Miranda Brandon is a featured artist in Altered Esthetic’s exhibition, Bad Neighbor, on view at the Southern Theater through March 11, 2018. With millions of dollars and years of preparation funneled into this one weekend, this group exhibition highlights community responses to the production of Super Bowl LII.
Miranda Brandon is an animal enthusiast and advocate. Her multimedia work challenges how we perceive the physical and psychological constructs of the world around us and strives to promote a greater understanding and appreciation for the interconnectivity between human and non-human animals. Originally from Oklahoma, Brandon moved to Minneapolis to obtain her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and later completed her MFA at the University of Minnesota in 2014. Since then, Brandon has received a Jerome Emerging Artist Fellowship, has exhibited work as a Showcase Artist at the Bell Museum of Natural History, and has been featured by Audubon magazine, while also teaching photography and participating in various volunteer activities in Minnesota. Currently, Brandon is creating new work as a Tulsa Artist Fellow, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Miranda, thanks for exhibiting with Ae! We are showing two works from your Impact series. Can you give us some information on the background of this project including your work with Audubon Minnesota?
I had previously volunteered at the Wildlife Rehab Center, in Roseville, and found out through them that Audubon MN was looking for volunteers for Project BirdSafe, which monitors for birds that have collided with built structures in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. I started volunteering with them and my Impact project grew out of that experience.
Below: A Palm Warbler that I found stunned, in downtown St. Paul, after having flown into a window. I removed him from the sidewalk, where he sat disoriented and vulnerable, moving him past the confusing downtown space and in the direction he was migrating. When I opened up his “carrier”, a very fancy brown, paper bag with some rolled up paper towel for perching on, he was still relatively disoriented so we hung out together for another 15 minutes until he was able to collect himself and fly away.
This bird was found during one of my monitoring walks for Audubon MN.
Can you tell us more about your interest in animals and animal advocacy? Why are these subjects important to your work as an artist?
I’ve always had a general interest in animals and grew up around dogs, rabbits, cats, and, at one point, a horse. But more specifically, this interest began with a conversation I was having with a friend, in 2008, in which he was telling me about the seabirds that were being found dead with stomachs full of plastic debris that they were scooping out of the water, mistaken for food. This propelled me to find a way to help at a local level. This lead to volunteering in the avian nursery at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, then later for Audubon, then later still, at the Raptor Center. My volunteer experiences have been instrumental in thinking about how we affect and connect with other species. I feel, in our culture, that there is frequently a palpable disconnect with the natural world which creates conditions for abuse. So, for the last several years I’ve been exploring ways to create connection opportunities, raising awareness for whom space is co-occupied with and creating ways for humans to create new joint narratives across species.
While your work is clearly informed by animals and nature, your pieces more specifically address the interaction between humans and the rest of the natural environment. Could you speak more to this relationship that you explore in your work?
Cohabitation is something we need to be much more conscientious of and flexible towards. As human population, and settlements, continue to expand tolerance for wildlife diminishes. In my work I’m trying to generate the circumstances for greater awareness and empathy for who we live with. Text is coming into my work more and more as I’m exploring how language primes us to perceive and behave in specific ways. For example, labeling an animal a pest gives us permission to manage the bodies and overall population of that species and justifies whatever means necessary to do so. But how do we determine who is a pest? The highly adaptable and intelligent coyote is considered a pest. While coyotes may present as a nuisance, disturbing our trash cans, pets, and livestock, where should they go when we continually encroach on their habitat? They keep adapting and filling niches that were left open by the wolves we eradicated, while we fail to adapt to their presence. We have decided to call them pests though, suggesting they have no value - a conditional worth we are continually learning (the hard way) is impossible to assign with our extremely limited understanding of how everything is connected. Another way coyotes are described, by biologists, is “cosmopolitan”. This is a term applied to species that are especially adaptive and flexible regarding the habitats where they can live. Humans are very cosmopolitan too. Does this, therefore mean, that another way to think of humans is as “pests”?
Do you see your art as a form of advocacy? What do you hope audiences take away from your work?
Yes, I do see my work as a form of advocacy. I’m asking viewers and participants to become more aware of who they live with, to consider the labels they use and how that drives their attitudes, and to embrace the idea of a shared, interconnected, narrative. This is a way to publicly ask others to be more invested in the diversity of their physical surroundings and to encourage kindness towards those that we don’t understand and can never fully understand.
Why does photography appeal to you as a medium? What other mediums do you work with in your practice?
The appeal, of photography, has changed across projects and I try to work in whatever medium I feel best serves the idea, to the point where I’m not working, strictly, within photography at the moment. Impact, two images of which you all are currently displaying, and DIY Animal Populator, both use photography but in different ways.
In Impact, photography created an immediacy to the images, despite the birds being photographed in my studio, as if I was staked out near a window just waiting for a bird to fly into it. The appearance of capturing the bird, or birds, at the moment, or just after, fatal contact is made with an illusive, silently reflective surface offers an unsettling presence and urgency to the images. It’s like photojournalism, in a way, in that it intends to bring the viewer into that space and time, in ways that other mediums are less capable of doing because the hand of the maker is too apparent, whereas the hand of the photographer is always there, choosing angle, distance, lighting, focus, and framing, but those choices don’t register as strongly, or at all, when we look at photographs.
In DIY Animal Populator, photography is particularly useful in that I’m photographing these two-dimensional paper cut-outs of animals. You have to get it at just the right angle for it too look right. As an installation this project, visually, works very differently. I’m also interested in the accessibility of photography though, or the ability to make a photo. Today, most people have the power to make a photo sitting in their pockets, inside their smartphones! So this project was also interested in opening up the act of making a photo and sharing a photo. Using an individual’s photo library or a shared image on social media as a way to artificially bolster our experience and interaction with certain animals, creating memories of positive engagement and excitement as well as creating a greater visual presence for some animals that could offset a condition known as the “shifting baseline syndrome.” This syndrome describes when we gradually accept fewer and fewer individuals to constitute a specific population based on a lack of awareness of previous population levels, allowing for continual losses.
Currently, I’m developing a body of work called Object State in which photography plays but a very small role. The work is still growing but currently it is based on ways the natural world is marketed to us. Objects have great agency in this work, using digital drawing and pattern design and thinking about homemaking through home accessories and interior decorating. Other types of retail-like objects have made their way into this work as well, like sculptures from discarded (waste) fur displayed in a West Elm-chic manner.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should know about?
I have a couple things in the works and scheduled for this year. As a Tulsa Artist Fellow, I currently have work up in a group show at the Philbrook Museum of Art, in their downtown space in Tulsa, OK, until March 4, 2018. I’ll be out in Wyoming during March, at the Teton Artlab, and will be giving a presentation on my work, as well as opening up my studio there, sometime during the third full week of March. I’ll be back in Tulsa, OK working with Philbrook again, at their main campus, to stage an interactive, outdoor, pop-up installation from my DIY Animal Populator project, on May 12th. I’ll also have a solo show at VisArts, in Maryland, that will be up from June 1st - July 1st.
Where can we find and follow you online?
I just recently updated my website and it can be found at: www.mirandabrandon.com.
I’m also on Instagram @ordinarylastname, which is my primary account, but also have a seperate Instagram @diyanimalpopulator, for my DIY Animal Populator project.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Interview written by Sarah Kass and Ella Kampelman, edited by Sarah Kass.