Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan Exhibition Catalogue

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Some Things We Can Do Together

Megan and Murray McMillan



Some Things We Can Do Together Megan and Murray McMillan SPRING/SUMMER 2020 Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

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spaces in which to float works exhibition checklist Some Things We Can Do Together conversation SKETCHBOOK:15 years of process

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A man is seated on an easy newspaper. Performers co foot tall yellow lilies fr A couple folds a red sheet Crew members operate me mobilize a suspended buil mylar stage becomes a la

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y chair reading a onstruct TWELVErom industrial plastic. t in a floating room. echanisms that lding. A wood AND ake.

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What Stands Between Us and the Sun 2010, Video, 4:06 min., HD video 6


Spaces in Which to Float Megan and Murray McMillan’s Transportive Journeys Megan and Murray McMillan make large scale projects that result in short videos, installations and photographic series. "Constructing complex, architectural sets that become stages for video and photography, the McMillans create works that offer a window into seemingly impossible situations." 1 The line between reality and fiction, worker and performer, audience and viewer is repeatedly obscured in the McMillans’ works. We see someone making dinner in a simple apartment, a group of friends laugh and argue over a bottle of wine, and then something magical occurs: the apartment is transformed into a moving stage, people construct twelve-foot tall lilies from industrial plastic. In the McMillans’ works the camera reveals a series of edges and ruptures, the theater is transformed from the everyday to the magical to the everyday again. A couple watch an eclipse of the sun. The sound of crickets and someone whistling permeates the room. The camera withdraws; crew members operate pulleys that lift a boat into the sky. Like dreams, these poetic narratives play with our notions of the possible and present us with metaphors that stretch us. They tell stories about communities and relationships, revealing the sometimes awkward glue that connects us to each other, the savored moments, and the ways in which memory and desire are always present in our daily labors. Finding a “connective thread between the temporality of video and the observational distance of photographs, their works imaginatively situate the viewer inside

1. Notes for this essay and art historical references provided by the McMillans. 7


metaphorical, fabricated environments such as the coal bin of a decommissioned power plant or a small boat circling an island in the Gulf of Finland.”2 A varied lexicon of elements within the works such as vessels of transport, theatrical stages, bridges, passageways, and rooms, allow the McMillans to create magical, transportive journeys. Many of the McMillans’ projects are loosely inspired by prominent works from art history. For example, the couple folding sheets in The Shape of Our Best Intentions (2011) reference Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage Portrait from 1434, allowing the artists to reflect on the contemporary institution of marriage. The woman who climbs to the top of the roof of the abandoned factory in In What Distant Sky (2013) references the self-reflective romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog from 1818. And the McMillans’ 2019 work, Some Things We Can Do Together, subtly nods toward still lifes by Juan Sánchez Cotán, an artist from the 1600s whose efforts at realism have been said to “fool the birds.” This new video, Some Things We Can Do Together, plays with the notion of a retrospective. Megan and Murray McMillan created birdhouses based on four sculptural sets of their past works, and located them outside in front of a motion-activated camera. Providing meals for the birds, much as they do with their human collaborators, the McMillans invited the birds to activate these small sets and enter the narratives of their past works. What unfolds is humorous, but also touching and thought-provoking. A mother sparrow feeds her baby; crows argue, blue jays seem to converse over lunch, a squirrel interrupts the scene. The work asks questions about creative process and interspecies connections, and the real resilience of the relationships we form when we are “doing things together.” Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan, features over a decade of the McMillans’ collaborative work.

2. Ibid 8


This exhibition in the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art includes a new pavilion, a version of the mylar lake from What Stands Between Us and the Sun (2010), built to include sculptural tableaux that refer back to a number of their projects. The installation of this exhibition could not have happened without the infectious energy and ambitious thinking of the artists themselves for which we are very grateful; it has been a pleasure to watch their dialogue unfold over the months of preparation. Critical to bringing Some Things We Can Do Together to fruition in the ICA at MECA are the exceptional skills and planning of Assistant Director Nikki Rayburn. Preparatory work was supported by MECA intern, Gabe Densley; many staff members helped during the installation period. Finally, Some Things We Can Do Together, curated by J.R. Uretsky, was first exhibited at the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! in New Bedford, MA. We are grateful for J.R.’s keen eye and knowledge of the McMillans’ work. Her curatorial essay, included here, reflects on her understanding of the poetics that underlie all of the McMillans’ projects and how that poetry transports us.

