Tim Miller on Glory Box | Interview
Los Angeles–based performance artist Tim Miller presents Glory Box, his seminal 1999 piece about queer desire and relationships in the face of public shame and discrimination, at Saturday 5. He’s already in town, though, teaching a young performers’ workshop at Victory Gardens Theater that ends with a public showing Sunday 6 (2433 N Lincoln Ave, 7pm). I caught up with him by phone to discuss enduring, endurance and whether America will ever make good on its ideals.
What’s it like to keep coming back to Glory Box? The government’s been tiptoeing around gay marriage throughout the 12 years you’ve been performing it.
Obama’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act is the first of a glimmer of hope for my partner [Australian-born author Alistair McCartney] and me. I wish [Glory Box] would go out of date! I wish, like other Western countries, America could just accept same sex marriage, but we seem to be coming in last when it comes to this form of equality.
You perform all over the country. What differences do you see from state to state?
Every state has its own conditions and limitations. I have had to deal with a lot of conservatism.
Making the personal political is the enduring theme of your work. Is it hard to keep performing your fears, trials and pain?
I see no other choice…it’s a way of creating a place for myself in this country. I do often wonder if Alistair and I will have to leave the country in order to have what we want and to be who we are. Glory Box shows that America is an insane asylum. Gay people get bashed, violated and killed, but any straight guy can buy a wife off of the Internet.
Tell me about getting young performers to tell their stories.
I ask my students to ask themselves, “How do I use my poetry, humor and storytelling to kick some ass and be emboldened?” Changing the world is hard, but you can change how it feels to be alive in your own skin. That is part of the legacy of AIDS activism. It changed the political climate, and the definition of what it means to be a person. It was a powerful time of creative transformation.
Catholic League president Bill Donahue, House speaker John Boehner and others recently succeeded in pressuring the National Portrait Gallery to remove David Wojnarowicz’s film A Fire in My Belly from its “Hide/Seek” exhibition. It’s like the NEA Four debate in which you were embroiled, back to haunt us 20 years later. What are your thoughts?
David and I were very close. It’s a shame that the Catholic League is unable to recognize one of the great artists of my generation and continue to live in shame. There is always a great deal of shame surrounding this work, which is why the curators of the exhibition submitted to the demands of the Catholic League and pulled out his videos. It hurts that I have to see my friend’s work still being treated this way.…The reality for young, queer performers now is that our culture is not open to them. They have internalized that America doesn’t trust artists and doesn’t want them to use their voices. When I was starting out I was a carpenter. I was always wearing myself out and suffering from injuries. When I got funding, it helped me gain a foundation for my work and truly start developing something. That’s impossible for twentysomethings now.
How did you get from carpentry to politically-charged monologues?
When I moved to New York I was a dancer, and I danced for a lot of post-modern choreographers who weren’t concerned with narrative…but [then] half the people I knew died, and I needed to use my voice. I needed a more direct approach to connect to people. I felt that they shouldn’t need an M.F.A to get what the fuck I was talking about.
Now, though, it’s like you’re an institution of your own—you cofounded New York’s PS 122 and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. Did you notice your priorities change once your career went coast-to-coast?
As artists, we need to work on all of these levels of engagement. We need to do everything—doing just one thing doesn’t cut it [today]. As a mentor, I facilitate students’ creativity, and I teach them to work with their identities…we’ll work on how to make brave and dangerous performances, enter into a charged exploration for creating original performance work from our lives, dreams, obsessions, peeves, memories and desires. I want to explore that charged border between our bodies and society, our narratives and our politics. The core challenge is an invitation to conjure in performance the…hot spots in your life that you keep revisiting. Things that fill you with joy or rage, desire or panic.
Tim Miller performs Saturday 5 at Links Hall. Sunday 6, see the participants in his workshop perform at Victory Gardens Theater.