flux, having the movers travel or move something, creating mini journeys. The movers move the set, manipulate spot lights and construct props. Their works raise interesting questions for me about performance and the role of the performer.

I really appreciate the slippery line between staged and unstaged, blurring the boundaries between art and life.  In their piece,  What We Loved and Forgot,

Photo credit : Megan and Murray McMillan

a man seated rises and ascends to a white light then reemerges and walks through a field where workers  that are constructing giant lilies. The man walks into a new room where a woman is making a real-life meal for the cast and crew.  I love poetic nature of the piece as a meditation on memory and loss. The artists also create a new experience for the people involved in the production.  Upon further research I learned that the piece was inspired by an add on craigslist, the woman that posted the add had recently lost her husband and had a  ton of yellow plastic that used to be his. When Megan and Murray picked up the plastic the woman challenged them to create something beautiful with the plastic.  I respond to this work because I really like the idea of experience leading to artwork, life challenges and events that inform or inspire work. The loss of this person and the challenge the woman posed to them inspired the decisions of the piece.   The day lilies in the piece represent the funeral flower which blooms in the morning and dies at sunset.  The yellow plastic from the woman on craigslist was used to make the flowers.  In this sense, the material holds significance. The challenge of using that specific material to speak to a concept that inspired the piece, adds a layer of meaning for me.  The woman cooking the meal is actually a friend of theirs and is a chef in real life. To the artists, the woman represents the only real thing happening and the rest is a memory.  In an interview they talk about memory being malleable and changing.  According to a podcast that they heard on Radio lab, the more you recall a memory, the less clear it becomes.  According to Murray McMillan, “ The things you are remembering are changing in your head, perhaps  even the scale of them”  this idea inspired the scale of the large flowers.

I see influences from artists like Allan Kaprow and John Cage and also Punchdrunk’s “Sleep No More” in the work. The idea of a polished Hollywood performance is obscured by allowing awkward and unscripted moments to happen. Much like Allan Kaprow, the artists set up parameters and allow unscripted moments to happen within those parameters. I am drawn to the artist’s choice of inviting people from their lives to participate and perform tasks  that they would do in their everyday life. Megan and Murray McMillan use multiple mediums, and raise important questions with their work. Is there a difference between art and life? Is there such thing as non-performance? How do you achieve sincerity in art? How can we create emotional experiences for people with the combinations of seemingly disparate things? What makes something art?  I am interested in these questions in my own work and really appreciate the questions these artists are raising for me.

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