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What’s Spiritual Is Us: A Conversation with Mira Goodman

Mira talks with the Brown Art Review about her changing perspective on art-making, relationships, meaning, and memory in advance of her senior show “We will see us again.”

Interviews
Interviews
What’s Spiritual Is Us: A Conversation with Mira Goodman
Charlie Usadi

Charlie Usadi

Date
April 26, 2024
Read
10 Minutes

Mira is a senior studying Visual Art whose work dynamically pushes the boundary between two and three dimensions. Mira’s practice is closely tied to lived experience, serving as a sort of diary with which she processes experiences both of close connection and of isolation. I sat down with Mira the week prior to her show to talk a bit about her work as she neared the exhibition’s opening. The following conversation has been edited for clarity.

Charlie Usadi: Hi Mira! How's it going?

Mira Goodman: Hi! It's going well. I'm in my last days of this final push towards what feels like the biggest art endeavor I've ever done in my life so far.

CU: I know you must be crazy busy, so I appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me. Before we dive fully into the work you're making right now, how about we contextualize your current practice with how you've gotten to this point? Like you said, it is a really big moment, so I’d love insight into how you got to where you are now. So much goes into developing towards a thesis. I want to take a few steps back and just talk about you. Not necessarily your art, but what you think has been impactful on your perspective now.

 Mira, at age 2. Drawing began at a young age.

MG: So much of my artwork is a reflection of who I am, where I grew up, the experiences I had growing up, and the people I've met. I’m realizing that that’s a big part of what my thesis is about. What it means for me to be in a community, to be surrounded by people or not surrounded by people.

I was the youngest of three; I have an older sister and brother, so I always had a lot of older figures around me growing up. My family really influenced me—showed me the world a little bit. My parents and siblings introduced me to all genres of art and music from a young age, from the Dave Matthews Band, the Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen to the soundtracks of Wicked and Godspell. My mom was showing me the Grateful Dead—she was a Deadhead. My sister is really interested in musical theater. I feel like I have to credit those influences, first and foremost, how much they’ve impacted my ability to see the world.

2009. Mira’s first summer at an outdoor sleepaway camp, where she’s worked as a hiking instructor for the past two years.

Another early influence on who I am as a person, which closely relates to why I make art, is going to summer camp as a kid. Being away from home for seven weeks as an eight-year-old had a major impact. I was in nature: hiking, living in a really close community with people I never knew before. The experience taught me what it means to love being around people, to love the experience of getting to know someone, and to then have to say goodbye to them. The experience of living in a close, tight-knit community with other kids my age was very impactful. It allowed me to learn how to live in a community and understand my relationships with other people from a young age, where I could create a family outside of my parents and siblings.

CU: So there was clearly this creative impulse in your family. When did your relationship to art-making begin? 

MG: I always loved making. I was always very creative, even when it wasn’t explicitly “art.”  I’ve always been looking at things on the ground. When I was really young, I would go into my backyard and look for things that people threw over the fence. All sorts of crap, basically. I would collect it. I loved it. There was something very visceral about those experiences of touching things, which is actually really related to what I'm doing now. 

CU: Connection is so central to the work you're making now. So it makes sense that your early creative impulse emerged from family, friends, siblings.

MG: It also came from playing. I had so much optimism, believing in the power of the world—in what it means for me to be alive. I think as you get older and you get more aware of the world, you grow out of it. I’m trying to tap back into that because there was so much there.

CU: You describing picking up junk as a kid really speaks to that. The wonder that's there and the magic within something that could often seem so uninspiring. Your recent body of work does really reflect that appreciation. Speaking of your current work, your practice today is largely based in painting. When did your relationship to the medium emerge?

MG: I actually think I always thought I wanted to be an artist. Even when I was really young. I have a piece of paper from first grade that says, “I’m going to be an artist.” So, that idea was definitely in my head. 

Mira, first grade.

