Investigating the Art of KindnessAug 29, 2013 02:18PM ● By Jon D’Auria
Laura Milkins, who works in a variety of mediums, from traditional painting and drawing to sculpted mattresses and online performance art, is dedicating herself to a yearlong project of evaluating kindness and its importance in our lives.
Milkins has done a lot of things that people might find unusual in the name of art. After receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Arizona, she began a stint of multimedia and interactive performance pieces that included walking across Mexico City in its entirety to get to know the people there (Walking Stories: Mexico, which she completed on a Fulbright scholarship); transforming herself into Paris Hilton to examine the concept of body image; walking from Tucson to her hometown in Michigan while strapped to non-stop live feed webcams; and organizing countless workshops that explore the depth of performance art. After winning numerous awards and accolades for her work, the current professor at Pima Community College has her gaze fixed on the next mission: to explore kindness.
“I am currently doing a project where I’m going to spend a year contemplating kindness,” explains Milkins. “One of my friends said that simple kindness doesn’t fix anything, but kindness isn’t simple, it’s actually very complex. So I’m going to start with the microcosm of my body and what goes in and on my body. And then I’m going to look at my relationship with my world. Then I’ll look at friends and family and my relationship with them and then my neighborhood and then my community and keep zooming out to the universal level.”
While kindness might seem like a broad concept that is a simple facet of life, Milkins is planning to examine every detail of it in accordance with her life to fully explore how kindness impacts us on a human level throughout our day-to-day lives and on a larger level of how it impacts the world as a whole.
“To really look at kindness and its complexity, I’m going to have to examine every part of my life—even those that you wouldn’t typically associate with kindness,” says Milkins. “I’m going to look further into the food that I eat. I’m also going to look into our water resources and how that affects the land. It may not change my habits, because I like to dye my hair and do certain things that may not have the best impact. If it brings me a lot of joy, it could create more kindness than excluding it from my life. I have to include myself in the process and do it with the highest level of honesty.”
The Kindness Project was conceptualized long ago, but was largely motivated by Milkins’ widely publicized Walking Home project, during which she spent five months walking with people and learning their stories on the way to her former home in Michigan. Like all her projects, the concept for this one came organically and sparked a question that arose in her that she knew she had to answer.
“I thought of this project in 2007 and I knew I would eventually do it and now is the right time,” says Milkins. “Two years ago, I wanted to walk across the country and stay in people’s homes and have people tell me their story. There were many days when I didn’t know where I would sleep, but it always worked out and I never slept on the ground. About 10 to 15 people a day would stop to ask me if I was okay and if I needed water. I didn’t expect people to be so kind. Strangers drove up and handed me $100 and I didn’t expect that. I didn’t know our world was still like that, because nowadays people are so closed off. People are really kind and generous in nature and that made me want to explore my own relationship with kindness.”
Milkins began her introspective journey in early August and has already learned much about her relationship to kindness and how it impacts her from the universal level, all the way down to her day-to-day activity. With 11 months left to go, she is still as uncertain about the results of this as she is uncertain about what her next big project will be.
“It’s funny, because when I’ve finished a journey I’m exhausted and I need a break and I spend some time not doing very much and being carefree,” says Milkins. “When you’re doing a piece, people are watching all the time and you’re on all the time, so it can get tiring. So when I’m done, I take a break and I digest what I’ve done. Then I start to feel a new project coming. I get a thought and then one day an idea sticks and I’ll know I have to do it.” One of her newest projects is co-organizing a cross-cultural art festival called Arizona Between Nosotros: artists from Mexico respond in video and performance.
To find out more about Laura Milkins and her performance art, visit LauraMilkins.com.
Jon D’Auria is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings.