Millie Brown is a sensational, controversial performance artist who travels the globe vomiting up luminous colours. She has collaborated with the likes of Gareth Pugh and Lady Gaga whilst also working on her own series of individual pieces. We caught up with Millie to talk squatting, vomit and reducing old ladies to tears.
We read that you are often between LA and London, so how was it that you initially become a part of the infamous !WOWOW! art collective?
I spent seven years in France when my mum moved there from England. I left at the age of 17 and moved to LA for a bit and it felt like a natural progression to move to London after that. My sister, Tamzin, was squatting in south London with a bunch of artists (one of them being Matthew Stone who I’ve known since I was I baby). They were being evicted from their squat and I arrived just as the infamous coop building was discovered.
So, would you say that being lucky enough to know such artists and connections helped you kick start your career over here in the UK? How have you found working on other projects with collective members such as Gareth Pugh and Adam Faramawy?
It was very inspiring living in that environment where we didn't have to pay rent or bills or worry about working a day job. We had a lot of space and time to be creative with. I think we were all inspired by each other when it came to art, we were all involved in each others projects and still are. It just felt natural to get involved and work together.
You are known amongst the industry for 'vomiting rainbows', how did this concept come about and what drew you to the idea?
In 2006, !WOWOW! was asked to take over an exhibition space in Berlin, at first I didn't know what I was going to do apart from the fact it was going to be colourful and come from myself. Later I was watching people cry milk and thought how amazing it would be if I could vomit the rainbow. I had no idea if it was going to work, as I had never made myself sick before until I was on the stage and the rainbow came out perfectly.
A stroke of artistic luck then! Do you have concerns about the physical effects that creating this art must have on your body? Also, how do you view people’s ideologies that your work is distressing in the fact that a final piece would contain vomit? Is it distressing for you to create?
I'm not too concerned about the effects on my health as it's not something I do every day. I'm always surprised by people’s reactions to my work, they vary from nervous laughter, cheering, to people having to leave my show and once an old lady burst in to tears. I don't find the vomit vulgar, there's no food in there as I don't eat two days prior to performing and the colours are only in my stomach for five minutes so it doesn't smell bad. Most people I've met are pretty open to the idea and can appreciate its beauty.
What are your views on bulimia? Do you feel that you bear any responsibility in creating images that spotlight induced vomiting in a positive way?
The "puke a rainbow" performance was never a conscious comment on bulimia; it was more about using my body to create art in a way that challenges people's perception of beauty. I wanted to create something real and something I couldn't control, tapping into primal urges. In no way do I want to promote bulimia, but if my work evokes us to think about a disease that affects so many people in such a terrible way, then I feel it will at least be raising some awareness.
Have there ever been any mishaps during a live performance, any ‘unexpected occurrences’? Also, what is your view on the mantra that 'artists must suffer for their work', you must feel this element within creating your work surely?
During a recent performance I was on stage trying to be sick but nothing was coming out, for about ten minutes I thought I had lost the ability to make myself sick, that that was the end of puking rainbows - eventually blue came gushing out, the tension in the room was incredible. I don't believe that it is necessary to suffer for your art- I think it's more important to have an emotional connection with what you are creating whether that is negative or positive. Physically I suffer a little after performing but I feel clear minded and energised from it - it feels almost purifying. I didn't create this performance to shock people, although that is one of the many reactions people have towards it. I feel like that is a big difference between myself and some of the artists I have been compared to.
You have also collaborated with Lady Gaga for her Monster Ball tour video, how did that come about? You must have felt mischievous vomiting on a couture garment!
Nick Knight was shooting Gaga’s tour video and told her about me. Then, I received a phone call from Gaga asking me to vomit rainbows on her. She sent a car for me an hour later, where I met up with Nick Knight, Nicola Formichetti and Gaga to discuss how I was going to do it. A couple of hours later, I was sitting on her lap and projectile vomiting on her dress. No one had ever asked me to puke on them, hence why I said yes. I also love working with Nick and trusted him to create something beautiful from the film.
Your latest piece of art, Nexus Vomitus, was recently streamed live online with you manipulating colours to the sound of stunning live opera singers. How did this collaboration come about? Also, do you see your work as an artist taking on another form in the future?
For my Nexus Vomitus performance, I wanted to explore the powerful, symbiotic relationship between music and performance art. I had many meetings with Patricia Hammond and Zita Syme curating each melody to mirror the emotion of my colours from light to dark. I'm actually working on a series of short films right now which do not evolve around my vomit performance, they are very different to anything I have ever done before and I'm really enjoying exploring different ways to express my art. I will also be shooting a short film with Jez Tozer for his next Alchemy series for SHOWstudio, so exciting times ahead!
You can keep up do date with Millie on her blogand twitter