Fast/Forward returns with the groundbreaking work of Miranda July. 

Mixed Media

After a half-season lapse, Fast/Forward resumes, bringing some of the finest contemporary experimental artists to Richmond with its choice of the highly original Miranda July's "The Swan Tool." A multimedia performer, writer and video artist, July combines live performance with digital video and sound, reinventing stage space with her creative blend of technology.

"The Swan Tool" follows the struggles of Lisa, an insurance worker, unsure whether she should remain in a hole in the ground and end her life. One of Lisa's specialties is unlocking car doors with various implements, one of which is the swan tool, which helps her find the car's "sweet spot."

How July resolves the plot of this fablelike story takes second place to how she gets there. Her productions, often referred to as live movies, situate the main character onstage, sandwiched between, above and in front of video screens. Wearing a wig and headset, July assumes the role of several characters, some taped, some live, the digital and flesh stepping into and moving through each others' worlds. For instance, the live Lisa, her voice often straining with anxiety, several times walks among taped images of office cubicles. Another time, she rearranges furniture.

Cinematic and abstract, these and other clever devices create a fragmented life with Lisa always somewhat displaced from her surroundings. These same alienating devices provide the work with its appeal. As Lisa maneuvers as best she can between normality and strangeness, the narrative layers references to science, education, pop culture and feminism through ambient sounds, print and spoken word, video and music, even a bit of improvisation.

July says much of her work is autobiographical: She has, for instance, worked a job unlocking cars. She has not, however, buried herself in the ground. Metaphorically, she says, the burial is "how you freeze yourself, feeling paralyzed with doubt." "You bury yourself, or parts of yourself," she explains. "But things do change, and even the most seemingly destructive actions have deeper processes that lead to a new version of yourself."

July's rare blend of media results from a similarly unconventional career path. Currently a resident of Oregon, July bypassed college after graduating from high school in Berkeley. With the intention of making movies, she tried a film class at the University of California in Santa Cruz and found the experience disappointing.

"I knew what I wanted to do and felt that schooling was too slow," she says. What she did instead is establish Miss Moviola, renamed Joanie4Jackie, a video chain letter and distribution network made up of short experimental films and videos made by women. Six years and over 100 videos later, she states unequivocally, "The project educated me. I've seen so much and I know what the opportunities are."

Her work, which has been compared to Cindy Sherman and Laurie Anderson, has been commissioned and viewed at numerous galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and Europe. DJ and sound artist Zac Love provides scores for her live movies (though his day job as microbiologist may also influence her imagery). She's also made two CDs and a music video which showed on MTV. Already prolific with no intention of stopping, she's at work on a feature-length screenplay and a project in Liverpool. All this for a woman still in her 20s. Behind the camera or in front, July's eye is one well worth watching.

"The Swan Tool" by Miranda July at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Feb. 8, 8p.m. Tickets cost $18. Call 340-1405.


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