But I started out doing musical theater for a really long time. I loved performing. I still do. But that focus has definitely shifted to include visual art more centrally. My elementary school art teacher recommended that I take classes in the city at the Art Students League. I would go to the city, to these nude painting classes, where I learned how to oil paint with all these 50-year-old people [laughs]. That was really influential. You’d sit for 7 hours at a time, studying and painting a model. I realized I could sit and focus for 7 hours, which I think is really hard to do as a teenager. I didn't realize that I could do that, but I really got locked into the zone. I think a lot of people know about this, that zone. Up until then I didn't realize I could be alone, be in my own space. I was also very anxious in high school, so finding that zone was a beautiful outlet. 

It affirmed my feeling of “Okay, I want to go and do this in college, I want to figure out how I can do this, I'm going to be an artist.” I wanted to take it really seriously, to have it matter to me. I cared so much about what I was making, but really only for myself at that point in high school, which was also awesome. That’s changed; it gets harder once you start making more deeply conceptual work and have people start seeing it more.

CU: Could you speak about your relationship to art through college and in the VISA department? You’ve begun to touch on it, but how have you seen your work change and your perspective change as well?

MG: So I took a gap year in 2019 before coming to college.  I didn't do any art for that year, but I did a lot of traveling—meeting people—and it was very transformative. My whole world opened. I met so many people and saw so many different ways of living life. I was in Peru and Ecuador for three months and learned Spanish and was just immersed in that experience. At that moment in 2019, I was like, “Why am I going to college?” I was already jaded, thinking, “There's no point for me to go to college when there's like a whole world out there for me to live.”

But unfortunately I had already gotten into Brown. [Laughs] Just kidding, that's a joke, I was really happy to have gotten into Brown. But starting college during COVID was really, really hard. It was one of the more lonely experiences I'd had at that time in my life. That was a difficult time for everybody. But I got to do an independent study that summer of COVID, so I was basically the only person working in the painting studio in List on this floor for the summer. I met Leigh Tarentino [painting professor in the department] and started making work. I was starting to think about loneliness, these feelings of isolation and how we connect with each other through the internet. I made some small paintings about Tinder and Pornhub. Thinking about these, like, ridiculous ways that we try to find connection. Those were vulnerable paintings for me to make. It's the first time I was trying to be more diaristic with my work.

En Route, 2022, Oil on canvas.

Then, I started to paint billboards—highway scenes. I started to get really interested in cityscapes, highways, and trash on the ground. 2019, during my gap year, is when I began really actively taking pictures of trash on the ground. I saw an Andy Warhol exhibit when I was in high school at the Whitney. It was so cool how he takes the mundane things that make up life and enhances them. After seeing that exhibit, I started to notice so much more about the world. Like, “What are these Shen Yun posters all about?” I’ve had this album on my phone since 2019 that's just dedicated to Shen Yun, taking pictures every time I saw an advertisement for it. I did that again with images of shoes hanging on utility wires. So, I started to notice things, trying to make connections to discover why these things are so interesting to me. Why are there these things in the world that we just accept to be true when they're also so bizarre? 

Mira’s album of utility wire shoes.

Once I got to college, I spent so much time walking around Providence and started to learn what it's like to be alone. Sophomore year was a turning point for me, which is related to the work I'm doing now. I painted this painting called All My Boyfriends. I realized, “Wow, relationships are a huge part of who I am. I think about them all the time, I reflect on them, and I'm very sentimental.” Relationships of all kinds—not just romantic. Friendships, people I see once and never talk to again, childhood friends that moved away, you know, every sort of connection that I've had with people. I thought it was funny imagining all of my ex-boyfriends in a room together. So I painted that from memory—instead of looking at pictures of them, I just tried to really think about what they look like from when I knew them at, like, 16 years old? It was so fun. They’re all sitting in a room, and they're looking at me [laughs]. That was when I started to experiment with memory: what it means to paint from memory. It was the first time I realized I can make work that addresses some sort of need that I think can be said in a bigger way.

