Talking with the NEA 4 – Tim Miller
In anticipation of Thursdays panel discussion with the NEA 4 at NYU, we asked the artists to share their thoughts on art, politics, and their experience with the NEA.
Tim Miller is an internationally acclaimed performance artist. Miller’s creative work as a writer and performer strives to find an artistic, spiritual and political exploration of his identity as a gay man. Hailed for its humor and passion, Miller’s has tackled this challenge in such pieces as Postwar, Cost of Living, Democracy in America, Buddy Systems, Sex/Love/Stories, My Queer Body, Naked Breath, Fruit Cocktail, Shirts & Skin, Glory Box, and Body Blows. His latest work Us will be presented at P.S. 122 in Fall 2004. Miller’s performances have been presented all over North America, Australia, and Europe in such prestigious venues as Yale Repertory Theatre, the Institute of Contemporary Art (London), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He is the author of the book Shirts & Skin and his solo theater works have been published in the play collections O Solo Homo and Sharing the Delirium. Miller’s new book Body Blows, an anthology of six of his performance scripts with an introduction by Tony Kushner, was published by University Of Wisconsin Press in 2002. Since 1990, Miller has taught performance at UCLA and Cal State. He is a co-founder of the two most influential performance spaces in the United States: Performance Space 122 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, CA.
5 Qs for Tim Miller
1. George Bush is President, we’re at war in Iraq, the government is cracking down on free expression …it seems like 1991, but it’s 2004. Have we made any headway at all in the past twelve years or are we still fighting the same battles with new people?
Things are worse right now than we could have ever imagined in the now quaint-seeming culture war in 1990. This is a job for performance art!
2. What were you doing when you heard that the NEA had denied approval for your grant application? What did you do next?
I was performing some where. First call was to ACT UP comrades to get our juices flowing to respond.
3. Were there any positive effects of being one of the NEA four?
About as positive as a colonoscopy! I felt my work be trivialized and misrepresented all over the place. Whole swaths of the country that I used to perform and teach in became off-limits for years. I lost a great deal of work. An example of how this goes on and on: Recently when I was performing in Chattanooga, as the audience arrived at the theater so did the protesters. They set up shop across the street, a motley bunch of seven or eight men (they have stashed their wives and children at the corner). As the people began to arrive for the show, the were forced to walk by the protesters across the street who waved their confederate flags (The black cops we had hired for security didn’t seem too thrilled about these characters.) as they shouted at the audience the usual charming greetings, “Faggots! God made Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve! Sodomites Burn in Hell etc.” The children down the street join in these cries. This seemed to demonstrate this particular church’s version of family values: “The Family That Mates Together, Hates Together.” There is both a rambunctious spirit of a carnival with the barkers as well as a public hanging full of blood lust. The situation is simultaneously absurd and terrifying. One of the many fun NEA 4 moments I could share!
4. You’ve been dealing with the issues of gay marriage and immigration rights for many years now. What’s it like to see this now a prominent part of the national debate?
It is so exciting as the civil marriage revolution for gay people happens all over the US. Having been working on these issues for years in my performances, it’s very gratifying to have it be filling the media, courts and national dialog. Its all scary but thrilling as we get to that “tipping point” of social change!
5. What gives you hope?
The 4000 queer people who got married in SF last month! The summer of love coming of civil marriage rights for gay folks in Massachusetts!