“Brainwave”: Miranda July
The Rubin Museum
The Rubin Museum’s Brainwave series asks: “What can science learn from art and meditation in its exploration of the brain?” Compelling at first, the idea can be somewhat clinical and voyeuristically unsettling when put into practice, like a desire to see what happens when an orangutan and a peacock are placed in cage together.
The third event in the Brainwave series found Miranda July in conversation with Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno, a jovial and tender man whose primary interests include emotion and “the adaptive consequences of self-deception.” On Saturday, they set out to discuss July’s uses of “spontaneity and planning” when making her film Me and You and Everyone We Know and writing her book No One Belongs Here More Than You. But things quickly fell apart, due primarily to a lack of, uh, spontaneity and planning. The two of them had only just met, they confessed, and hadn’t really talked about what they would talk about on stage. And so Bonanno, after showing some slides of human facial expressions and explaining that 80% of people consider themselves above average, began asking questions like, “There’s a lot of humor in your writing. Do you have a sense of how you do that?” July, who was wearing leggings and a hospital smock with a gold sequined zero sewn onto the front, affably replied: “I don’t know. Does anyone know? Maybe a comedian or something would know.” Similarly, when Bonanno questioned the believability of a scene in Me and You, July said, “I try not to think it out too much. I don’t really do any research. It’s kind of the opposite of what you do.”
Artists and scientists don’t think alike. “An ant is not an entomologist,” Jonathan Safran Foer said years ago, trying to explain why he was hesitant to discuss his writing. “Just because you are a thing doesn’t mean you know why you do things. You just happen to be that thing.” Asking Miranda July why she acts like Miranda July is sort of interesting, until you realize that the only answer is: because she’s Miranda July. It made for some awkward silences. She coughed and said “um” a lot. A friend scribbled “Painful?” on the back of my program. The crowd, unexpectedly peopled with guys, seemed to want to capture her from the depths of the Rubin and bring her outside, show her their favorite parts of the city, talk about nothing.–Jed Lipinski