ART GRRLS INTERVIEWS: Anna Miltenburg

London, Ontario has a reputation for boasting incredible local artistic talent. Forest City is home to a myriad of phenomenal artists, who work across various media, methodologies and theories. This series will highlight some (but by no means all) of this city’s raddest ART GRRLS and delve into how and why they make the art they do.

This month I had the privilege of interviewing Anna Miltenburg, a fourth year studio art major at Western University whose work she calls “an amalgamation of installation, video, projection and silkscreen”. She is especially interested in projection and installation’s phenomenological effects, or how a changed space can make a body react. Miltenburg cites feminist theory, queer theory and film as influences on her work.  She describes her art as “intimacy with light and texture.”

Anna Miltenburg, used with permission of the artist

Miltenburg is also intrigued by the experiential contrasts between technology and the palpable, often teasing out tensions between the two within her work. The body reacts differently to digital and physical art; the former inspires virtual realities while the latter creates intimate moments between viewer and art object (touch is a powerful thing).

When I think of these two contrasting art experiences, I think of the piece Miltenburg made last year in our Honours Studio seminar. Our class entered a dark room and were first washed over with the sound of water. Then we were drawn to the light in a corner, a small projection of video collage: images of lakes and rivers mirrored the water pouring out of Miltenburg’s own mouth, layered over one another and flowed into an aquatic assemblage. Only after did we realize what the video was being projected onto. It was a piece of wood that Miltenburg had assiduously and delicately whittled. We were invited to touch it and feel its texture. This physical souvenir of Miltenburg’s projections changed the nature of her piece: the ephemeral space of darkness, light and water made us feel, but the physical object made us remember.

Anna Miltenburg, “Purity”, 2017, used with permission of the artist

She tells me, “The one thing with using technology is that it can sometimes feel almost fragmented from being personal. So, I’ve been wanting to add a performance element or some way you can actually connect with the work physically, which is why I like having the physical aspect. It gives it a bit more [tangibility].” This year, in lieu of whittled wood, Miltenburg is planning to flex her silkscreening muscle to create environments of printed fabrics and projections, where the viewer will encounter a total affective and sensory experience.

An important inspiration to Miltenburg’s work is artist Pipilotti Rist (perhaps best known as the artist Beyoncé mimicked in her music video, “Hold Up”). Rist is a pioneering feminist artist who uses film and projections to explore issues of the female body. She also made a porn once. Like Rist, Miltenburg explores the corporeal throughout her art. From her earlier video works in which she uses her own body to directly represent herself, she has expanded into screen prints depicting assemblages of abstracted, dislocated bodies (a piece she’s currently working on). For Miltenburg, the body connects to gender and identity, a theme she is further examining this year. She’s particularly interested in the interplay of femininity and masculinity, stating that the latter is especially important to her as she feels it “often gets played down in feminist art.”

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Pipilotti Rist, “Ever is Over All”, 1997, courtesy of MoMa.org

I ask her if she thinks her art is feminist art. “I think it’s important that you can be a woman and not make feminist artwork. I think that’s fine because men can do that,” Miltenburg thoughtfully replies. After discussing how the expectation for female art to be political can lead to exhausting emotional labour, she positions her own art as containing elements of feminism and politics, but not being overtly feminist or political.

When Miltenburg first started her art degree, she became enamored with installation and was curious about how video art worked. Throughout her undergrad, she has focused on honing her technical skills: evident in her mastery of everything from whittling to printmaking to video editing. Whatever the media, Miltenberg always finds parallels to drawing, which she says forms the basis of her artistic practice. She tells me, “drawing is one thing at a time, going over and over again” and perhaps this sentiment explains her unrelenting commitment to process.

Anna Miltenburg, used with permission of the artist

Anna Miltenburg is a very busy artist. Not only is she completing an internship at (renowned artist-run centre) Forest City Gallery, she’s also enrolled in Western’s studio art practicum program, a 2.0 credit year-long independent studio class that culminates with an April exhibition. She laughs at the double-edged sword presented to her by practicum professor Kelly Wood, “the plus side is you get to do a lot of independent work; the downside is you get to do a lot of independent work.” Miltenburg admits that practicum can feel daunting at first, but that it allows her freedom for exploration and experimentation in her art. Her commitment to the artistic process is evident as she shares some of the questions driving her: “how do I get from here to there? What does it mean? And how can I push this further?”

The 4430 Practicum class is hosting a Mini Market at the John Labatt Visual Art Centre, October 3rd from 9 am – 4 pm, to raise funds for their upcoming trip to Montreal.

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Illustration by Coral White featuring Purity by Anna Miltenburg (used with permission of the artist)

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