Interview by DIAMONIQUE OSEANA

Miles Greenberg is a performance artist and sculptor renowned for his large-scale installations and performances that explore the relationship between the physical body and space. Greenberg now has brought a new installation to Amsterdam. Enclosed in the walls of Buro Stedelijk, an institution celebrated for its commitment to showcasing cutting-edge contemporary art, Greenberg’s Manifest #23: Truth video installation invites visitors into an immersive experience and encourages introspection.

What unique opportunities or challenges were presented in bringing your vision to life at Buro Stedelijk?

Buro is so in line with the spirit of Amsterdam, which has always represented a space of experimentation for me. From my first show here in 2022 with the Marina Abramović Institute at Carré to now, I think Dutch audiences always seem very willing and able to try something a bit weird, which reminds me of Montreal, where I grew up. I took the opportunity to do something most institutions would not let me do.

How does the audience interaction at Buro Stedelijk differ from other spaces, and how does this influence your approach to creating immersive experiences like Manifestation #23: TRUTH?

They expect to get their feet wet, so to speak. 

Image courtesy of Buro Stedelijk

What underlying theme do you aim to communicate through the Manifestation #23: TRUTH installation?

I don’t like talking about themes, as it relates to my work so much as function. I like to think of the performances as functional machines that somehow mutate what you put into them based on a set of rules — ‘if you stay inside this scenario for long seven hours, A will turn into B.’ Violence will turn into love, physical pain will turn into an emotional release — so on and so forth. All these rituals have a function, and the only way to understand the outcome — which will be different for each performer, and for each member of the public — is to perform them.

Many of your performances and installations are known for incorporating striking mise-en-scenes. Could you elaborate on your creative process for conceptualizing and executing these productions?

They are by and large real-life adaptations of my dreams. I make them partly because I want to know what they are about, and partly because I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if someone else were to inhabit them.

Your performances often incorporate elements of improvisation. How do you approach spontaneity in your work, and how do you balance it with, if any, possible structured aspects of your performances?

I don’t choreograph, because you cannot choreograph seven or nine or twelve hours. I want to build frameworks that the body can inhabit, eventually get hypnotized by, and then reach an automated, trancelike state. That state of bodily and spiritual automation is where my forms actually live; they aren’t really accessible from a conscious mind.

As an artist who incorporates human bodies, including your own, into your sculptural elements, what significance does this hold for you? And how do you perceive the experience of embodying a creation of your own making?

I perform in my own work because: A) I know what I want the work to look like, so it is firstly about being able to develop it from the inside. B) I feel more comfortable pushing myself to 1000% than someone else whose safety I’m ultimately responsible for. Lastly, C) it is impossible for me to adjust a piece in the moment without knowing what it feels like. Performances change halfway through all the time for a myriad of reasons. Putting my own body on the line is a means of control.

What is the rationale behind the extended duration of many of your installations? And how do you prepare your body (and other bodies) to handle these strenuous performances for so many hours?

My first love was sculpture. I love looking at sculptures, I love the dynamic between the public and an object. Theatre, on the other hand, always made me uncomfortable. Duration, for me, started as a means of allowing the public to access the work through a sculptural dynamic as opposed to a theatrical one. I wanted the audience to feel like the performances were going to be there for years to come, indefinitely. Theatre has a beginning, middle, and end; sculpture is forever, it is ongoing, it is not over within our lifetimes.

Eventually, of course, after doing a few durational performances, something changes in you, it becomes about the state of mind, and you can never make anything under six hours ever again.

Which of your performances or installations has left the most lasting impression on you as an artist, and why?

Oysterknife (2020). The hardest thing I have ever done. I walked on a conveyor belt nonstop for twenty-four hours.

photo by Madeline Thomas

Don’t miss out on the chance to visit Greenberg’s installation at Buro Stedelijk Central Space from 15 February 2024 – 31 March 2024.

Open daily through Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam with Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam ticket (Museumplein 10), 10:00 – 18:00
On Thursday evenings with free entrance with ticket (Paulus Potterstraat 13), 18:30 – 20:30