Julie Poitras Santos Director of Exhibitions, Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art

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What We Loved and Forgot 2010, Video, site specific installation 2:06 min., HD video 10


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We Asked You to Carry It All 2019, Video, 3:41 min., 4K video 15


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The Shifting Space Around Us 2014, Video, 8:46 min., 4K video 17


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In What Distant Sky 2013, Video installation, 5:14 min., 4K video

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In What Distant Sky 2013, Video installation, 5:14 min., 4K video 23


The Stepping Up and Going Under Method 2006, Video, 0:54 min., SD video 24


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Some Things We Can Do Together 2019, Video installation, 6:53 min., HD video 29


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What Stands Between Us and the Sun 2010, Video installation, 4:06 min., HD video

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What Stands Between Us and the Sun 2010, Video installation, 4:06 min., HD video 35


The Listening Array 2008, Video, 1:45 min., SD video 36


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When We Didn’t Touch the Ground 2012, Framed photograph, 40 x 60 in. 41


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When We Didn’t Touch the Ground 2012, Video installation, 5:01 min., HD video

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The Land is a Ship at Sea 2008, Video, 0:46 min., SD video 45


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While She Waits for the Light 2009, Video installation, 1:31 min., HD video p. 48–51 A Slight Shift of Gravity 2​008, Video, 0:46 min., HD video 50


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The Shape of Our Best Intentions 2011, Video installation, 6:03 min., HD video

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The Shape of Our Best Intentions 2011, Framed photograph, 40 x 60 in. 55


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Exhibition Checklist Bruc Fugue 2006, Video 1:31 min., SD video Performers: Garold Andersen, Lori Andersen, Catherine Bergsrud, Diane Bukowski, Marie Bukowski, Kayce Schwendiman Davis, Carlos Cortes Leon, Anne Tone Lie, Megan Lynch, Kari Nordheim, Briony Plant, Lou Ramsden, Ali Taylor, Sam Thomas

The Stepping Up and Going Under Method 2006, Video 0:54 min., SD video Performers: Wendy Ballard, Josh Monroe Production: Michelle Abeln, Tayna Apostolova, Dena Bergman, Oscar Fernandez, Sarah Hermes Griesbach, Maryam Gharabiklou Zareh, Agnieszka Gradzik, Carrie McNeal, Camillo Spiegelfeld, Cosima Thomas, Florian Thomas, Tristan Thomas, Timothy Wagner, Josh Watson Audio: NASA.gov (NASA audio from booster rocket falling from space into the atmosphere and landing in the ocean)

A Slight Shift of Gravity 2008, Video 0:46 min., SD video Performers: Janne Kilpio, Nina Renvall Production: Sanna Syvanen

The Land is a Ship at Sea 2008, Video 0:46 min., SD video Performers: John Wickstrom Production: Thomas Dahlgren 58

Audio: Marianne Maans, Lilian Mattsson, Annike Pensar-Sundstrom, Sylvia PensarSundstrom, Sylvia Sundstrom Audio: Brollopet i Stora Salen Det kom ett Folk Fran Skaren: Visor fran Kokar, Finlands Svenka Folkmusikinstitut 1995 Used with permission

The Listening Array 2008, Video 1:45 min., SD video Performers: Corey Blondin, Mollie Durkin, Dustin Ellis, Karen Eng, Chelsea Fitz SimmonsDiaz, Meg Gardner, Brian Hutcheson, Miyako Igari, Rob Kane, Bernard Larriveem, Kat LeJeune, LeEllen Lewis, Keri Marion, Liz Morgan, Cara Naylor, Peter Owen, Brian Rotondo, Peter Siegenthaler, Alex Smith, Kara Smolca, Kristen Spencer, Mason Sperling, Casey Thomas, Daniel Venezia, Marina Viscun Production: Justin Lewis, Conner McClure, Jonathon Michals, David Sloan Audio: Вы жертвою пали (You Fell Victims) Composer: Unknown Musical Arrangements: Nikolai Ikonnikov (1879-1958) Lyrics: Anton Amosov (his literary name was Anton Arkhangelsky) (1854-1915) Written: 1878 Transcription/Markup: Sliva J-Paul/Will Brant, Liviu Iacob, 2003, 2006

While She Waits for the Light 2009, Video installation 1:31 min., HD video Performers: Rebecca Leuchak, Bill Monroe, Christie Newman King, Peter Owen Production: Kelly Capek, Rachel Coleman, Daphne Kouri, Brent Gentile, Justin Lewis, Keri Marion, Pavlos Nikolakopoulos, Brendon