All My Boyfriends, 2021, Oil on canvas.

I fell in love at the end of my sophomore year with a senior, who then graduated, which was my first real experience of heartbreak. I realized, “Okay, I have to make work about it.” I was haunted by all these things that reminded me of him, places that reminded me of him in Providence. I thought about what symbols, what things represent this person, and what it feels like to break up with someone—heartbreak, basically. I had this bracelet that I gave him, and I was thinking about it and realized, “I just need to make it.” So I did, I remade it using clay.  It was very intense, thinking about the things we leave behind, what happens when you go?

 Nature’s Toys (a collection), 2022.

Speaking of childhood, I have kept every letter someone has ever written me since I was about seven years old when I left camp. I have them, like, filed. I love that stuff. I love it so much because it's a mark that there was someone once there, that that meant something. The experience between me and someone else. It meant something to them. It meant something to me. It meant something to us together. Just because people disperse and there's distance between them doesn't mean that that relationship didn't happen.

CU: It's almost like scrapbooking.

MG: Yeah, it is like scrapbooking. But the objects are so precious I don't want to put them on anything else [laughs]. I don't want to change them. I also started to remake letters people wrote to me. It allows the sentimentality I feel towards objects to build when I can recreate them. So as I was thinking about those old themes of cityscapes and telephone wires, I made my first two pieces where I combined sculpture and painting. There's something really beautiful and intense about remaking things with my hands on a really small scale. The fact that they can have the physical, three-dimensional qualities of the original objects that were plastic or metal or paper. To combine that with my love for painting feels important. It feels like freedom. 

Held Together by Bookends, Mixed media on canvas, 2022.

CU: That’s beautiful, and at this point, we’ve reached the sort of subjects and mediums you’re exploring in your show. Would you like to say about the show itself?

MG: Yeah, we are. So then I went to Scotland to study abroad, which was definitely the loneliest experience I've ever had. I was basically alone in Glasgow for four months. There were only two other girls in the program: one dropped out, and the other never went to classes.

At this point, trauma, death, and these adult realities also felt very immediate in a number of ways. Experiences at the time became really heavy and also really influential. Those are the types of experiences I think you learn the most from. After that very low point, I had this really beautiful high where I lived in a community in Portugal for a month, surrounded by people from around the world. It was super enlightening, spiritual, and loving. And I’ve been thinking a lot about those two moments: that low and that high. What does it mean to have both?

So I came back to Brown, and I have this thesis show coming up. I was thinking a lot about how much I fell in love with the people I met in Portugal. The feeling of knowing, “You’re an incredible person,” after only knowing someone for three days. I was thinking a lot about this text by Martin Buber, a Jewish mystical philosopher. Admittedly, I could not get through it [laughs], he’s really hard to read, but I learned about him and his theory of “The I in Thou.” It basically speaks to that spiritual experience of connecting with someone or something else. I was also thinking about this Celtic belief in “thin places,” where heaven and the earth meet. They think of thin places as being up on mountains where you're physically close to the heavens.

So I was thinking about the thin places between us, between people. My show is titled “We will see us again,” which is something that the German people I met in Portugal would always say to me [laughs]. It's like a poorly translated way of saying, “We will see each other again,” but it just stuck with me. I think it's so beautiful and touching. It connects with that Buber philosophy of what's spiritual is us. It's not me; it's not you. It's the collective. It really does all relate back to being a kid, being at summer camp, and to love. 

CU: I’d love for you to speak about some of the works in the show.

MG: Yeah, I think the work progressed over the year to be a lot about experiences of loneliness, so I have this really big piece about Scotland. I have another piece called Sagres, at the Edge of the World, which reflects on being very distanced. There’s also this piece that speaks to the experience of walking around Providence and seeing what people leave behind.

