Artist Explores Her Baby-Boom Memories

Mom cooks breakfast in cashmere and pearls. Dad works all day to bring home the bacon. Daughter feeds her little brother live ants.

This Middle-American Gothic may look familiar, but you're not watching "Nick at Nite." It's new-style performance art, brought to you by Celeste Miller, 37, a baby-boomer artist who grew up with TV as the clamoring-for-attention member of the family.

Miller is the creator of the autobiographically inspired, dance-based trilogy, "Lost and Found in America: Some of the Stories." Though the series is still evolving, she'll give the world premiere of the sequel--"Lost and Found in America: More of the Stories"--Thursday through Saturday, at Sushi Performance Gallery.

Miller's narratives explore rites of passage from gym class to adolescent loss of innocence, with an eye toward the universality of such experiences.

"The difficulty of growing up in any decade is always feeling awkward and alienated," she explained. "I try to distill stories down to that basic truth."

But her performance art is also strongly influenced by such familiar characters as Ed, Wilbur and the Beaver.

"I love watching those shows," said the Atlanta/New York-based Miller. "It makes me think of who I was then and what I was doing. But I never thought Donna Reed was my mother!"

Miller was prompted by her work with the Southern theater companies of the Alternate Roots organization to chronicle her suburban upbringing.

"All the values and feelings that the Southern theater companies were bringing up as issues in their work also applied to my own life.

"I grew up in the suburbs, but at one point I started getting defensive about that," she said. "The stereotypical reaction is that suburban stories don't have any heart and that the moms and dads are just like the '50s parents on TV."

So Miller set out to correct the record, especially for the younger people who now watch both old TV shows and recently coined shows about the '60s.

"Teen-agers seeing these shows are not getting the truth about those times," she said. "There isn't any real information going out about how we actually grew up, and what the people who lived through that time we're like."

These fictions are rewriting history, asserted Miller. "We're being given the romantic version of the '60s," she said. "One side has been laid out by the media and it's my job as an artist to lay out the other."

How? "By giving people the real experience of that time instead of pretending the '60s were just a wonderful period. They were full of strife and protest and families falling apart.

"Now our generation is feeling a need to connect to how things used to be. We're also starting to feel how things have changed and what we've lost. We thought we could change the world, and the question we're asking ourselves now is, 'Did we even matter?' "

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World