Collage is an art form considered to be two dimensional. It consists of layering images to build a new image, a whole from many disparate parts. Rarely does collage enter different disciplines but elements of the practice can appear in music, film, performance, design, writing, and more. Cutting and pasting—the actions that make collage—are embedded into our culture now: we are all collage artists in our own way.
Then there is the work of Miwa Matreyek, an artist and performer whose work proves that collage is more than the couple of dimensions that we give it. Instead of cutting and pasting one piece of paper to another, why not cut a piece of paper and paste it to a sound? Why not cut a movement and paste it to a lighting effect? Why not cut a concept and paste it to an entire set of physical actions? This is how Miwa approaches collage: it isn’t an art form locked in a binary but is an entryway to experimentation.
Miwa’s arrived at collage from a science. She studied Physics as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara but eventually became more interested in the topic through art. “I was actually a Psychics major for the first two years of college and then I switched to art in my third year,” she explains. “I was interested in the sciences but I wanted to build out that interest in an artistic way, to understand the physicality of how things work. My second piece was about much of that, from the Big Bang to the formation of geology done in a very abstract, dreamlike way: I’m approaching the same topics from a new place.
“When I switched to art in undergrad it was general art, from drawing to painting to photography. I started making colleges because the medium is a way I can collage everything together. I still do it as a hobby, too. When I started making collages on computer, it became easy to move them around and add in music or video. There is always a level of complexity since they’re collages and, when you collage images and movement and then video and music, it eventually makes sense for my performances to be seen as collage since I layer imagery sandwiched on my own shadow.”
“I had always put myself into my work too,” Miwa noted, positioning her body as a creative tool. “Even in collage: I’d take an image of my hand and build things around it. In animation, I’d shoot a video of my eye and build mountains around it. It makes sense that I am physically walking into my performances now.”
Much of Miwa’s experimentation is owed to Southern California, specifically to her alma maters UCSB and CalArts in addition to Los Angeles. Miwa spent much of her childhood in Japan where she lived until she was eleven and subsequently lived in the San Francisco bay area. She arrived where she is now as a result of school. “I went to CalArts for grad school and graduated in 2007. I studied Experimental Animation,” she says. “I sort of didn’t know where to go from there and, for people at CalArts, the automatic decent is upon Los Angeles. It’s the closest big city and a community of alumni. I started doing what I’m doing with performance because of CalArts. It is a smallish school where most things are housed in one building like film, video, and animation or dance, theatre, music, and writing. It’s a great place for paths to cross and to meet collaborators.”
“Living in a city is a strange natural and unnatural thing,” she continues. “A lot of my work has cities in it and I think it manifests itself in a way I am still figuring out. I don’t know what to say about it quite yet. Doing REDCAT shows throughout the development of my career—from the curated shows like Studio and NOW Fest for emerging artists and early works, to having my own run of shows recently—has made me realize that this is my community, that there are a lot of people that I know from different backgrounds. I’ve established connections with schools, from CalArts to USC and even UCLA and Occidental as a result of being here. It’s nice to connect in an academic capacity, to meet others from different communities outside of theatre and film.”
“Doing those shows made me realize how grounded I am in Los Angeles,” she says.
Being where she is and having gone to CalArts has informed her work greatly. The biggest example of this is that she and a few collaborators started an experimental theatre group called Cloud Eye Control. “We’re making a new piece this year,” she adds. “I mean, I need to be working on it right now.”
She laughs and continues: “In school, I got into performance from experimentation and play. In my first year, I started to collaborate with Chi-Wang Yang who was a theatre directing student at CalArts. He invited me to work with him on a Brecht play called Ocean Flight that he was directing about Lindberg’s flight across the Atlantic. We were taking imagistic moments from the text and, in an abstract, dream way of thinking, thought about the body growing and turning into a machine or humans growing wings and flying. We departed from the text but took imagery and physical, moments that we wanted to create and we played with them, taking a projector and images I built out and projecting onto the body and seeing if it was more interesting to use smaller or larger scale or more layers in space or make it flatter or what.”
“It came out of experimentation—and a lot still comes from my experimentation and solving puzzles as I go along,” she says.
Her work with Chi-Wang was the start of what is now Cloud Eye Control. She describes her work as the group of herself, Chi-Wang, and Anna Oxygen as an entirely separate enterprise from herself. It’s a unique grouping. “We still continue with it in addition to my solo projects. The group stuff is more theatrical with more performers and a live band and more moving parts and set pieces whereas my work is more cinematic as I’m working with the screen and a clear awareness of the staging and body and space.”
Another fundamental difference in the work is that Miwa takes much of her inspiration from collage. Her work is more than one discipline: it is a composite of many. “I take ideas and I build a tapestry, hoping to find a narrative out of it,” she says. “Sometimes inspiration comes from a very visual place where I imagine something and then figure out how to make it with my body and images. Sometimes it comes from a physical place, from something like a gesture or a mantra a la stirring up an ocean with my hand. I sometimes will video tape a gesture and animate around it. Some of the inspiration comes from wanting to solve a puzzle,where I would imagine a setup of projectors to create illusions and physically play with it to figure out the illusion and then try to build a world that fits within the narrative that works well to show the effect.”
“I think my work is filtered through many layers,” she adds to the collage discussion. She speaks to how travel and her own city has an impact on her work: that is naturally occurring collage. “I’ve been flying a lot, touring the work, and have been looking at cities aerially, seeing them as an expansive grid. I notice where the city blends into nature from the huge Eastern mountains and the strange mesh of human layering over the logic of nature. That’s always really shocking to me. Part of the reason why I made the new piece was to make something about the Earth.”
“I don’t think I’d be making this anywhere else either,” she says in relationship to Los Angeles. “Being at CalArts and having this support and encouragement in LA from REDCAT and others—who are willing to show me from studio work to a full on show—is huge. It’s more about the community who are supporting me and that I am supporting back.”
“I also feel that being here is about a creative space to work in the quiet of the night, when the city is dead and everyone is asleep. I like the energy involved with a dream-like space. The city is also so expansive—and that comes through. In Myth & Infrastructure, I’m walking through a city and you can’t tell if the city is aware of me or if I am in a parallel place, where I can walk through as a giant but everyone else is slumbering.”
“Somewhere in there, there is Los Angeles,” she points. “But I’m not very clear on where la is.”
Miwa is touring her latest works this year but is focusing a lot of her efforts on Cloud Eye’s latest project: that is what’s next for her. “We’re working on a piece we got a few grants for. We haven’t had the time to work on it yet but it will be a more theatrical piece with more projections and live generated music and live camera work. It’s based on blogs of people who live near Fukushima. We’re taking it back though as we can’t really be journalistic about it since we were not there and are in a strange vortex of too much information, almost creating a vacuum of information. For example, here—on the West coast—when the first fallout happened, everyone bought iodine pills when we really didn’t need them because it destroys the liver. It became really confusing—and it still is, thanks to all the graphs we see and from articles that are shared on Facebook. A show about invisible fears and who has the authority and time with an abundance of information: this is all stuff we still need to suss out. We definitely want to touch on Fukushima too but we don’t feel we have the authority to make a piece about it, specifically.”
“I’m not sure what’s next for my own work though,” she notes. “I’ll probably be starting a new piece next year, maybe in a larger scale.”
“I do need to shift my work though: I’ve made three in this setup,” she adds, alluding to collaging in another element. “I’m not quite sure what that is, though.”