Sagres, at the Edge of the World, 2023, Oil, acrylic, mixed media on canvas.

It's interesting because so much of my experience is about love and connection. But I think what's really important to talk about with love in connection is the lack, the distance, longing. Connections can be really muddled—it can feel like loose threads. A big piece that I haven't made yet but I'm planning to make is kind of similar to what I did with the boyfriends piece. I want to paint a bunch of figures from memory, distinct people I've met in my life in the past five years, all in this nondescript landscape and on mountains, really speaking to the spirituality of those connections. 

CU: I feel like that piece, and the one with your boyfriends, speaks to the fact that being alone doesn't negate the fact that you have experienced everyone else, that a part of them does remain with you even in those moments.

MG: Yeah, I so deeply want people to know that I'll never forget who they are. And I've been thinking a lot about how unique of an experience being in college is. What does it mean to have relationships in constant flux, where you have to confront that change constantly? Those experiences are so hard to reconcile. That's been a part of my college experience, reconciling change and feeling an immense joy for the people that I really love or people that I'm going to love. That apprehension of, “Oh my God, you are wonderful and I want you in my life for how long or how short that's going to be.” Just being willing to take that chance of having a connection with someone, even if it means it's going to hurt afterward.

All the things I know about you, 2023, Acrylic, Sculpey polymer clay, paper pulp, conte crayons, and thread on canvas.

CU: It's definitely taking a risk, but it's important, too, as you grow and find your grounding, your perspective. Even those bad relationships are a sort of stepping stone. So, your thesis is a huge endeavor, but it’s helpful to think of it as a milestone as opposed to an end goal. Do you have a sense of what comes next?

MG: I want to keep making objects; I keep writing down and taking pictures of things that I see which I want to remember. I'm thinking a lot about what’s central to people's lives and how their objects are so different from my objects, but what it means for them to also feel like they're mine, that they're something that I can love, too. 

So much of my work is contingent on the type of people I'm around—the experience I'm in. No matter what that next experience is, whether it's very lonely, very abundant, or something I can't even predict, I know that I’ll use the tools that develop from living life to make art about it. 

CU: What feels so powerful about you and your work is that you're working not only with the wonderful and inspiring moments, but you're actively learning to take in everything you experience as an inspiration to create something meaningful.

MG: Yeah, I find that the process itself has helped me move on. That's really useful for me, as a sentimental person. I'm learning how to use these really deep and intense emotions to my benefit. It’s also beneficial knowing that other people feel very intensely about the way they relate to people in their lives. That's been really cool, especially Held Together by Bookends. As I was traveling, I showed that work to a lot of people. It was so meta because I would show them the work that's about connecting with people, and in doing so, I connected with them. They were like, “My God, I get this, I understand you.” How can it become a cycle? How can work about connection foster the connection which inspired more work? What does it mean to make work about each other, about the moment that I'm with you? 

CU: I think you’re already working towards that, because the work you're making is so directly related to your lived experience. You must be so excited to have people come to the show and hear what they think.

MG: That's the other thing—I've been sort of locked away making. I'm such an extrovert, and I'm so excited to have all of my friends and people I may not know or don't know come to celebrate with me about them, in a way, even if they don't know it's about them. My dream is to make work about people in the moment that they're there, when they see that I’m reflecting on our connection. I am really excited. My parents are coming, and my siblings are also coming. I think it'll be a big weight off my shoulders, too [laughs]. I mean, it's probably not a big deal in the grand, grand scheme of things, but right now it feels like a really big deal.

CU: I mean, it is important. You've dedicated so much time to this, and clearly, it represents concepts you’ve been thinking about for a long time. From what I've seen so far, I cannot wait to see the full show. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me!

MG: Yeah. This has been a great conversation.

For readers interested in seeing more of Mira’s work, you can find it on Instagram @miragoodman.art and online miragoodman.com!

(All photos courtesy of Mira Goodman)

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