Miller Robinson on Love, Care, and Salmon Skin

Performance documentation with “Suit No. 5 (Salmon)” (2020, 2022) and “Xùupsach Sàanvakàapih, Amvamaan (Ancestor Suitskin, Salmon skin)” (2022) (photo by the artist, all images courtesy the artist)

This article is part of HyperallergicPride Month series, featuring an interview with a different transgender or nonbinary emerging or mid-career artist every weekday throughout the month of June.

In recent years, Los Angeles-based artist Miller Robinson, a two-spirit and transgender non-conforming avansahiichva who uses it/its pronouns, has been working with a suit meticulously crafted to look and move like salmon skin. “Suit No. 5 (Áama, Salmon)” (2020, 2022) is a latex rubber jacket made out of silicone, graphite, and Pearl Ex powder pigment. The outfit references the Karuk and Yurok heritage of the artist, who grew up in a small town in Northern California. In the 2022 performance video “Nípahootih kuuk Tanivaana (Áama) (Returning to Myself (Salmon)),” Robinson stands on Pacific Northwest shorelines wearing the salmon suit and slowly begins to peel off the skin, an act that speaks to larger ideas surrounding personal identity — namely, the concept that our multi-faceted natures are layered into a single body. Now, Robinson is using a wide-reaching practice involving mediums ranging from tattoo and drawing to sculpture and installation to reflect on the people, places, and things that bring it comfort.

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Hyperallergic: What is the current focus of your artistic practice?

Miller Robinson lives and works in Los Angeles. (photo by Catching On Thieves)

Miller Robinson: I’ve been thinking a lot about systems of care in my studio and themes of love, family, and home (as well as the absence thereof), and all its unstable, non-linear forms have been surfacing a lot. I’ve been making a lot of objects directed toward rest, comfort, and security —things that resemble pillows or blankets or jackets or architecture or images and materials that make me remember joyful, soft, intimate, and queer moments shared with humans and the land: hummingbirds, soft gradients like that of California sunsets, my injectable hormones, iridescence like that of butterfly wings, abalone, fish skin, soap bubbles, make-up, drag queens, and the Milky Way.

I’ve been really needing to hold myself a lot lately, it’s a very overwhelmingly dark time with the amount of anti-trans legislation and the current state of the climate crisis, amongst other compounded ongoing violences and traumas living under capitalism and the colonial project of the United States. I find solace in the land, in poetry, and in world-building, and I am a freaky, detailed Virgo, so it’s been a lot of zooming in and out; in a way, focus itself is the actual focus right now.

H: In what ways — if any — does your gender identity play a role in your experience as an artist?

MR: My art is a relationship and I inform it as much as it informs me. It feels like an (un)learning; it’s an unresolved process, and it’s part of how I understand the world around me. I am an artist and I also have a very specific gender experience — those aspects of myself are woven together. Whether I wish to disclose what aspects and the way in which I do so feels like another thing entirely. It’s always there but the work is multi-dimensional. I use my physical body in my work a lot, and I tell stories from a very specific position to the world being two-spirit and transsexual. My work allows me a place to safely and deeply connect to that in the ways that make the most sense to me. 

My Karuk gender identity — avansahiichva — literally cannot be translated into this oppressive colonial gender-binary regime, and I think the biggest way my gender identity shows up in my art is through its states of (il)legibility. I am gender-expansive and have always been non-confirming, so my art is a place for me to continually seek myself out amidst the deep loneliness I experience.

“Pillows Talking to a Compass During an Apocalypse,” (2023), silicone rubber and pearl ex pigments on silk; cotton gauze, debris, invasive plants, tar, concrete, ocean water, and river water; glass, feather, syringe, testosterone, and cottonseed oil, 19 1/2 x 22 x 16 inches (photo by Paasha Motamedi)

H: Which artists inspire your work today? What are your other sources of inspiration?

MR: During the most connected versions of myself, I find inspiration in everything around me — the land, language and linguistics, my ancestors, my different cultures, romance, sex, daily conversations, daily chores, “trash” I find on the ground, the common and seemingly boring light beam coming in through the window. I relate to materials and nonverbal beings a lot as well — a lot of trees and birds lately and gender-affirming processes and objects and materials such as prosthetics, make-up, and ways to express. When it comes to human relations, THERE’S A LOT. Pretty much everyone in my life is an artist that inspires me, some that don’t even consider themselves artists. I still do. There are so many amazing trans, queer, two-spirit, and Indigenous artists that I look toward routinely, as well as disabled and neurodivergent artists. To be honest, I feel immense gratitude and feel so privileged to know and come in contact with a lot of artists regularly, and I am someone that feels changed by every single person I meet. Some are dear to me, all of whom are friends, collaborators, mentors, and teachers in varying capacities: Creighton Baxter, GeoVanna Gonzalez, Edua Restrepo, Jasmine Nyende, Kira Xonorika, Coyote Park, Page Person, Jeffrey Gibson, Catching On Thieves, Lyn Risling, Julian Lang, Saif Azzuz. I have been looking at the historic work of Ana Mendieta, Noah Purifoy, Genesis P-Orridge, and Forrest Bess a lot lately also.

H: What are your hopes for the LGBTQIA+ community at the current moment?

MR: Safety and security are of the utmost importance, and finding ways to rest in this continued genocidal, extractive, fractured, unstable time. To all my 2SLGBTQIA+ kin: Be true to yourself, and it’s so important to find your own tools for making sense of this world and your experience. Continue to hold each other, our ancestors, and the histories we come from close while prioritizing trans and people of gender-diverse experiences. Cis people really need to show up more for us right now because this impacts us all. I hope allies and cis folks take action and make real changes to help protect the most vulnerable in our community. Electing officials that support trans and human rights and things on that scale, like protecting ICWA for Indigenous families, is so critical for ensuring that tribal sovereignty is not put at further risk, but so is supporting marginalized communities through direct action — mutual aid really keeps the trans community alive. Supporting things like gender-affirming care and survival fundraisers, climate justice initiatives like land defense and land reparations to Black and Indigenous folks, and supporting our youths; all of these things are super interconnected and deserve attention and support.


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