Miranda July Has Managed to Turn Celebrity E-Mails Into Fascinating Art


In this, her pseudonymous month, contemporary artist Miranda July has launched her newest piece. Titled "We Think Alone," the work is a curated compilation of e-mails from 10 collaborators, which will be released to subscribers every Monday from July 1 to November 11.

"We Think Alone" studies how people curate their virtual persona through e-mail, highlighting the process of digital self-identification, and virtual representation. In doing so, (according to the website) the piece challenges traditional notions of privacy, discretion, and intimacy. In 2013, we manicure our personal brands all day, every day; in "We Think Alone," July spotlights this process of self-construction where it happens most frequently — online.

The project fits solidly within July’s repertoire. Much of her recent work deals with concerns about digital communication and how it affects (positively or negatively) the texture of relationships. “Learning to Love You More,” the most direct predecessor of “We Think Alone,” was also a collaborative community art project that discussed the nature of intimacy, and the way that it's shared. 

To help with her project, July enlisted the help of 10 famous collaborators: Lena Dunham, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Kirsten Dunst, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Catherine Opie, Sheila Heti, Dahn Vo, Etgar Keret, and Lee Smolin. In one installment of the project, Kirsten Dunst, talks about money a friend owes her: "My friend Jessica is buying my car for 7,000 I gave her your info for payments. She's going to pay 2,000 up front and then pay the rest as fast as she can. Don't know the paper work involved, but Warren mentioned he had something. Thanks, Kirsten."

July seems to anticipate the "why would anyone want to read a stranger's emails" question, and answers it by making those strangers celebrities. In this way, it's not about interpersonal intimacy so much as pseudo-voyeurism. At times, this context can't help but feel like an elevated version of Facebook stalking, but in spite of it, "We Think Alone" glimmers. 

The major ideas underpinning of "We Think Alone" are both elegant and timely. We are still coming to grips with the implications of the digital age, and July's work uncovers some of the subtler details of the digital reality. As thoughts of NSA surveillance swirl and whispers of Big Brother circulate, July's work reflects some of those concerns with its active, blatant broach of privacy.

A still from July's "The Swan Tool," 2001.

"We Think Alone" is a beautiful example of contemporary conceptual art that, like so much contemporary art, loses impact because it lacks polish. July's work often has a home-made, lo-fi or even low budget aesthetic. Visually, her work would be comfortable on public TV student art programming. Her elegant ideas deserve a more elegant execution. That's not to say that contemporary art shouldn't be shocking or raw or disturbing or graphic — it can and should be all of those things, but it must also be refined. (Think Yayoi Kusama's "Accumulation" series.) When the point of a piece is an idea, that idea must be expertly articulated. 

All that being said, "We Think Alone" is bound to be an iconic piece for July. We're looking forward to seeing how it goes, and how it grows.

"We Think Alone" was commissioned by Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall as part of their ongoing "On the Tip of My Tongue" exhibit.