Artist of the Week: Mirella Cardoso

Though ambiguous and impressively adaptable, one’s purpose as an artist remains obvious: to express. With that said, filmmaker, artist, and muse, Mirella Cardoso, begs us to dig a bit deeper, but look a bit closer—no, to look a lot closer—no, to look within. Cardoso, in her shared artist loft, sheds light to putting oneself in the light.

Having developed a series of intimate self-portraits whose styles float between rigid and soft, and whose characters stand between innocent and suggestive, Cardoso expresses the importance of duality in her practice. Even in Cardoso’s rejection of commitment—refusing to submit to the restrictions of pledging to a particular creative discipline—she proves that the key to maintaining a multiplicity to her art is balance.

We sat down with the artist to discuss the significance of introspection, the honest politics behind social performance, and the impact that our digital age has had on the appraisal of art. Check out the full interview below with images of Cardoso at her studio in the gallery above.

As modestly as possible, can you define art?

How would I define art? That’s funny, because I thought I saw art as self-expression—and it is—but I feel like it doesn’t always have to be. I’m taking a class right now called “Experimental Art in the 1960s” and have come to realize now that art can be used as a form of critique. Like, using art and all kinds of art as a question, it’s not necessarily always the answer.

Yeah, and that’s arguably where it becomes most valuable, because it sparks discussion. 

Exactly! I don’t like declaring my opinions all the time, because I feel like I’m always changing—especially now with my perspective of what I thought art could be. I didn’t realize that it could go beyond just self-expression or aesthetics. When I make a piece, I don’t know why I’m necessarily making it, I just have an idea and I do it, then maybe afterwards, I find out why.

Then do you feel in that sense, as a tool for critique and discussion, art bears responsibility or do we impose that onto it? 

Ooh… Well, it’s tough because I feel like—maybe, not a responsibility exactly. Most importantly, art should feel important to the person who’s making it. The only thing that I feel it’s responsible for is to be honest. I feel like there are a lot of young artists who don’t exactly know what their voice is, or what style they want to create art in. I think so many people, because we’re so surrounded by media, tend to go with what’s popular or make art that’s reflective of something they like versus simply taking inspiration and doing something completely new or different with it. I know, I’m sure I was doing that too. I mean, when I was young I’d just copy drawings—that’s how I learned—young artists just need to trust their instinct and not worry about how it’s going to turn out or its purpose. Just do it, don’t think about it too much.

Right, and when did you yourself start looking to art for self-expression? In any form too, because you do use multiple disciplines. 

Yeah, I first started when I was 8 years old with my mini DV camera—I used to make movies when I was really young. I think that was more of just an obsession with documenting my life and I think it began with that. I was 8, I don’t know why I did it. There were clips of me that are 10 minutes long, I just sat the camera down and would film myself swimming in the pool. I was maybe trying to figure out, “Who am I?” You know? Just innocent questions of self awareness. I guess that’s how I started—just making home movies.

It’s interesting, because the way you described that was ‘documentation of yourself,’ and the connection is kind of unavoidable, but would you consider today’s culture with social media the same? I had never considered Instagram stories a sort of documentary until you put it under that light, what are your thoughts? 

There’s something a little bit different. When I was young, there wasn’t really that self-awareness, so there really wasn’t as much performance. I think it’s silly to say that there’s no performance on social media—it’s all performance, but that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that and that’s also the thing that people get upset about. People get caught up and question it too much. Even if you had Instagram for just your close friends, it’s performance. No matter what. And that’s fine!

Now, it’s interesting because I’ve kind of extended that to my art—I’d say that my art still is some sort of documentation. Most of it is of myself, and that’s because I’m always trying to be self reflective and introspective.

So you draw, paint, do films and photography, which makes sense to me as it’s all connected. However, lately there’s been a rising tendency or pressure to commit to a certain medium. 

Yeah, I feel like that’s something people have to stop doing so much. Doing these other forms of art give me inspiration and push me to write. They all influence each other. I tell everyone that does film to do something else, too. Don’t just do that, because I think it’s so nice to be able to do other arts.

Right, it pigeonholes yourself into a certain discipline, or even culture, to a point where you’ve trapped yourself and feel uncomfortable venturing off to try something else or experiencing with another medium. 

I think people at such a young age begin to limit themselves. They set their own limits. Who’s doing that? You don’t need to! Do whatever you want. I think about that a lot, actually. More people should try to do everything—other forms of art. It’s okay if you’re not good at it, but at least try.

It comes from categorizing humans. 

Honestly, it starts with school. Then you go off to college and you pick your major and then your career. How do we know without time to explore that? Sometimes I do wish that school could be more interdisciplinary, and life even.

You had already touched upon how the different media you use feed off of and inform each other. Could you go into how they influence one another? 

