‘Nicole Miller: A Sound, a Signal, the Circus’ at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

Using sound, moving image and laser light, Nicole Miller creates new site-specific installation on view March 25 to July 25

Dancer Michael Jones filmed by Nicole Miller for “A Sound, a Signal, the Circus,” 2021 (still). Mixed-media installation. (Image: Courtesy of the artist and Kristina Kite Gallery, Los Angeles)

The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis will present “A Sound, a Signal, the Circus,” a major new commissioned project by California-based artist and filmmaker Nicole Miller. Known for her evocative videos and multimedia installations, Miller frequently addresses themes such as race, translation and the politics of representation.

For the Kemper Art Museum, she is creating a site-specific installation that explores and expands an understanding of synesthesia as it relates to the Black experience in the United States through an intricate choreography of sound, moving image and laser-light animation. The immersive project engages with the sonic, the somatic and aspects of spectacle to enact what the artist describes as a kind of “ecstatic translation.” The exhibition will be on view March 25 to July 25, 2022.

Miller’s 24-channel soundscape will direct viewers through the gallery. It is composed of recorded and appropriated sounds and music, along with edited excerpts from interviews that she conducted in St. Louis in the summer and fall of 2021.

In these interviews, poets, dancers, educators and teenagers of color share a range of perspectives — personal, political, philosophical and creative — often drawing connections to their own bodies. Punctuating this sonic tapestry will be choreographed laser light and video footage of performers rehearsing, many of whom are preparing for roles in various circuses.

Notions of embodiment and articulation are common threads throughout Miller’s work. In recent years, a core aspect of her practice has involved collaborating with young people, especially youth of color. The exhibition at the Kemper Art Museum builds on previous video installations — including “Athens, California” (2018), for the California African American Museum, and “To the Stars” (2019), for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — that examine how societal pressures and the violence of racism condition the experience of growing up in the United States, including how youth are perceived.

By inserting the voices of those who are just figuring out how to tell their stories into the context of an art museum, Miller challenges us to see these young people not through the lens of latent potential (or lack thereof) but as “brilliant in the here and now.”

Miller also is attuned to performances and performers, from renowned artists to those who are new to their craft. She gravitates to spaces of practice and rehearsal, and frames expressive articulation as an ongoing process rather than a point of arrival. The sound of disembodied voices in Miller’s new soundscape — each with their own observations and inflections — and the sight of bodies moving through space sets up the potential for a heightened consciousness of one’s own body while provoking questions about whose bodies are valued in society, whose voices are amplified, and whose lives are cherished.

Acrobat Austin Bradley filmed by Nicole Miller for “A Sound, a Signal, the Circus,” 2021 (still). Mixed-media installation. (Image: Courtesy of the artist and Kristina Kite Gallery, Los Angeles)

“Nicole Miller: A Sound, a Signal, the Circus’” is organized for the Kemper Art Museum by Meredith Malone, curator. The work is produced in collaboration with sound mixer and musician John Somers and laserist Zak Forrest.

Major support for exhibitions at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation. Generous support for this exhibition is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support is provided by the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; Emily and Teddy Greenspan; Fondation Foyer; the Mass Family Charitable Fund; the Olson Family Fund; public funds from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Ken and Nancy Kranzberg Fund; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

About the artist

Born in Tucson, Ariz., in 1982, Miller earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles in 2005 and her master’s in fine arts from the Roski School of the Arts at the University of Southern California in 2009.

Miller’s work has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally, including solo shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita; the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson; Ballroom Marfa in Texas; The High Line in New York; the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève; LAXART and the California African American Museum, both in Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Miller is associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego.

Visitor information

“Nicole Miller: A Sound, a Signal, the Circus” will open in the Kemper Art Museum’s Garen Gallery March 25 and remain on view through July 25. The exhibition will be accompanied by public programs designed to further explore the conceptual concerns posed by Miller’s practice, including racism, identity, storytelling, embodiment and the experience of youth in the United States today.

Miller will give an artist’s talk March 26, and a range of school and community programs will be held throughout the course of the exhibition.

The Kemper Art Museum is located on Washington University’s Danforth Campus, near the intersection of Skinker and Lindell boulevards. Visitor parking is available in the Washington University’s East End Garage, which can be entered from Forsyth Boulevard or Forest Park Parkway.

Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays through Sundays. The museum is closed Tuesdays. For more information, including current COVID-19 precautions, call 314-935-4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

About the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, was established in 1881 with the founding of the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts at Washington University. The Museum is committed to preserving and developing its art collection and continuing its legacy of collecting significant art of the time; providing excellence in art historical scholarship, education and exhibition; inspiring social and intellectual inquiry into the connections between art and contemporary life; and engaging audiences on campus, in the local community, across the nation and worldwide. The museum is free and open to all. For more information, visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu.

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