Exclusive: Puking the Rainbow with Millie Brown
One of the many, many headlines that has followed mega star Lady Gaga around over the past several years was of a certain performance at last year’s SXSW where a participant proceeded to vomit all over her mid-performance. That participant? A young, doe-eyed visual artist by the name of Millie Brown.
Brown, an up-and-comer that rose out of London’s art scene had been practicing this very specified and altogether unprecedented technique of artistic creation since she was 17. It entails the ingestion of brightly-dyed milk which is then regurgitated directly onto the canvas, a process where Brown achieves her goal of her ‘body as a vessel’ for art. Understandably, she caught our attention, so Milk Made’s Jake Boyer caught up with her ahead of her upcoming solo exhibit in Los Angeles, ‘Rainbow Body.’ She chatted to us about the now infamous performance with Gaga, the mechanics involved in such a sensitive production process, and some of the varied, but powerful, reactions of her audience members.
For our readers who aren’t familiar with your work, could you describe your process in detail? What first inspired that?
With ‘Rainbow Body’ and all of my painting from the inside out performances; I use my body as a vessel to create my art. The process of the performance is very much a part of the performance itself for me, it’s the part that I do alone. I fast for 2 days before the performance in order to cleanse my body of all food then during the performance I drink dyed milk one color at a time and vomit the paint on to the canvas. I first came up with the concept when I was 17, living with my artist collective !WOWOW! in south London. I’d never explored performance art before and when we were asked to take over a gallery space in Berlin, I decided to put myself out of my comfort zone and create a performance that truly came from within and pushed my own boundaries, allowing myself to be vulnerable and create art that was raw and uncontrollable in a sense. I didn’t even know if I could physically do it until I was on stage. But that was part of it, I didn’t want a rehearsed performance, I wanted something human.
When did your physicality become the focus in the creation of your work?
I’ve never been separated from my art physically, we’ve always been one. For me, using my body is the only true form of self-expression; the body can say more than words could ever express. I need to feel what I’m creating from the inside and out, in every sense.
How did your collaborations with Lady Gaga first come about?
I was on my way to the bank when Gaga called me up; she was with Nick Knight and Nicola Formichetti shooting the interlude for her upcoming world tour. She asked me if I’d vomit rainbows on her and I said yes. I’d never brought another person in to my performance, so I was intrigued by the collaboration, nd I love Nick as a person and a visionary. A few hours later I was straddling her and puking bright turquoise paint down her couture gown, it looked beautiful. She and I have been friends since and met up in Austin during SXSW to collaborate on a live performance which was an interesting sequel to our original collaboration. Having a live audience and feeding off each others energy and the crowds was very powerful.
Were your surprised by the controversy that surrounded some of your performances?
Yes. I forget sometimes that to some people I’m very controversial. I woke up the next day after my SXSW performance with Gaga to a million messages from people via social media expressing their love or hatred for me. There were Hollywood tabloids with alleged feuds with people I’d never heard of and some hilarious and misrepresenting headlines. It was a strange feeling. I’ve always had strong reactions to my work, negative and positive, and have always embraced the debate. Art should move people, make you think, its not about decorating a wall..
What has been the most memorable reaction to your work?
The one reaction that I’ll never forget is the very first performance I gave in Germany. I stood in front of a crowd of people vomiting the entire rainbow one color at a time. People were cheering, laughing awkwardly, looking uncomfortable and also bewildered. But there was one woman, an older lady, who was looking at me right in the eyes and started weeping uncontrollably. I felt in that moment connected to this stranger in such an intimate and genuine way.
What keeps you inspired?
Everything. Life, the world, the universe. My subconscious and dreams. Everything inspires me. I’m only happy when I’m creating and creating inspires me to keep creating. It’s a cycle that never ends.
What’s a piece of advice that everyone should receive?
Be true to yourself, your ideas and ideals always. Every time I come up with a new concept for a performance I’m told it’s impossible and I always prove them wrong. We’re more powerful than we often believe. We need to harness our own power. Everything is possible…
If you have nothing to do for an entire day, how do you spend it?
I’d probably sleep in, if my body even remembers how anymore. Climb a mountain and meditate at the top. Then spend the rest of the day with everyone I love around me having family time.
What does art mean to you?
I cannot live without it. Life is art. Art is life.
Rainbow Body is on display from April 10-23rd at 8473 Melrose Place, Los Angeles, CA 90069
Follow Millie on Tumblr here