Scanlon, Kelly Venechanos, Hayley Woldseth Audio: Marion Baldwin, Fannie Mae Curtis, Helen Dunkin, Grant Gassiott, Edna Morrison, Patsy Newman, Ernest Singletary, Helen Singletary, Ann Strickland, Mary Francis Stroud, Timothy Stroud, Hal Weathersby

What Stands Between Us and the Sun 2010, Video installation 4:06 min., HD video Assistant: Blake W. Sherwood Director of Photography: Kieran Delaney Performers: Lani Asuncion, Mike Formanski, Rachel Jendrzejewski, Justin Lewis, Katie Mansfield, Keri Marion, Alyssa Matthews, Ted Ollier, Ben Piwowar, Anna Shapiro, Blake W. Sherwood, Caitlin Strokosch, Alan Tracy, J.R. Uretsky Production: Autumn Patricia Ahn, Mike Formanski, Justin Lewis, Keri Marion, Adam Moroski, Caitlin Strokosch, Alan Tracy

What We Loved and Forgot 2010, Video, site specific installation 2:06 min., HD video Performers: Daniel Floyd, Bill Gusky, Kathryn Konrad, Colin McNamee, Tim O’Donnell, Alee Peoples, Holly Popielarz, Allison Silva Production: Anna Bak, Daphne Kouri, Pavlos Nikolakopoulos, Peter Owen, Blake W. Sherwood, Phil Soucy

The Shape of Our Best Intentions 2011, Framed photograph, 40 x 60 in. Assistant: Chris Capozzi, J.R. Uretsky Director of Photography: Kieran Delaney Performers: Lani Asuncion, Adam Bailey, Eve Bailey, Amanda M Brown, Sheung Tang

(ST) Luk, Brittany Mroczek, Will Reeves Production: Danny Dibattista, Michael Formanski, Eric Nichols, Jon Stone Engineer: Sam Hogg Assistant Director of Photography: David Peterle 2011, Video installation 6:03 min., HD video Assistant: Chris Capozzi, J.R. Uretsky Director of Photography: Kieran Delaney Performers: Lani Asuncion, Adam Bailey, Eve Bailey, Amanda M Brown, Sheung Tang (ST) Luk, Brittany Mroczek, Will Reeves Production: Danny Dibattista, Michael Formanski, Eric Nichols, Jon Stone Engineer: Sam Hogg Assistant Director of Photography: David Peterle

When We Didn’t Touch the Ground 2012, Framed photograph, 40 x 60 in. Assistant: J.R. Uretsky Director of Photography: Kieran Delaney Performers: Lani Asuncion, Lucia Carroll, David Engel, Sam Keller, Judit Kollo, Tabitha Piseno, Will Reeves, Kimi Rich, Thea Ulrich Music: Danny DiBattista, Mikhail Mansion Audio Engineer: Michal Dziedziniewicz Production: Chris Capozzi, Michael Formanski, Phil Shaw Engineer: Sam Hogg Assistant Director of Photography: Elizabeth Howland Chef: David Engel 2012, Video installation 5:01 min., HD video Assistant: J.R. Uretsky Director of Photography: Kieran Delaney 59


Performers: Lani Asuncion, Lucia Carroll, David Engel, Sam Keller, Judit Kollo, Tabitha Piseno, Will Reeves, Kimi Rich, Thea Ulrich Music: Danny DiBattista, Mikhail Mansion Audio Engineer: Michal Dziedziniewicz Production: Chris Capozzi, Michael Formanski, Phil Shaw Engineer: Sam Hogg Assistant Director of Photography: Elizabeth Howland Chef: David Engel

In What Distant Sky 2013, Video installation 5:14 min., 4K video First Assistant Director: J.R. Uretsky Second Assistant Director: Alex Peacock Director of Photography: Kieran Delaney Lead Performers: Hiro Fukawa, Hiroku Fukawa, Thea Ulrich Performers: Jane Burns, Kim Faler, Thomas Huston, Tim Lebestky, Derek Parker, Alex Peacock, Ben Ripley, Jessica Sisavath Video Engineer: Sam Hogg Installation Engineer: Robert J Dermody, AIA Grip: Greg Lookersee Digital Imaging Technician: Christian Meade Camera Elevator Designer: Will Reeves Camera Elevator Fabrication: Clara Bertness, Nick Dakovic, Naushon Hale Video Production: Dylan Dewitt, Ryan Hawk, Greg Lookersee, Brendon Maddock, Christian Meade, Alex Peacock, Gianna Stewart, J.R. Uretsky Installation Production: Cory J Larrubia, Samantha Moscardelli, Will Reeves Aerial Director: Brandon Davis Video Modeling: Chris Kunkle Installation Modeling: Marc Guzzio, Samantha Moscardelli

