Jeremy Millar has just been listening to PJ Harvey’s new album prior to
talking about his forthcoming ‘Resemblances, Sympathies and Other Acts’
show at the CCA in Glasgow. Somehow the other-worldly, transcendent
qualities of this most hypnotic of singer-songwriters fits in with
Millar’s aesthetic, adding another presence over our shoulders as he
gathers his thoughts about why, exactly, he decided to encase himself
in silicon posed as a dead body for a newly commissioned sculpture,
‘Self Portrait As A Drowned Man (The Willows),’ that forms the show’s
The cast for ‘Self Portrait As A Drowned Man (The Willows)’ has been
built by special effects expert Grant Mason, whose work has been
previously seen in ‘Taggart’ and David Mackenzie’s big-screen
adaptation of Scots beat writer Alexander Trocchi’s novel, ‘Young
Adam.’ While this lends Millar’s work a patina of pop cultural cred, it
shouldn’t undermine the seriousness of the work’s intention.
“The last few years I’ve been interested in artwork that has some kind
of effect,” Millar explains, the CD player muted, “that an object, an
act or a ritual has some sort of purpose and can bring about change. A
lot of this comes from my researches into anthropology, where you find
that in certain cultures an object or a sound can be deemed important,
and can bring about some sort of change in the world.”
Millar’s own set of totems come in many shapes and sizes.
‘Self Portrait As A Drowned Man (The Willows)’, which takes the second
part of its title from a ghost story penned in 1907 by Algernon
Blackwood and declared by many to be the best supernatural yarn ever
written, will sit in the same room as a life-size bronze cast of a fly.
This comes from a story by Virgil about a man who, tasked with removing
all the flies from Naples, put a similarly styled insect at the city
gates to ward off his winged peers.
“I like the idea that an object can have supernatural powers,” Millar
says, “and that it doesn’t matter what it looks like, but is more about
what it does beyond that. Also, dead bodies attract flies.”
‘A Firework For WG Sebald’ is a series of photographs inspired by the
German writer’s 1995 novel, ‘The Rings of Saturn’, and in part features
images of a lighthouse seen in Peter Greenaway’s 1988 art-house cinema
classic, ‘Drowning By Numbers.’ In the film, every time there is a
death, a boy sets off a firework. Millar has done something similar in
his tribute to Sebald, and even claims that the four of the pictures
are possessed by something suitably spectral.
“You can see Sebald’s face in the smoke,” Millar maintains with total
Of the remaining works, ‘The Writing of Stones’ is a film which
kaleidoscopically references a paragraph from French thinker Roger
Caillois’ similarly inclined examinations of the sacred, beginning with
the words, ‘Life appears.’ The key to ‘Resemblances, Sympathies and
other Acts,’ however, comes from Sol LeWitt’s ‘Incomplete Open Cubes,’
which Millar has constructed eight metre-square versions of.
“Sol LeWitt wrote that ‘Conceptual artists are mystics rather than
rationalists.’ In this way, conceptual art can become something
mystical or magical.”
Millar can’t explain where his fascinations come from, and he remains
resolutely secular in outlook.
“All of us have moments when we try and imagine ourselves in a pretty
horrific place,” he says. “There’s a sort of safety in knowing that
it’s not really happening.”
There are clear connections between Millar’s own work and ‘Every Day Is
A Good Day,’ a large-scale touring exhibition of paintings by composer
John Cage curated by Millar, which coincidentally opens in Glasgow the
week before Millar’s show.
“In a way I’m sitting back and letting things develop,’ he says. “I
quite like the idea of not having to make a decision.”
Beyond the CCA show, Millar will further his anthropological
explorations with a group of Balinese performers to make a piece of
“I have no theatrical experience whatsoever,” Miller says, before PJ
Harvey carries him away once more “and I don’t know what form it will
take, but I like a piece that emerges, and you suddenly find yourself
a long way from shore.”
Jeremy Millar - Resemblances, Sympathies and Other Acts, CCA, Glasgow,
March 26th- May 17. Every day Is A Good Day, Hunterian Gallery,
Glasgow, February 19th-April 2nd.
The List, February 2011