The Colour Green, Moths & Metronomes: Mira Calix on (un)gendered art & music

Mira Calix is an audio-visual artist who makes music, sound-sculpture and multi-sensory installations.  Her new EP ‘Utopia’ is out now.

The Demented Goddess: You’ve a described your new EP, ‘Utopia,’ as a vibe one might enjoy at a louche house party. Writing some of it for a film of the same name, you’ve taken a cut-up, collage approach.

Vision seems to be integrated with sound for you.  As well as creating impressive sound sculptures like ‘Nothing Is Set In Stone’, you draw as part of your process. Does culture’s allowance of sensuousness for feminine people make it easier for us to access music as other sensations, or is this particular to a person, regardless of gender?

I’ve met a lot of sensuous men, so I’m going to conclude that it really is down to the individual, rather than gender or race for that matter. I think our taste and experience of music is so influenced by our friends, family, location, culture and general exposure to genre. The emotional evaluation of a piece of music is very much subjective. I’ve a done a little research in this area for previous works, but it comes into play in probably every piece/installation I make.

Mira calix with her sound sculpture ‘Nothing is set in Stone’, photo Sebastian Kite.

There is always someone who finds something I believe to be uplifting, mournful and vice versa. Music, more than any other art form is so open to interpretation by the listener, and I’m sure your readers can relate to that moment when something really grates, simply because you’re not in the right mood for it.

DG: Which of your tracks feel most ‘masculine’ to you, in a Thor-inflected sort of way?

I don’t think I’ve ever considered any piece of music I’ve written as gendered but I do think/see them as colours. If I extrapolate and extrapolate that thought…well I’m trying to think of my most blue track – not sure, but – my version, with cellist Oliver Coates, of the Boards Of Canada – A Beautiful Place Out in The Country.

Blue and pink clothing options for babies kind of confuses me, I did a little research. It began in the 1940s. Previously it was the exact reverse, pink for boys and blue girls! This from the Earnshaws Infants Department Store catalogue 1918: “The generally accepted rule, is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Go figure!

DG: The clichéd amazement at ‘women in electronic music’ doesn’t reflect the historical presence of female innovators and curators. From DJs like DJ Paulette (now with her own Manchester club, Yes), Lucy Scher (co-founder of Flesh at The Hacienda) and Kath McDermott (BBC Radio 6), women helped birthed the rave scene, while early synth composers like Eliane Radigue pushed sound to its limits. Do any doors feel closed to you, as a female artist?

Not sure about doors, but there is definitely a ceiling for women in any line of work. We are nowhere close to gender parity in the UK, when it comes to pay and opportunity.

“Not sure about doors but there is a ceiling for women…” Mira Calix with her multi-sensory installation of paper, sound, music & movement, ‘Inside There Falls’. Photo Jana Chiellino.

When it comes to female visual artists, their work sells for less, there are less of them being shown, the blue chip galleries and auction houses takes less of a punt, quite possibly because a lot of those high end investors are male. Who can say? When you look at the great work organisations like Female Pressure, Keychange and Feminatronic do in encouraging promoters, festivals and listeners into showcasing and considering female artists, it’s clear how much need there still is for facilitation of equality. Personally I think social media has played a really positive and vital role to bringing this discourse to the forefront. Positive change is happening.

DG: For Beyond the deepening shadow (2018), you filled the Tower of London’s moat with thousands of individual flames and created a participatory promenade piece, at the centre of which was a new choral work with words from War Poet Mary Borden’s Sonnets to a Soldier. Accepting that female leaders have also historically waged war, do you feel female artists today are any more expected to be a repository for remembrance, compassion and grief than men?

As I write, of the 195 nations in the world, only 25 have female heads of state, so that’s just less than 13 %. Quite frankly, we don’t really know how warmongery women can be, there just aren’t enough of them in power. I’m being facetious, of course, women and men can be both compassionate and utter arseholes.

Does society have an expectation that women are more peaceful? Probably, statistics would indicate that women commit less violent crime. Is there an expectation as female artists that are a repository for remembrance, compassion and grief than men? I don’t think so. If you look at the programming by the excellent 14-18 Now to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, they commissioned works by Olusoga, Danny Boyle, Akram Khan, Helen Marriage, Charlotte Higgins, Mark Kermode, William Kentridge and Rachel Whiteread.   That would support my view, I guess. The act of remembrance is genderless.

DG: On the other side of the coin, you’ve made ‘Ode To The Future’, a sculptural and musical work created working with six infants in utero. Music around giving birth, being born and pre-birth consciousness remains fairly rare (and almost unheard from major artists, excepting Prince who used his son’s in-utero heartbeat in ‘Sex In The Summertime’). Did you feel you were able to get any closer to pre-term life and to expectant mothers as a female artist?

No I don’t. I was working predominantly with gathering data with male and female medical practioners, musicians and crew. I don’t think gender makes any difference to understanding sculpture, data and sonification process or music for that matter. That would be odd.

DG: In ‘If Or Unless?’,  your video art installation at the recent ‘Good Grief, Charlie Brown!’ Somerset House exhibition, dancers, covered in  musical notation, were responding to two string quarters, suggesting how Lucy, Snoopy and Woodstock distract the young musician Schroeder from his art.

In the Peanuts world, Schroeder is dogged by Lucy’s demands for romantic love. What distracts you as an artist, beyond the conventional expectations that we might be ensnared by sex and ‘the pram in the hall’?

I don’t have a pram in the hall. The following are: Twitter, The OA, Brexit, The films of Susan Bier, Instagram, wheat fields, cheeks, cheese, whiskey, watermelon, tobacco, The Magnetic Fields, dancing, Snoopy sheets, Ali Smith, Ian Dunt, Fleabag, Balkan Brass, Kaija Saarihao, Paulo Sorrentino, Stories, Loony Tunes, the sea, chocolate, looking for the things I’ve lost, mostly keys and jewelry, flowers, the rain, politics, Remainiacs, Hitchcock, climate emergency, The Little Prince, macaroni cheese, barbapapa, amazon prime, Nina Simone, music from Madagascar, gin, sheep, the postman, clocks, updates, bells, pollen, Jo Maugham QC, Gizmo, Greta Thunberg, Joana Cherry QC, Edith Piaf, David Attenborough, Fire, Aruba when she is whistling, Olafur Elliason. Shoes, maps, watering plants, pom poms, Lyra, pebbles, socks, Hannah and her Sisters, climbing trees. Laura Cannell, uplifting, Majid Mike, Zadie Smith, Rooibos tea, Winnie Mculloch, Kiki de Montparnasse, the colour green, moths, droopy tulips, metronomes, crunching, cushions, Femi, Roses’ lime cordial, eco wipes, lighters, Daphne de Maurier, Gloria Coates, salt shakers, SODEM, Tasmin Ormond, elephants, pink champagne, trackballs, paperbags, Mercury… Did I say dancing?

Upcoming works and performances by Mira Calix in 2019 include the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa and a site-specific creation for Hunsgate Church in Norwich, UK.

Get Utopia here:

Instagram @miracalix_ Twitter @miracalix

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