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Electrician: Jon Stone Production Assistant: Gianna Stewart

The Shifting Space Around Us 2014, Video 8:46 min., 4K video Assistant Director: J.R. Uretsky Director of Photography: Kieran Delaney Lead Performers: Theo Goodell, Marc Guzzio, Rachel Jendrzejewski, J.R. Uretsky Performers: Michael Guy, Aaron Hanna, Vivian Nakatsu, David Vilecz Toronto Production Manager: Dan Surman Toronto Production Coordinator: Jenn Goodwin Assistant Camera: Ben Dewey Grip: Rhys Brisbin Locomotive Turntable Operator: Michael Guy Performance Editor & Digital Imaging Technician: Jon Staav Performance Video System: Michael Hooper Engineer: Sam Hogg Production: Mimi Chrzonowski, Heather Gillock, Marc Guzzio, Rachel Lewallen, Xander Marro, Courtney McClellan, Christian Meade Alex Peacock, Alex Tominsky, J.R. Uretsky, Dailen Williams

How We Measure What We Lost 2015, Video 2:09 min., 4K video Assistant Director: J.R. Uretsky Director of Photography: Mike Formanski Performers: Carrie Ferguson, Gustavo Henrique Lutterbach Engineer: Sam Hogg Production: Marc Guzzio, J.R. Uretsky Special Thanks: D. Michael Tramontin, Pacific Laser Systems


Some Things We Can Do Together 2019, Video installation 6:53 min., HD video

We Asked You to Carry It All 2019, Video 3:41 min., 4K video Performer: Cristián Flores García Production: Kristen Lepore, Leia Stone

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A couple in a boat arrive o watch an eclipse of the s crickets and someone whi the room. A woman slowly the roof of an abandoned A group of people observe through a series of gold p of an organ. 62


on the scene to un. The sound of istling permeates y climbs a ladder to d industrial building. e a dinner party pipes reminiscent

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A Slight Shift of Gravity 2​008, Video, 0:46 min., HD video 64


Some Things We Can Do Together ...I cannot see any basic difference between a handshake and a poem... The handshake is our decided ritual of both asserting (I am here) and handing over (here) a self to another. Hence the poem is that — Here. I am here. This conflation of the solidity of presence with the offering of this same presence perhaps has everything to do with being alive... Here both recognizes and demands recognition... In order for something to be handed over a hand must extend and a hand must receive. We must both be here in this world in this life in this place indicating the presence of. — Claudia Rankine, D ​ on’t Let Me Be Lonely A poem, as described by Claudia Rankine in her 2004 book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, is both an extension of self as well as an exchange. In this way, a poem is active; the poet extends fragments of herself to be received by a reader. The reader then adds their own experience to the poet’s, and the original poem becomes something else entirely. The work of Megan and Murray McMillan is no different. Their projects draw on autobiographical narratives, typically referencing what it means to work collaboratively. Personal stories act as a point of departure, informing everything about the McMillans’ interdisciplinary projects: the set, props, gestures of the actors, and the exhibition installation. Like Rankine’s poem, each of the McMillans’ videos offers an extension of self as well as several opportunities for exchange between viewers, between cast members, even between exhibition installers and Museum employees. The McMillans’ works are wholly their own; however, they leave significant room for viewers to interpret and add their personal experiences. Most of the works focus on a couple, sometimes alone and other times in communities of bustling individuals doing mundane actions with focused attention on an object that is unknown to the viewer. These movements typically respond to architecture that is rarely fixed, but instead shifts, transforms, and even flies. Each 65


of the video elements allude to a narrative that is out of grasp. The narratives, however, are felt. The videos stir up emotions; they are relatable without being didactic; they are strangely familiar — akin to déjà vu. The McMillans’ work calls out moments of exchange between people. They never illustrate or describe, but rather, strategically draw the viewer’s eye to the gray areas of interpersonal exchanges. Perhaps this is why the work often feels familiar, for we all know the complexities of relationships. It is the reason we walk on eggshells around some people and have soft spots for others. The works of Megan and Murray McMillan create multiple affective experiences for three different audiences. The viewer experiences the culmination of the McMillans’ projects in the gallery. The cast and crew of the McMillans’ videos are another audience. The McMillans’ video shoots and epic sets employ other people to create, resulting in a finished artwork but also in a community of makers. Finally, and perhaps most intriguing is the third audience — each other. Megan and Murray McMillan have known one another since they were fifteen-years-old; they have been married for 22 years and have been making art collaboratively for over a decade. Their art practice exists in the space of constant conversation between the two. The McMillan’s bond is reflected in their art; and like the work, it is complicated, funny at times, magical, assertive, and most of all, it is kind.

