Text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter; today’s means of communication are as accessible and efficient as they can be equivocal and cold. Thinking about the different ways in which we interact, filmmaker, author and artist Miranda July collaborated with Miu Miu to create an app (available for free on iTunes) as well as a short film, as part of the brand’s Women’s Tales project. The picture – titled Somebody – premieres today as part of the Venice Days (Giornate Degli Autori) programme during the 71st Venice International Film Festival. Before the screening, the indie director told AnOther about the idea behind the project and her thoughts on digital and live communication.
“Somebody is the opposite to the very efficient means of communication we’ve developed in the last few years, but it’s a very open and fun experience” – Miranda July
Miranda July on… Creating a new communication app
“Most of my work invites strangers to engage with each other, and someone suggested I should create an app based on that. At first I thought the idea was ridiculous… I don’t even have apps on my phone! But then I started reminiscing about singing telegrams and the way romantic messages used to be delivered by friends when we were in high school, and the idea for the app started to take shape. It was quite a complicated project to develop though, so when Miu Miu contacted me for Women’s Tales I thought I pitched this whole idea of a story where people are using this fictional app, but it turns out the app is real after all! The Miu Miu team was pleased with it and on top of producing the film they helped me develop the Somebody app.
Once you have downloaded it, you pick a friend to deliver a message to, at which point you are given a list of all the people who are near them, and both the deliverer and the person being delivered the message meet. Your message is like a script – you can include gestures and actions in it – and the deliverer is, in a way, playing a role. It’s kind of complicated and weird, and it’s the opposite to the very efficient means of communication we’ve developed in the last few years, but it’s a very open and fun experience.”
Miranda July on… directing Somebody
“The film’s idea was directly linked to the app, so it’s about all these different kinds of people using Somebody for their own purposes. For instance, a girl breaks up with her boyfriend using the app so she writes a teary message and then gets it delivered via a big black guy, who meets with the skinny boyfriend in a park. My character, who is a waitress at a restaurant, gets a marriage proposal through the app. There’s even an 82-year-old lady using it. The film gets weirder and weirder and then in the end it advertises the real app, which I think is comical. The inspiration for the characters came to me spontaneously while looking at the autumn/winter 2014 Miu Miu collection, which I thought translated really well to the streets. I remember seeing all these white dresses in the showroom and thinking they would make lovely waitress uniforms, and then noticing a couple of nylon jackets which, for some reason, reminded me of a bus stop… Then we had so much fun at the fittings, because we had all kinds of women, from feisty teenagers to prison guards to old ladies trying on the clothes at the store. It felt a bit like a bunch of random Craigslist people meeting. As for the feminine angle in the film, I just went with my intuition: my feminine characters always tend to be pretty complex, and each scene was driven by a woman.”
Miranda July on… emotional v efficient communication
“Isn’t it funny the way we communicate nowadays? Thanks to our phones, we actually do a lot of communicating when we are alone, which is interesting, because it’s almost something we are doing for ourselves more than for other people. When you think of all the messages you keep on your WhatsApp, your Facebook feed or your Instagram, it feels like a sort of enormous diary. I’m curious as to how we can make it a more external experience: what kind of modern means of communication would make you feel as alert and alive as live communication? Maybe something that starts internally, in a scripted way, and then turns out to be transmitted in an external, original and challenging way. That’s what I love about the Somebody app, in a way it’s forcing people to make performance art. It will work just as well as the delivery person is daring. If they put their heart into it, it will be fascinating, otherwise it will be just as boring as texting. In the end the question is: are there important things we are not getting by being so efficient in our communication, like joy, and could we introduce some of that joy into something that starts with our phone?”
Official Somebody hotspots include Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The New Museum (NY), Yerba Buena Center for The Arts (SF), Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and Museo Jumex (Mexico City).
Text by Marta Represa