The multitalented Miranda July has departed from her usual theme of everyday people and enlisted ten celebrities and public figures to divulge emails from their personal inboxes. Titled We Think Alone, the project allows a unique glimpse into the inner lives of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lena Dunham, Kirsten Dunst, Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, photographer Catherine Opie, writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret, physicist Lee Smolin, writer Sheila Heti, and artist Danh Vo. The participants chose which emails to share based on twenty different topics, and all the emails were written prior to the beginning of the project.
Commissioned by Swedish exhibition venue Magasin 3 for a show titled On the Tip of My Tongue, the project exists only in subscribers’ inboxes. The first email will arrive July 1 and the last on November 11. According to July, the project is based on both bold self-exposure and quiet internal musing, and can serve as a study on privacy, discretion, composure, and the constantly changing nature of email.
The Rumpus: A lot of your work seems to deal with strangers or ordinary people who meet and then retain a large degree of anonymity. Why celebrities this time, and why email?
Miranda July: When I first thought of this project, I did want to do this with regular people—that’s always my first impulse, that everyone is interesting. But I realized that yes, everyone is interesting, but if you’re friends with them, then you’re even more interested in reading their emails.
Rumpus: That makes sense. There needs to be some context.
July: Right. The impulse behind the project was really my curiosity about my friends’ emails. In the past, I’ve tried to do little exchanges, like, “How about we exchange an email that we each wrote to our mothers or to our boyfriends?” So I’ve done that on a mini-level with friends. I realized, though, that for other people to be interested, I’d have to use celebrities, because we feel like we’re friends with them in a certain way, or that we know them.
Rumpus: How did these particular celebrities get involved in the project? Are they people you’re close to, or are they mostly acquaintances?
July: I started with my friends. Then I realized that they were all artists and writers, and that I should try to make it a more diverse group. I found some friends of friends and neighbors of friends. Someone mentioned that I should have someone in sports, and then I remembered that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had written a review of Girls for his column in The Huffington Post and had mentioned me in the review. I was like, “Well, I guess he knows who I am. I guess it wouldn’t be totally out of the blue to contact him.” I looked him up online and emailed his manager.
Rumpus: Were there any other strangers?
July: I don’t know Kirsten Dunst personally. I felt like it was important to have a contrast to Lena Dunham, to have an actress who actually needs to maintain her privacy. Traditionally, actresses are supposed to be these blank slates, and that’s important for them to disappear into their roles. Lena’s sort of invented a new kind of actress. She is telling her own story actively, and that’s part of her unique power. But of course, it wouldn’t work out for Kirsten to share in the same way, and I thought it would be interesting, if she said yes, to see how she would handle that. And she shared in a different way—I don’t think she wanted to share as much as Lena.
Rumpus: And what about the emails? Are they business or personal, are they juicy, like love letters?
July: They’re a mix of all of those things. I tried to reach into every kind of category we all write. There are emotional ones and very mundane ones, and the great thing about email is that there’s also multimedia, so I tried to make use of that as well.
They [the celebrities] chose the emails. That’s an important part of the project: these are essentially self-portraits. They each were given a list of twenty kinds of emails, and they had to go through their sent-mail folders and find examples of each. Each week, you’ll get an email from each of the celebrities on each topic. Like the first week, the topic is money, and you’ll get ten emails [all compiled into one email] on money.
Rumpus: How did you choose We Think Alone as the title?
July: Email is not a simultaneous form of communication. It’s not like a phone conversation or even Skype. It’s something where you do your end of it totally alone, and you can make it perfect. Also, with exchanges, you only ever see one side of the exchange at once, and you get a sense of that person composing themselves alone.
First image of Miranda July by Mike Mills, courtesy the artist.
Second image courtesy of Miranda July.