J.R. Uretsky Curator at the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! in New Bedford, MA

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The Listening Array 2008, Video, 1:45 min., SD video 68


Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan Excerpts from a Conversation Friday, April 3, 2020 with Megan + Murray McMillan, J.R. (Jamie) Uretsky, and Julie Poitras Santos

Julie Poitras Santos Hello and welcome to the ICA at Maine College of Art. I’m really delighted to welcome artists Megan and Murray McMillan and curator Jamie Uretsky here today for a conversation about their extraordinary exhibition in the ICA Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan. First, I just want to thank you all for being here and making time today. We’re all going crazy responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and really trying to figure out what our lives look like going forward from here. So, I really appreciate you making time to be here. Megan and Murray — we first met in 2006 outside of Barcelona, Spain years ago at the residency Can Serrat, where I was working at the time. It’s been an extraordinary pleasure to watch your work evolve from afar over the past fifteen years, and to connect more recently. For this show in particular, we haven’t used the word retrospective, but it does contain work from those

15 years since we first met. I’d love to hear your thinking on that, about looking retrospectively at the work, what has changed, what has transformed — I think a whole lot, of course — and thinking about your work now when you’re looking back on those years.

megan McMillan

So, we’ve been working together actually since 2002, and we’ve been together for a lot longer than that so it’s been an evolving process to develop this partnership, and we’ve had an incredible benefit of spending the first 10 years of our collaboration really having an extraordinary amount of time to work and to go to residencies, and so we feel like in some ways we’re still benefiting from all of the travel and the ideas that came out of that time period. We’ve gone through a season of — we have a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old now — and it’s kind of fundamentally changed the way that we work, at least for this period of time. And so, it’s given us a lot of opportunity to reflect back on some of the work that we’ve made in the past and to think about it in a new way. You know, we’ve often said that we were so busy making work for so long — we just 69


had a really high production conveyor belt that we were doing and we were just working as hard as we could and as fast as we could, and it didn’t give us a lot of time to reflect. And so, this has been a really great season, particularly as we’ve developed this show, that we’ve looked at a lot of this work in the archive and we’ve really thought about it collectively. We’ve thought about what are the themes that emerge? What are things we can’t get away from? What do we do over and over again? So that’s been a really interesting process for us.

Murray McMillan

And the work kind of makes more sense when you see it together. There’s a common vocabulary and approach that we take. It reflects itself in fun ways that I don’t think — when this show was first put together, in the first iteration at New Bedford with Jamie — we didn’t think that would happen so much. And we’re really surprised that that was really what the show became. And we’re delighted with how it’s expanded in Portland now. This has become something that’s smashed together in an even more conscious way, that’s a delight to see.

Julie

Yeah, it’s really extraordinary. I see a family of works — they all relate together really strongly in an incredible way. I was thinking, too, about the title. The title work Some Things We Can Do Together, that for me is a piece that really plays with this notion of retrospective — or retrospection, 70

We always talk about collaborating with each other, with other people, with people as part of our production, and then we usually also include collaborating with the spaces, materials — these are things that are really important to the way we both work ... let’s say — in a fun way. This sense that these works you had constructed as pieces for video productions previously were remade at the scale of a birdhouse, and you invited birds to interact with these works. There’s a sense that in this retrospective manner, you’re playing with that backwards-looking quality. You’re allowing this element of chance to come in and transform the work, and make


it actually something fresh and new for you. I wonder if you’d like to talk to that a little bit? I think there’s something really interesting about that piece in particular.

Murray The kind of fun thing about collaboration is you’re working with somebody you trust and respect. Also — I know this is not the question you asked — but having somebody to bounce ideas off of, and I would extend this to both of y’all as well, it’s just that the best ideas, it doesn’t matter where they come from, it just gets it all going. It’s fun. I’ve gotten away from the question…

Megan

and this felt like a natural extension. We were just in a season last year, last several years, kind of thinking about our political context, thinking about this kind of work that’s moving in a — well, a lot of people are making work that’s really socially engaged and motivated — and that’s certainly where our hearts are too, but it doesn’t always show up in our work. And so, we wanted to find something to subvert the seriousness and the pretension of some of the early works and to think, what could we do to just make fun of ourselves a little bit? And through that we thought, well why don’t we just have birds perform? [laughing]

Want me to jump in?

