Miranda July

Tom Landowski Gallery

Miranda July, who came up through the Pacific Northwest punk-rock scene in the ’90s, is best known for performance and video; “Go You Good Thing” is her first gallery exhibit of nonvideo art. The works in this show are photographs marked with office-supply orange-dot stickers and blown up so that their imperfections are made plain and large. You see dots on faded, out-of-focus images of unidentified figures, torn and foxed at the edges with tiny hairs and dust flecks caught in the adhesive. You sense a set of rules at work—certain objects are covered, certain spaces revealed, as if the artist had created visual aids for a lecture on a topic arcane but not entirely unfamiliar.

Rigorous yet slightly cuckoo systems applied to disorderly human things appear throughout July’s work. In her film The Amateurist, 1998, and performance Love Diamond, 1998/2000, for example, characters deliver precise instructions for absurd activities interspersed with free-floating management and self-help jargon. In these seemingly inexplicable surveillance projects, July plays the part of both watcher and watched, instructor and receiver, with funny and usually discomfiting results. She deals in a kind of dim fear and inadvertent humor that (as in Kafka) stems from a shifting combination of the specific and the vague.

In the work on view here, this dualism is channeled into an animated tension between dot and image. The subjects of the photographs grab at what’s behind the dots and cry because of what’s going on beneath them. The dots come across as protective, as though whatever they conceal were too tender to be seen, but they also make us wonder whether the action in the image was ever available to us in the first place. The dots make our relationship to what we see more provisional and active, and at times transmit a selective bossiness, directing attention to details we thought had no importance. In Not Tonight, 2003, a child who looks a lot like July points at something outside the frame, while another girl huddles over a small burgeoning cluster of orange dots. Despite the first child’s command of the image, we are made to understand where the real action is.

In some pieces, the dots seem to stand for unseen energy made visible—as in the line of them snaking toward a group of unaware hikers. Something similar can be found in July’s film Nest of Tens, 2000 (which was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial), in which people walking through an airport drag lines of light behind them. In Haysha Royko, 2003, a new video included in this show, three people (also in an airport) sit with greater or lesser degrees of self-consciousness while amorphous, auralike forms flit and shape-shift around them. Like the orange-dot pictures, Haysha Royko combines a sense of cheerful expediency (simply outlining what’s already there) with a sort of daffy mysticism (pointing out what clearly isn’t there) to create a system we can hardly decipher but instinctively understand.

Emily Hall