A shadow woman walks and a forest sprouts from her steps. This same shade stands against a starry sky then mindfully strides through cities that build before her. The phantom is multimedia performer and artist Miwa Matreyek. Matreyek’s work combines a shadow-show against projected, animated backdrops to create poignant, dreamlike narratives.
The weekend before Halloween, the Durango Arts Center will host the Los Angeles artist as she continues her international tour of “This World Made Itself” and “Myth and Infrastructure.” DGO talked to Matreyek to learn more about the silhouette of self used in her work and how she used fantastical theater to showcase the history of the Earth and humanity’s complex relationship to it.
Can you talk about the use of shadow as storytelling tool?Shadow has been an interesting medium for me because it is in this between space of almost three dimensional but also flat. It is full of information but also empty. Shadow can become a vessel for the audience to experience the world of what is happening in the performance.
My shadow almost becomes a symbol of a person rather than me as a specific person. That has been interesting for me being a multi-racial woman artist. There’s certain details you can see in the shadow that you can see I am a woman but maybe you can’t really tell what race I am. The audience doesn’t really see me. You see me off to the side so you know I’m a real person and that was intentional, but beside that, most of the audience’s relationship to me is as a shadow. That space is not overlaid with the specificity of who I am or the narrative that an audience may put on me because of the way that I look or who they perceive that I am.
Your work is described as being dreamy. Do your own dreams enter into your process?There had been dream influence in some earlier work. If anything, now, it is that sense in dreams of physical anticipation.
Can you talk about the messages you are connecting to and want others to connect to in your work? There’s an ecological philosopher named Joanna Macy. One of her books, “World As Lover, World As Self,” talks about the idea of the greening of the self. If someone is cutting off their leg you’d say, “Don’t do that, you’re hurting yourself.” Similarly, if someone is cutting down the rainforest, we need to see that as an extension of self. She said, “The trees in the Amazon rain basin. They are our external lungs. We are beginning to realize that the world is our body.” Macy’s ideas explore expanding your consciousness to more than your body into something that encompasses these larger ecologies that support you. Macy described the greening of the self as the process of replacing one’s “skin-encapsulated ego” with “wider constructs of identity and self-interest – by what you might call the ecological self, co-extensive with other beings and the life of our planet.” That greening of the self is something that links into my own work.
Your work provides a magical, awe-inspiring moment for people. Where do you go when you need that moment for yourself?I feel like that recharge happens a lot being out in nature and hiking – feeling my body in outdoor spaces. There is this concept, skinship. It is a pseudo-English Japanese word based on the concept of intimacy. For example, when a dad holds his child on his bare chest and there is skin-to-skin contact. I was thinking about that in the relationship humans have touching the Earth. We’re constantly walking on concrete or laying in GMO grass. How far do I have to go into the wild for the land to be untouched, to have that skinship and lie on top of the Earth?
A lot of my inspiration comes from looking at and being with the Earth.
Interview edited and condensed for clarity.Patty Templeton