Murray And to go with that, that piece Murray Yeah, you’ll remind me. Megan

As we were making this work, we were thinking a lot about nature. We were thinking a lot about wind. We were thinking a lot about collaboration that we could have with nature, and how that is another level we often think about. We always talk about collaborating with each other, with other people, with people as part of our production, and then we usually also include collaborating with the spaces, materials — these are things that are really important to the way we both work. And we’ve increasingly, as we’ve gotten older, kind of moved away from the heavy-handed directorial approach where we were so highly choreographed early on and it was really hyper-controlled. We’ve really gotten looser and looser in some ways,

cracks us up. We were really entertained by it, and I never really know how the audience is going to react. I don’t know if they’ll think it’s funny too. And I struggle, for me, I struggle with being liked. I feel really good about “serious”. I feel really good about — there’s a lot of tones, I’ve got that down — but being loose, that’s fun. It’s nice to be in a place where we’re working with this new approach.

Megan

I have to say, that was one of the more fun pieces we’ve ever made because we shot in a way that’s very different from the way that we usually shoot, which is a one-day shoot where we get it done in one day. But for this, we had it up for months because we couldn’t get birds to come at first. It was really just this very complicated process of getting it to work. 71


Murray Oh my gosh. Birds are so hard. Megan

Yeah, they were just not trusting us.

Murray Every change you do takes a week for them to get used to.

Megan

Yeah, and we were just like please, we’re giving you all this food. You know, just really trying to get them to join us. And that became this — well, we’re probably going on a little tangent, but I have a friend who’s a performance artist and she kept asking me, checking in with me and saying “How’s it going with the bird performance?” And I was like, “They suck! They’re awful!” She just loved it. She thought, “Well, I think that’s what the piece is about. They’re just not doing what you want them to do.”

Murray Everything that we tried, we had mirrors at one point, this really elaborate set-up that was really quite beautiful. And we found out that birds don’t like that. We were talking with a person who has more experience with birding and they were like, “Yeah, no they don’t like that.” And we were moving stuff and finding out that they don’t like that either.

Julie

It’s like putting yourself on a tightrope with your own work. You weren’t aware of how much you’d have to let go of to make the work unfold. I mean, the moment when the squirrel comes and knocks down the work: I can

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see that there’s this element of trying to construct [something] and yet, the collaboration is real. You’re really having to respond to these animals. I wonder if I could invite Jamie to jump in here because I know you have a decade’s worth of experience together. You’ve been a director, an assistant director, performer, you’ve really supported the McMillans’ work in so many different ways. You recently curated this exhibition, and I think you must have an incredibly intimate knowledge of their practice, their process, and their evolution. I would love to hear your insight into that.

J.R. Uretsky

I do. It was really great, and also felt really important that I got to be the curator that put together this retrospective. I kind of thought of it as a retrospective from the beginning. At my museum, we rarely do solo shows in that big space, and I was just like — let’s do it. We’re going to do this McMillan fest. I know that they have enough work to fill up that space, which — as a curator, besides bringing in good work to museums, you worry about can they fill the space? Can they engage with the space? So, they came in and totally transformed our space for the better. When I think of the McMillans’ work, the retrospective element of it was so important because it’s sort of hard to explain the videos to someone who doesn’t have any reference to art making — with the exception of this new bird video. Some Things We Can


Do Together, the video, I think is really digestible for folks because it was funny, and it was loose. I know that Megan and Murray have been talking about wanting to get looser and how hard it is to be funny. When I watched the bird video for the first time the funny parts weren’t the birds, it was the editing. And so it was still in the control of the McMillans. And they got to make these funny choices. You know, a squirrel jumping on something and destroying something, I guess that’s funny, but pacing is a big part of how to make humor happen. When I think of their works in the form of a retrospective, I think of it like a book with chapters. And in their case, perhaps a book of poetry with chapters, where there’s all of these little short moments that could be referencing a lot of different things. And each of those moments feel like chapters. There’s this sort of meta-narrative that brings it all together. And the meta-narrative with the McMillans is the architecture, collaboration, and building communities within performance spaces. It worked really well in our space, your space looks great — I haven’t seen it live yet!

