She was called the most important artist of out of time on Six Feet Under and she is creating her own Hall of Fame in Norway's Narvik. Currently, she is carving love stories into thousands of Spanish trees. Aleksandra Mir is the artist who has turned up-beat media frenzy into reflective, moody art.
Aleksandra Mir is not the kind of artist who locks herself in a studio to ponder art's role in society. Instead, she uses society and the people around her as her medium and content. She explores current events, places and trends. And the world is watching. She was called "one of the most important artists today" by one of the protagonists of the TV show Six Feet Under and was recently approached by producers from the Showtime series The L-World who wanted to use her oeuvre as backdrop for the work of a new artist character. To Aleksandra Mir this kind of slightly absurd media attention is possible material for future work."I might do a show about it later on, on the experience of having been fictionalized on a lesbian soap opera."
The fact that one of the main characters in The L-World, the curator Bette Porter, is portrayed by the Flashdance babe Jennifer Beals doesn't make it any less enticing. "I worshipped her when I was 14. And now their art department is going to make "art" out of my art. It couldn't get any better."
The use of different media and methods is part of Mir's body of work. She tackles her various subjects with a combination of investigative journalism and humor. She has proclaimed herself "The First Woman on The Moon' on a Dutch beach, imitated a Joshua tree in the Home Road Movies and published the local newspaper Danes in the Sun about and with the inhabitants of the small Danish town of Ikast.
Although she has officially lived in New York for the past fifteen years, Mir is somewhat of a nomad. She was born in Poland, grew up in Sweden, and seems to always be on the move. She simultaneously works on different projects in several countries and travel constantly. At the time of this interview she has recently completed a long sailing trip in Antarctica, in which she participated on the invitation of the French artist Pierre Huygue.
Mir is currently at work with two large public commissions. Narvik Superstars, which is part of the sculpture park Art in Nordland, is the largest commission she has received so far. The city of Narvik in northern Norway is rebuilding its old harbor area into a center for recreation and culture. The city was built on heavy industry and railroad labor and has a decidedly masculine identity. Aleksandra Mir was invited on the premise of being a woman, thus bringing her perspective as a female artist to a traditionally macho society.
She says that she chose to work with the idea of the city's future - "Narvik's inhabitants can deal with the past of their own" - and the question of what Narvik wanted to become. For such a small place, the most urgent issue is maintaining population growth, which is the basis of economic growth and any society's stability. The town has declared an official goal of growing to 20,000 people within the next ten years, and this is an issue that naturally engages everyone who lives there. " I thought that it could be a good starting point for a work of public art, something that refers to the public itself."
The work is a riff on Hollywood's Walk of Fame every child that is born in Narvik will have its own star with its name engraved in the sidewalk. "Who knows, maybe it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the stars entice people to move there and have babies, and perhaps those kids will become famous as a result of that."
Aleksandra Mir describes the project as a celebrity concept for a place where there are no world famous people, and ironic and playful comment on Hollywood's Darwinian view of humanity. Mir says she wanted to include the raw sense of underdog humor that one always finds in peripheral places. Narvik Superstars is a joke that (hopefully) everyone gets.
Her other large project is called Love Stories and is a commission from the NMAC Foundation in Montenmedio, Spain. This is also a public work that revolves around the public, both as an object and productive force. "Right now we are asking the public to send in their love stories on postcards or via the Internet. We are collecting the widest possible spectrum of human experiences on the theme of Love."
The initials of each story's protagonists will be carved inside hearts on one thousand pine trees in a forest on the foundation's property. There will also be an illustrated catalogue where one can read the tale behind the tree. It will function as a guide to the forest, but one cal also roam around freely and look fro trees or just get lost in a cacophony of love stories. In time, the work will revert back into nature as the trees grow old and the bark falls off. "Eventually the stories will also fade into oblivion, like all stories do sooner or later, and life goes on. Like most of Mir's projects, Narvik Superstars and Love Stories will continue to evolve over time. Mir says that ending come naturally to projects by the same circumstances that bring them to life. The questions asked become answered, money runs out or people get out."
