Tim Miller: interview
Queer performance artist Tim Miller talks bed-hopping and whimsy with Time Out
There’s a song by Marc Almond called ‘There Is A Bed’, all about the various ways in which beds feature in our lives. Tim Miller is familiar with the song, and the sentiment behind it.
‘Yeah, I love that song. Bed for me is totally this big, throbbing metaphor of birth, life, sex, death, love… Heaven, ultimately, I suppose. This bed stuff may be even more true for queer people, since bed is also this major battleground of desire, self-knowledge, family, religion.
Especially for us Americans with all the hideous religious baggage we’re raised with. The performance builds towards one bed, maybe the most important symbolic bed of my life. It’s bed 241 in a certain modest hotel in London, the Adelphi Hotel in South Kensington just off the Cromwell Road, where I brought my Australian-Scottish partner Alistair McCartney back to the night we met 13 years ago.’
The performance is ‘1001 Beds’, which has earned rave reviews in the States and which Miller is bringing to the Drill Hall. It’s a pretty
provocative title, suggesting an awful lot of bed-hopping. ‘Well, that 1,001 figure is not just about sex,’ Miller explains. ‘Though this new performance is full of cum and an abiding faith that art and sex can make the world less fucked up.’
As Miller prepared his ‘cum-loving, queer power-claiming, faggot sex-honoring, Bush overthrowing solo performance’, he says he was forced to ‘do the math’. ‘I figured that I sleep in a minimum 25 different hotel beds each year as I travel all over the place and perform. I’ve been touring like this for a good while and figure I have another 20 or so more years in me. I will easily end up sleeping in at least 1,000 hotel beds in my life on the road as the performer America’s religious right loves to hate. I know it’s dangerous to “do the math” on our lives, but I can’t help it. I have always had this dangerous love of these kinds of statistics. It made me calculate when I was 17 how much semen I was likely to ejaculate over the course of a lifetime. I figured, based on a reasonable per orgasm average of one tablespoon of semen, cumming between two and three times each day from the age of 13 until I was 30, I was going to fill two large bin liners with hot cum. This is NOT a sexy thought!’
‘Faggot sex’ features rather heavily in Miller’s work, which may explain why the religious right hate him so much. He’s been performing solo since the early ’80s, in shows with titles like ‘My Queer Body’, ‘Naked Breath’, ‘Fruit Cocktail’ and ‘Body Blows’. But his performances aren’t simply about sex. His 1999 show ‘Glory Box’ outlined the difficulties he’d faced, trying to keep his partner living in the United States. Previous performances have tackled issues as diverse as political disenfranchisement and artistic censorship (Miller was one of the so-called ‘NEA Four’ – performance artists whose grants from the National Endowment for the Arts were vetoed in 1990 on the grounds that their work contravened ‘standards of decency’).
Many of these stories, and a few others, can be found in his new book, also called ‘1001 Beds’, which he describes as ‘a big, fat, juicy collection of my performances, essays, manifestos, touring stories from Tokyo to Chattanooga and my tell-way-too-much journals!’
It isn’t only the religious right who thinks Miller tells way too much. While he regularly attracts glowing critical notices in the States, reviews here aren’t always as positive, with some critics finding his mixture of the personal and the political a little too whimsical for their tastes.
‘Ah, whimsy,’ Miller laughs. ‘The last refuge of a faggot poof! I do like the whimsy thing. And in a weird way, just as with our beloved camp postures, I actually find whimsy to be full of erotic heat and transgressive politics. At the end of the performance I indulge the lavish whimsy of imagining a gay boy orgy in a US Federal holding cell that overthrows the Bush administration and puts Bush and Blair on trial for Iraq war crimes in the Hague. This part of the performance is chock full of gooey cummy connections of Eros and politics and Utopian whimsical thinking.’
So does Miller read his reviews? Sure he does. ‘I know some performers claim they never look at them, but I can’t resist. The reviews, though I want them all to be fab and sell lots of tickets, are also an important part of the conversation that a live performance gets rolling. The reviews, or this interview too, are another crucial space where the performance happens. But look, I appear on right-wing talk radio call-in shows in the States and get called all kinds of horrible things. I think I can handle reading a review!’
‘1001 Beds’ is at the Drill Hall, June 9-10 & 16-17.
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