Julie

Not many people have seen it live yet — it will come! I wonder if you want to describe one work and your experience of helping produce it? Because I think there’s something amazing about that community that forms through the construction of the work that seems very important.

J.R.

There’s lots of memories! Something I really like — back to the video of the birds — as someone who’s been in the production team for many of their videos, watching that bird chaos unfold is like working on any film set, it’s just total chaos. And on top of it, the McMillans add a level of the real to it, real people, as opposed to performance artists who know how to use their bodies. So, let’s see, memories. You know, one of my favorite memories is the piece where Thea is dangling down from the box — I’m so sorry that I’m blanking on what that is called…

Megan

When We Didn’t Touch the Ground

J.R.

Right! Oh my gosh you guys!

Murray All the titles of our pieces were designed just to drive curators nuts.

J.R.

When We Didn’t Touch the Ground. We were testing the big box that comes up from behind and floats forward. And, you know, viewers at the end can see this beautiful box ascend and move towards the camera, and a dancer comes out. But what that looked like the first time we tried it, it was: the box moving up, moving forward, and then running into a wall of sculpture that we had built and just knocking over the entire wall. [laughing]

Megan

I forgot about that!

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J.R.

Or, when we were shooting the coal bin piece — it wasn’t the most gnarly shoot I’ve ever done with the McMillans, but you know, I was calling the shoot. And the McMillans were underneath the coal bin, and we’re shooting above them in this giant bin. And it was just me, a PA, and the performer just crammed into a corner. The light is perfect. This is the moment. The performer walks out, and I’m sort of watching her, and I hear this noise and I see the PA’s face is white. And I’m looking at him, and I’m looking at the camera, because the camera’s moving up, and I just see that our apparatus is slowly stripping the wire on the camera. And I’m like, so, as the AD, what do I do? My response was to grab the wire, which is never a good response. We had to stop and reset, and it was really gnarly because it wasn’t in the perfect lighting moment. And that’s shooting with the McMillans, we do a lot of prep and then we get to shoot for like, maybe an hour when the light is glorious. So, those are some stories!

Julie

Right, that’s interesting — I love that. I wonder if there’s a significant interest in taking risks, Megan and Murray, in this practice. I think there’s some element of delight or excitement that comes from a certain amount of terror, right?

Murray Oh absolutely. And I’m a total control freak, but I love being out of control. So for me, our practice is sort

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of this balancing act of just — here’s all of the things that we think we know what we’re doing, but then we’re gonna bring all this stuff in that we don’t fully know how it’s going to play out. For example, in the piece that Jamie was just talking about, with the boulders and the tea house and the two performers inside that were our mentors Hiro and his wife Hiroku. And they were like, “Well, how do you want us to do it?” And we were just like, “You guys do it however you want.” And they were so stiff. Just crazy stiff when we first saw that. And when Megan and I first saw that we were like, “oh no. oh no. oh no… no, no.” And then we were also like, “oh wait, no that’s perfect.” I wouldn’t have thought of that, that’s totally them. But that’s totally perfect. And it’s really fun to set up a situation where there’s a group of elements that you kind of know how it’s going to work out, but then there’s also a group of elements that has a lot to do with the people and their interpretations. Our work is kind of like a musical instrument that we’ve never played before. When we have all of the components come together and all of the people — the production crew and everybody — we’re learning how to play this thing. Everybody is getting better at their parts, so when we’re in that sweet spot they know their parts better than Megan and I know those parts, better than we could have envisioned it. Then it’s sort of like, it can happen. It’s a very light sense of control that I find thrilling.


Our work is kind of like a musical instrument that we’ve never played before. When we have all of the components come together and all of the people and everybody — we’re learning how to play this thing. Megan

It’s kind of beautiful when we’re shooting, because there’s this collective kind of consciousness that develops. Everyone gets on the same page, we all know it. Everyone finds the rhythm. The piece starts happening. Then we get one really good one, and then that builds to the next really good take, and the next one. And then we’re super excited, and the light’s good, and everybody is like, “This is it. It’s gonna be the one.” And it is, or it isn’t. And we do a couple more. It’s always obvious what’s the best take, and it’s really obvious to everyone.

Everyone feels it. That killed it, we got it, that’s the magic moment. And it falls apart. That’s one of the things that we’re really interested in, that sense of the incredible ephemerality of it. It’s just this total heavy, heavy, heavy workload — a year of preparation, before we start construction, using this massive crane to drop the boulders in through the pulpit, it’s kind of over the top…

Murray Intense 3D modeling just to get the sizes right to know that we could do it.