Love Stories is one of Mir's many art works that deal with the concept of making intimate experiences public by amplifying them through mass media. She tries to get deeply involved with what is in her immediate proximity, as well as what is of current interest to people in general. She does a lot of research and spends time with all kind of people, which she says makes her work contemporary and relevant by default. "I think this is very different from trying to be "avant-garde" in the sense of formally advancing one's field. I haven't contributed anything of art as such, all my methods are taken straight out of existing practices, but because my subject matter always evolves in the present, the work always seems new."
Her work is diverse and varied: she works in several different media and the economy of her projects can range from zero budget to very large public commissions. What keeps it together is her ongoing interest in the public life of the present. This social aspect has always been a part of her work. Before going to art school, she studied social science, media and mass communications. "Despite the fact that all my input is based on those methodologies, what I put out in the world is art, since I am not interested in following a straight line of logic or delivering a didactic thesis. Art does not have to be loyal to any kind of authority, which means the result is always more ambivalent, personal and thus more interesting, honest and believable to me."
Throughout her career, Aleksandra Mir has had a principle of not turning down any smaller exhibitions such as independent, artist-run projects. That is the world she came from and she would like to continue to be a part of the smaller scenes, because she feels that those kind of intimate initiatives offer her a productive context for experimentation. She says she doesn't always need to have a huge budget or a well-oiled media machine. However, as she receives more and more invitations form large institutions, this policy is becoming a problem. "Last year I was involved in 26 shows and I have promised myself to never do that again."
One of them, Big Umbrella, was shown at PS1 contemporary art center last winter. The work was the New York chapter of an ongoing project where Mir is photographed carrying a big umbrella in various places around the world. The New York rendition of Big Umbrella revealed the energy and diversity of the city, as well as its political confusion. The shoot was scheduled around the time of the Republican National Convention, and Mir responded to this by carrying the larger than life-sized umbrella, a metaphor for socialism, to such symbolic pillars of democracy as the United Nations and the Statue of Liberty as well as to Union Square, the historical hub of peaceful protest. "Her portrait reveals the metropolis after the tragic collapse of the Twin Towers as deflated, impotent and insecure," says Amy Smith Stewart, curator at PS1, adding: "I think of her work as a form of poetic politics. By this I mean, poetic in that there is a complete freedom of expression, and political because by inserting herself into social situations and engaging the public, the outcome of Mir's projects is ultimately a discovery of how we live."
Engaging the public is also one of the principles behind Mir's web site, where she documents all her work, thus making it accessible to everyone. She claims that she is more interested in the circulation of culture than finished product. "Art that uses pop culture without giving back to it seems like a failure to me," she states.
According to Mir, the accessibility of the Internet is extremely liberating for the individual artist, who can easily self-publish work, but free access to everyone also creates a whole spectrum of response. Such as being quoted in a porn site. "They had taken a quote from a discussion about working on large art projects where I said "large is nice when you're a girl!"
Mir moved to New York from Sweden in her early twenties. She found that the city's hectic pace matched her own natural rhythm, which brought her a sense of calm. She calls NYC her "office", since she knows the city well enough to get things done in an efficient manner. She can also relax and find the peace to work around the clock, because "That's what everyone else does here". However, travel and foreign cultures are an important part of her work, where she often explores her own role as a stranger. "Maybe that is too obvious, but I have been an alien since I was 5. My family was stripped of its Polish citizenship, so for 5 years before we were "Swedish", we were officially "stateless"."
So is there a place where she hasn't been and would like to go? "Jesus. Do you have any idea of how huge this planet is? Even if I continue to travel at this rate for the rest of my life, I won't even have seen a fraction of the places worth visiting. But yes, I would love to spend more time in the sort of nature that Antarctica offered. The wild."
And what would she like people to get from her work? "Oh, I don't know. They can take from it whatever they like."