OPEN-AIR ART Viewer, artist, artist, viewer

Miranda July’s sculptural installation Eleven Heavy Things reverses the traditional artist-viewer roles

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For some, Eleven Heavy Things can turn into a test of acrobatic skills.
courtesy of olivia jaffe
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Miranda July poses with one of her installation pieces from Eleven Heavy Things.
Courtesy of olivia jaffe

Miranda July: Eleven Heavy Things

MOCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles

July 23 – Oct. 23, 2011

Miranda July’s Eleven Heavy Things cleverly skirts the word “sculpture,” one of those ill-defined “things” that suggests a commercial object just as often as it does an artistic one. This installation, sculptural merely by virtue of the fact that it is three-dimensional, lets us in on the artistic process and blurs the lines between creator and observer. Eleven Heavy Things originally debuted in 2010 in New York’s Union Square Park, and its journey to Los Angeles this summer came in conjunction with the release of July’s latest film project, The Future. Although I have not yet seen the film, this exhibition has certainly whet my appetite for the wacky but strangely candid ideas that emerge from July’s head.

The eleven pieces of Eleven Heavy Things are scattered about on the undulating front lawn of the Pacific Design Center, and each piece is meant to be submitted to the kind of treatment that playground equipment endures under the hands of rambunctious, inquisitive kindergartners. Eleven Heavy Things makes us feel like we are five years old again and is a perfect photo opportunity. The pieces are not form-driven in the traditional sculptural sense, but many of them are accompanied by sentences and phrases, and all of them elicit laughter or smiles. The trio of ascending pedestals on which you can stand bear the inscriptions “the guilty one,” “the guiltier one,” and “the guiltiest one.” The Burberry shape — a wild floating headdress, familiarly patterned — makes the person posing underneath it look nothing short of ridiculous. One cheeky platform advertises, “We don’t know each other, we’re just hugging for the picture. When we’re done I’ll walk away quickly. It’s almost over.” Another piece takes on a sweeter, more serious tone: “This is my little girl. She is brave and clever and funny. She will have none of the problems that I have. Her heart will never be broken. She will never be humiliated. Self-doubt will not devour her dreams.”

Even if you never end up seeing the installation in person, it is worth a few moments of thought. July’s installation encourages a curious, direct interaction not only between object and person, but also between people. By giving solidity to our thoughts — and at times putting words into our mouths (“This is not the first hole my finger has been in; nor will it be the last”) — Eleven Heavy Things somehow adds another dimension of depth to mundane, day-to-day activities. And next time you sit on one of those empty plinths in Lobby 7, think of what your epithet could be.