Megan

Right. And then all of a sudden we’ve got one day to make everything happen. And then really that boils down to — because we fry the wire, people forget their cues, all this stuff goes wrong, it’s a disaster for half the day — and then there’s this moment where it just comes together. That’s what we’re always looking for. That’s what we’re always interested in. That’s why we don’t do a lot of editing. We do almost no editing. We really try to keep that performative quality, and that in-themoment aspect to the work.

Full conversation is available at: meca.edu/mcmillans 75


January 19th, 2008 | LIST

April 24th, 2007 | SUGU

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SKETCHBOOK: 15 years of process

June 29th, 2006 | BRUC

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December 14th, 2015 | TLSS

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Early on we thought, let’s think about these as kind of tone poems... where we’re focusing on mood, we’re focusing on metaphor, we’re focusing not so much on character. We’re really thinking a lot about atmosphere.

December 14th, 2015 | TLSS

December 14th, 2015 | TLSS

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January 16th, 2009 | WWSL

January 13th, 2009 | WWSL

March 17th, 2020 | ica@MECA

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we’re really resourceful about our materials. So we’re always trying to scout things out and if it’s on the side of the road and it’s interesting, we’re going to pick it up. October 18th, 2010 | SBUS

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October 18th, 2010 | SBUS

October 18th, 2010 | SBUS

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March 12th, 2020 | ica@MECA

August 2nd, 2009 | WWLF

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November 9th, 2009 | WWLF

August 2nd, 2009 | WWLF

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we are subtly changing our memories every time we do conjure them up. So things are getting bigger, they’re changing sizes, they’re maybe getting smaller as we’re remembering things.

August 19th, 2011 | SOBI

February 23th, 2012 | SOBI

March 12th, 2020 | ica@MECA

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July 15th, 2012 | WDTG

July 15th, 2012 | WDTG

July 15th, 2012 | WDTG

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September 10th, 2013 | IWDS

Part of the definition of play is that it doesn’t have an agenda. That’s a really interesting space. I think that’s exactly what we do when we come into our projects.

March 8th, 2020 | ica@MECA

September 10th, 2013 | IWDS

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September 11th, 2013 | IWDS

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January 24th, 2015 | SSAU

January 24th, 2015 | SSAU

March 8th, 2020 | ica@MECA

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May 3rd, 2019 | TWDT

March 8th, 2020 | ica@MECA

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May 4th, 2019 | TWDT

March 8th, 2020 | ica@MECA

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This publication was prepared in conjunction with Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan. The exhibition features over ten years of collaborative works by Megan McMillan and Murray McMillan, including video, photography and installations. Some Things We Can Do Together, curated by J.R. Uretsky, was first exhibited at the New Bedford Art Museum/ ArtWorks! in New Bedford, MA in 2019. Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan in the ICA at MECA was organized by the ICA Director of Exhibitions, Julie Poitras Santos with Assistant Director, Nikki Rayburn, and supported in part by Tufts University School of Museum of Fine Arts, Medford, MA and Roger Williams University, in Bristol, RI. Thank you to staff members Sarah Sawtelle and Matthew Doucette. Thank you to intern Gabe Densley for his work on the installation buildout, and to work study students Ian Colwell, Hannah Day, Asa Fox, Kate Gardiner, Ashley Page, and Kiana Thayer. Special thanks to Broadway Gardens in South Portland for loaning the Eastern Redbud tree. Some Things We Can Do Together: Megan and Murray McMillan was scheduled to open March 18, 2020, when Maine College of Art closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this publication, dates for the ICA opening remain uncertain. Watch a virtual tour of the exhibition: meca.edu/mcmillans

The digital version of this catalog was funded in part by a grant from the Maine Humanities Council. The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art features innovative exhibitions and public programs that present new perspectives and trends in contemporary art. Located in stunning galleries in our landmark Porteous Building, the ICA at MECA presents cutting edge work by local, national, and international artists. The ICA is a unique resource for the MECA community, offering insight into artistic practice and first-hand experience with visiting artists. Š Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. All rights reserved. No part of the contents of this book may be published without the written permission of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Logo Design: Brittany Martin Catalogue Design: Samantha Haedrich, PATH Installation photography: Joel Tsui All other images courtesy of the artists The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art 522 Congress Street Portland, ME 04101 www.meca.edu/ica




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