Whether or not you know Miwa Matreyek’s name, which you should, you do know her work. As the woman who “does those amazing shadow puppet projections,” she has dazzled audiences at both historic and unconventional venues for a decade with her unique hybrid analog and tech performances combining live-action with evocative sound and intricate video. She creates real-time and finely tuned magic on stage, but more than the eccentric visual majesty of her one-woman shows, Matreyek’s work also has a message. She is deeply engaged with humanity’s relationship to the environment and nature, and never more so than in the context of the climate crisis. Her new work, Infinitely Yours, debuts this week at REDCAT.
L.A. Weekly: When did you first know you were an artist?
Miwa Matreyek: I had always drawn, painted and made objects, from when I was a child. But I didn’t think art was practical, and wanted to be a scientist. I feel like for me, being an artist wasn’t about knowing it, but rather a coming to terms with it, later in life. I was always a tinkerer. I like figuring out how to make something work, and I love how all the small parts, small details and hours of labor transforms something ordinary into something extraordinary. I feel that animation really fit with my tinkerer disposition — I like to hide away for a long time to create my vision, and emerge to see the transformation of the detailed parts into the magical whole.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I am an animator, designer and performer. I create live performances where I step into my kaleidoscopic moving images that are projected onto a screen, and interact with them as a shadow silhouette. My work is at once fantastical and visual like cinema, but is also physically present, intimate and about creating an emotional connection with the audience, like theater. My work often weaves in narratives of nature and humanity with my shadow taking on various scales of consciousness and perspectives.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I’ve always been deeply interested in the sciences. My impulse to visualize and imagine micro and macro systems and inner mechanisms of the world manifests in my art practice, where visuals of these worlds (whether they be weather systems or the history of the earth) are illustrated through my fantastical animations, and experienced through my body. I would say that most of the books that I enjoy reading are science-based ones, especially ones that wrap interesting, mind-blowing information in historical context or personal relationships to them, or make one look at the world or their own body with a new imagination. I love the books of Mary Roach, and also recently enjoyed Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn, about the microbes that live in our homes and on and inside our bodies.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to CalArts for my MFA (2007) in Experimental Animation and Integrated Media. I was not strongly clear about the original “why” part — I had been making animations on my own after undergrad, and wanted to go back to school to see where it would lead, rather than the many dead-end internships I tried after college. However, my time at CalArts proved to be formative for me. Not so much specific classes, but the peers I began collaborating with while I was there, as well as the overall open feeling of the school, took me down a very unique path. I went in thinking I’d make a bunch of short films and work in the animation industry, but instead, I came out with my own kind of art form (as well as a collaborative theater company, Cloud Eye Control) and I have been supporting myself as an artist while traveling all around the country and the world ever since.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
My next show will be the premiere of my piece Infinitely Yours, at REDCAT, January 16-18. The show will feature the brand new piece, as well as the very first shadow silhouette performance I made back in 2007 as my thesis in grad school at CalArts.
After having developed and worked in my medium of animation, projection, and performance for over a decade, I feel I’m at a place of truly wanting to use the medium to say something I feel passionately about. A lot of my work (both solo and with Cloud Eye Control) weaved in themes of humans and nature. For me, Infinitely Yours is an illustration of the barrage of headlines I’ve been seeing in the news in the last few years about climate change; wildfires, flooding, pollution, plastic waste, etc., and struggling with the small ways that my life intersects with aspects of climate change on the everyday level — choices I make in the grocery store, the items that become trash or go in the recycling, how I eat. Infinitely Yours was a way for me to visualize and physicalize these events both the macro and micro scales as personal experiences on my body, to process my own climate anxiety.
Shortly after the REDCAT shows I perform at Sundance Film Festival in their New Frontier section, January 27 and 28. New Frontiers is the section at the fest for film plus performance, film plus installation, VR, etc. This will be my third time showing at Sundance — I was selected for New Frontiers in 2011 and 2014, as well.
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