Aleksandra Mir

Aleksandra Mir from A to Z

Art Monthly, #266, London, 2003
By Gilda Williams

Art/Activism—Aleksandra Mir works at the crossroads between such 1960s legacies as performance, conceptual art and political action, resulting in an art /activism that always involves the artist in the first person, is always tinged with the tragi-comic, and is always the result of the artist's extreme lateral thinking. In some ways Mir's work doesn't require any visuals; a description is pretty much sufficient to grasp the artwork, leaving its execution to our mind's eye, exemplifying Lawrence Weiner's seminal 1968 statement, 'the work need not be built'. The following lexicon provides a sampling of the artist's proposals and thoughts, effective encapsulations of both the artworks themselves and the artist's reconfiguring of the values and aesthetics of the decade of her birth, the 1960s.

Feminism—In New Rock Feminism, 1996, Mir went to the Roskilde pop festival in Denmark to campaign for more female bands. And more toilets while you're at it. About a thousand signatures were collected. The real achievements of feminism, some 25 years on, were also put into question in Pick Up (Oh Baby) (1996), in which recorded male whistles were broadcast in the central square of Copenhagen. The work is documented in photographs of young women crossing the square, slyly looking over their shoulders, trying in vain to identify the man who whistled at them ...

Grandmother—For her 35th birthday on September 11, 2002, Mir decided to reclaim that tragic anniversary for herself by publishing Happy Birthday!, an alternative version of the Daily News ('New York's hometown newspaper') with material commissioned for the occasion from dozens of contributors—friends, colleagues, generic well-wishers. In the Editorial page Mir wrote a dedication to her paternal grandmother, Chana Klamberg (1913-2001): 'She couldn't really stand us grandkids and I only loved her for her bitter twisted humour. When ... watching Princess Di's funeral on TV a few years ago, her only, simply brilliant comment had been: "The wedding was better".'

Life—Born 1967, in Lubin, Poland, Mir has lived in New York since 1989. Prior to this Mir lived for many years in Sweden, an experience forming the basis of her work Life is Sweet in Sweden (1995). Here the artist established a visitor's bureau in Gothenburg, Sweden, furnished with Asian wickerwork (which Swedes have long adopted as their own), artificial plants, muzak and other such comforts. The office, open to anyone, was populated by welcoming hostesses: anybody willing to don the sexy blue and yellow uniform available on the rack—yours to borrow and be instantly recruited as a local tourguide, whether you had any connection with Sweden or not.

Moonlanding—On 28 August 1999 (30 years after the first moonlanding), Mir staged First Woman on the Moon at Wijk aam Zee, the Netherlands. With the help of earth-moving machinery, the media and a youthful audience, part of the beach was transformed into a lunar landscape. Towards the end of the video documenting the event we see Mir—in a white space-age tunic, amongst naked children playing in the sand—planted an American flag at sunset; moments later the lunar landscape is demolished by bulldozers. One small step for Mir, one giant step for the subversion of male-centred history: its perpetual colonizing; its obsession with the phallus (how else to decipher the erect flag pole); its craving for technology, for permanence, for supremacy. Plus, a great excuse for a beach party.

Ordinary people—When Mir was in San Francisco in 2001for an exhibition at the CCAC, she ran into trouble from a would-be stalker. For help she turned to D. C., CCAC Manager of Public Safety, and got to talking to him about his life: a childhood spent in foster homes, his teen years as a punk, adventures in the Marines, work as a nightclub bouncer, plus love, true love, marriage, fatherhood, heartbreak and divorce. Mir promised that one day she would make a book about his life and eventually produced the 32-page, tabloid-like publication Living & Loving: The Biography of D. C., 2002. Commissioned by London's Cubitt Gallery, it gathers together 28 years worth of C's meticulously kept texts, photographs and lists, complete with rating systems to help the reader identify highlights ( i.e., all his 34 girlfriends, each rated from 1, 'The Absolute Best!' to 5, 'Mistake'*). Possibly the first in an infinite number of such 'ordinary' biographies, Living and Loving expresses Mir's opinion that 'everybody's story is equally important ... the little suburban birthday party is as important as Liz Taylor getting married.' Or more important, perhaps.

Question, asked by curator Gavin Wade: 'How does/could/would the withdrawal of art affect the world?' Mir: 'I cannot imagine a world without art, but here are the contents of my fridge: ... one red onion ... five bottles of Corona beer ...'.

Unemployment—In Cinema for the Unemployed—Hollywood Disaster Movies (1970-1997)', 1999 Mir organized (with a public unemployment service in the town of Moss (country?) a free, week-long movie presentation of such films as The Towering Inferno and Independence Day scheduled during so-called working hours, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm for one week. 'After seeing Titanic I [said] "things could have been worse". I had been occupied by the thought of how differently unemployment is perceived by people: as a tragedy for some, and as a break from responsibility for others [...] "Unemployment" has at least two possible directions: tragedy, and leisure'. Mir's Cinema combines both, to the delight—or detriment?—of the local unemployed.

Website—Attention aspiring artists: is the finest, most useful artist's website ever encountered by this critic. Copy its format verbatim. Change nothing.

ZZ Top, Jane Fonda, Gunther Grass, Miss Piggy and others, famous and non, make up the photographic sequence HELLO, 2001. Existing in different versions for different cities, HELLO is a linear progression of hundreds of photographs—personal snapshots, stills and press clippings—each of which presents a portrait of two people: one of whom appears in the preceding image, the other in the next. The result is a daisy chain of chance meetings and shared occurrences, encounters which, through Mir's painstaking photo-research, create their own logic and genealogy, 'like Hello [magazine] on acid'.