I was taking photos for a really long time, but I started doing film photography again and it’s really raw. First they were portraits of friends, then they became self portraits, because there was definitely a time for me where I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be and had questions of identity. Sometimes, when you’re young and in a relationship, you lose yourself and you don’t remember who you are or who you want to be exactly. So, I was going through that and just took a lot of photos as a good way for me to figure that out. Then, I wanted to do something incorporating more movement into my body, and that’s what I loved about drawing and painting. I had done it in high school, but had stopped for a really long time, but I missed it. I’d draw occasionally, but not as much as I’d liked to. I then took a drawing and a painting class and once a week, I’d just get to draw and paint. I took these classes to have some time allotted to do them, and it was great because they taught me how to get into a rhythm.

It wasn’t until those classes ended that I started doing self portraits. It partially has to do with the fact that I didn’t have live models anymore, but I didn’t have a body and I wasn’t about to ask anyone to do that for me—that’s a lot to ask from someone, haha. So, I figured I could just use myself. I started to do that and in a way, it’s like, again, these self portraits are me, but at the same time—my body doesn’t look like that—it’s distorted, a new perspective of me. Most of them are actually from photos, which is pretty funny.


They became self portraits, because there was definitely a time for me where I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be…

Do you feel like there are any challenges to committing to a multitude of creative platforms as opposed to focusing on one? 

Yeah, because I go through phases where I’ll take more photos for a couple of months than I do create paintings and drawings. For example, I’m making my movie now and I’ve done some drawings, photos, it’s a little harder, but to sit myself still for a moment is hard because I’m just constantly thinking about the film. Yet, I look to drawing sometimes to help not think about it—to escape. When I’m focused on my movie, it’s hard for me to make time for anything else. I haven’t quite yet found that balance, but I also think it’s okay if I go through these rotations. At first it was concerning, but no, it’s fine.

So obviously, I’d assume that you’ve gotten a lot more comfortable taking pictures of yourself and putting yourself in the position of the subject, but also as the observer. What’s that like? How does it change or affect your perception of identity? 

I think I’ve definitely gotten a lot more comfortable with myself in the past year, which is kind of an amazing thing, too. Generally, I’m a lot more confident, which is great and just super important. When I take these photos of myself, I don’t look at them and assess them, like “Oh, horrible!” I’m just like, “Okay, that’s fine, take another one.” I never think about it too much, I don’t try to put myself down and all that. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m so comfortable with myself.

I’ve just realized that I am obsessed with documenting my own life—haha, which is kind of funny. I try to do it for me always, though. It’s nice to have something that’s introspective and personal thats purpose isn’t to be made public.

Yeah, and a lot of these portraits you haven’t actually posted anywhere, right?

Yeah, a lot of them. It’s weird… I like them so much that I sometimes don’t even want people to see them. But I do, I want people to see them, I just wish that Instagram wasn’t always the platform for it. I would ideally, of course, want people to see them in person. People are always like, “Oh, I want to see your work,” and I’m like, “Yeah, come over.” I just think that’s the best way to see it.

What does the art become once it’s on Instagram?

I mean, I think Instagram is great as a platform that facilitates exposure and helps others see your work, but I think it just gets lost sometimes. They get reduced. There are just so many images. I’m sure you and I have looked at over 50 photos today and we don’t remember a lot of them. I feel like I remember things much more when it’s in person. Again, it’s this physicality that I love, even with film and developing photos. It’s more of a whole body experience.

Right and despite our the mass digitization of our society, we value the physicality of things almost more than before? Like a book as opposed to an eBook or the physical picture as opposed to a JPEG. It’s almost regressive in a way because it’s nothing new, but we’re just not used to it anymore. 

Yes, it adds value for some reason! Social media is just a double-edged sword, what it can do for artists and their work.

Are there any sources that you find yourself looking to for inspiration?

Honestly, the things I’ve been learning in studying philosophy, because it’s just taught me to question things I’ve never thought to. That helps my art because it helps me think about what I want to question. I look to inspiration from writing, and then through other artists—going to museums or galleries—watching movies, art history.

Any particular directors, books, artists, etc.? 

Oh, yeah! I’d say my favorite filmmaker is Agnes Varda, and then, artist-wise, I love Art Nouveau and Schiele, obviously, Klimt—I love that era. Also, I love old French movie posters. Early 20th century, I love.

So it’s pretty clear that you have a series of self-portraits, but a peculiarity in each of them is that you, the subject, do not make eye contact with the viewer. 

Yeah, I think it’s because I wanted to feel like I’m not aware of myself documenting myself, or of the viewer looking at me, because then it feels more like you’re watching a moment.

There’s an intimacy to it. 

Right, rather than an assertiveness. There’s so much power in the subject looking at the viewer that it feels like something defiant, or a declaration of sort. It’s too overt. I like my work to be more subtle.

Stay tuned to Milk for more visual artists on our radar. 

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