Jillian Mayer on inspiration behind “I Am Your Grandma” ahead of Art Basel Miami Beach debut

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Jillian Mayer, I am your Grandma, 2011 (courtesy the artist and David Castillo Gallery)
Jillian Mayer, I am your Grandma, 2011 (courtesy the artist and David Castillo Gallery)

Tonight, “I am Your Grandma,” a little viral video that’s just over one minute long will have its debut on the New World Symphony’s 7,000 foot outdoor screen at SoundScape Park. Miami-based artist/filmmaker Jillian Mayer’s surreal video message to her unborn grandchild has been selected as part of Art Basel Miami Beach’s nightly short film program, “Best Dressed Chicken in Town.”

This writer had a chance to speak with Mayer via Skype while she was in New York City for one of her many exhibitions for an extensive article in the Miami New Times reflecting on the video in those early viral days of 2011. You can read that by jumping through the article’s headline below:

Jillian Mayer’s I Am Your Grandma Turns 5 With an Art Basel Miami Beach Premiere

During our conversation, Mayer did not seem so impressed with the huge screen the video will be shown on. After all, it has already graced plenty of giant screens at film festivals, like SXSW, as well as part of exhibitions. While she shows gratitude to be included in the prestigious art fair, she is most interested in how “Grandma” will fit alongside some of the other shorts, which range from contemporary work to films dating back to the ’50s. She already noted as much in an earlier email interview we published on IndieEthos upon the announcement of the shorts program (Art Basel Miami Beach announces details of its 2016 film program with Miami representing).

“I’m interested in how it works with the other work by other artists, many of them I respect greatly and will never get to meet, so at least our work can exist alongside. To me, I guess I’m a fan of the energy of the artworks together,” she says.

Her short has been on the cover of “Art Papers” (see below), and she notes it even made an appearance on Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0,” besides having played in plenty of prestigious museums. Yet, when she thinks about its inclusion in Art Basel, she admits, “I wish I could also show some of the remakes. They’re better. Some of them are better than mine.”

Art Papers cover Sept. 2011 courtesy of www.jillianmayer.net
Art Papers cover Sept. 2011 courtesy of www.jillianmayer.net

Finally, and a great detail that could not fit in the “Miami New Times” article, was a story she shared that she says specifically inspired the video. Mayer recalled meeting a woman who was a third cousin to her father. This cousin showed up at their house to share research she found via an app Mayer says was called “Family Tree.” Using this app, this distant cousin tracked down several generations of the Mayer family. With every new generation closer, more details arose. To Mayer there was something beautiful in this yet glaringly incomplete.

Describing some of the people discovered via the app, Mayer says, “This person was a butcher, got married to this person, moved to Russia, and it started going down and down and down, and of course, when it got to my sister and I, at the time the youngest generation of the tree, she had a little bit more details than the previous generation, and they even have photos, and I was like, wow, they only have photos, yet even my birth was recorded on VHS, yet there’s three photos that sum up my life [according to the app]. Two as me as a baby and one of them at 11. So, according to this family tree that she so precisely documented, I pretty much died at 11. It ends at 11, yet I was in my 20s when I saw this, and I thought what a beautiful thing she’s done. She’s networked and showed me great grandparents that I’d never seen, yet it’s so limited.”

Thus, Mayer dreamed up her own document of herself to her future family, a little video which both seems to call attention to the falsity of representation and the essence of the person documenting their own persona in this representation. After all, Mayer doesn’t go around with a white Afro and black lipstick, yet she would throw her future grandchild a sly curve ball like that. “I thought more about the generations that would come after me and how we all try to convey our personalities and our essence and our humanness to them, and then I went a step farther by making it perverse by adding all of this additional information, like fabricated masks, so it was something that I thought would encompass more of a play on that, so it’s kind of like taking something sincere and genuine and then kind of subverting it or kind of transforming it into something else as entertainment for the next generation.”

Hans Morgenstern

“Best Dressed Chicken in Town” commences tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m., on the New World Symphony’s SoundScape Park, as part of Art Basel Miami Beach. The program repeats every night at 8 p.m. The shorts total 120 minutes.

(Copyright 2016 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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