How influential was your start as an intern for M&Co [Tibor Kalman's studio] in terms of a developing conscience in your art? What else in your background fostered your thoughtful sensibilities? In terms of developing a “conscience” M&Co wasn’t as key as being a student of Hans Haacke and being exposed to a lot of socially engaged art while at Cooper Union. Everything from the Situationists, to Act Up (AIDS activist collective) which was very active at the time, and Gran Fury – the graphic arm of Act Up. Also a collective known as Group Material – many more. All these people were trying to find a way to make work that was integrated into a social setting, a public conversation and not stuck in the “other world” of gallery/museum art. They were also trying to find a way past object orientated art, past traditional understandings of beauty which are always tied to the wants and needs of cultural power holders. This was and still is central to what I’m trying to do. While I only took one design class, I went into that world trying to find a way out of the art world, and a way to communicate to more than the converted.
You work in different media across all components of a project; can you talk about how film, illustration, photography, et al. happen and function together? I really just think of myself as a filmmaker and graphic artist; essentially stuff you experience in time (film), and stuff that is out of time (graphics/drawing/art/whateveryouwanttocallit) – those are the real categories for me. For me they are not so different because I am working with the same issues, or concerns or problems in all these different forms. Ultimately I’m more interested in the content, in what the visuals are about – so I never paid so much attention to what “media” or “profession” I was working in. I think most of those categories are just boxes our culture created, “careers” really, but they don’t necessarily relate to an individual’s path. I develop all my ideas in the same notebook and some ideas are better expressed in film, some in graphic work. I think my multi-medianess comes partly from being a kid who grew up in the 70′s watching TV, living in a multi-media world. Another part comes from being a student of conceptual art – which isn’t as interested in the visual form, or the craft, or the medium so much as the idea. Artists like Fischli and Weiss have been really influential to me in that respect: their work is all over the place, both in terms of style and “medium” but spiritually it’s all on one path.
Your career has snowballed in a pretty fortunate trajectory…How has the reception been of your new documentary [Does Your Soul Have A Cold?] and what other new activities are being realized? I can see where you’d say it’s “snowballed”, but from the inside it’s been a very bumpy, up and down, not so easy path. It’s hard to convince the world that you can be both a graphic artist and an artist and a filmmaker. I’ve had to build up a “career” and then start another one at least two times now. Then there are just all the struggles that I think most of my friends go through making work: a lot of self-doubt, not being as good as you want to be, not being seen the way you want to be, not being as in control as you want to be. I feel really lucky I got to make DYSHAC, my first feature length documentary, and I’m really pleased with how it came out. For me at least, I feel like I really grew with this project and was able to do the most socially engaged piece yet, and maybe even help people – but it has been very difficult to get it into festivals and get press for it. You never know what’s going to happen or how your work is going to go over, which is really hard to get used to. I haven’t at least.
With Humans and similar projects, the messages seem like subjective reflections that you want to share. What is your objective? Part of the Humans project is trying to inject really personal motifs and issues into “mass produced” items like posters and scarves and fabrics that would then become part of someone’s everyday life. I think by sharing something really personal about yourself, something that you are truly struggling with, can be generous, or helpful (“hey I worry about that too”) – not just self indulgent. It can hopefully create a space for more emotional, messy ideas of ourselves, or at least be a friend or ally in peoples’ own struggles to be more open, free, less bound by all the fears and rules in our history that we’ve all internalized into our innermost selves.
What are you currently most interested in? Any ideas, cultural luminaries, issues you want to point readers to? I’m really impressed by people that foster little self-made voluntary communities. Like this website (we blush). Like ANP magazine. Like Arthur magazine. Like the “Learning To Love You More” website. Like the “Manystuff” website or “Viewers like you”.
About Mike Mills
Mike Mills is a film and music video director and graphic designer. Originally from Berkeley, California, he graduated from Cooper Union in New York City and is now based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. He has created videos for such musical acts as Moby, Yoko Ono and Air, and released the feature film Thumbsucker in 2005. He has also worked as a graphic designer on promotional material and album covers for such acts as Beastie Boys, Beck, Sonic Youth, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. In addition he co-founded The Directors Bureau with Roman Coppola, and has created graphics for X-Girl, Marc Jacobs, and currently produces his own line of posters and fabrics called Humans by Mike Mills.