About Mike Mills

May 2016

Mike Mills, A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone: Silicon Valley Project (still), 2013; commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, courtesy the artist; © Mike Mills

Born in Berkeley, 1966; lives and works in Los Angeles

Mike Mills has designed album covers for America’s best-known indie bands, directed an Oscar-winning feature-length film, and built an architecturally significant writer’s retreat. But it was his early shorts that I first thought of in connection with Project Los Altos. These filmic portraits — Deformer (1996), The Architecture of Reassurance (2000), and Paperboys (2001) — offer an empathetic view of suburban America at the turn of the twentieth century. Mills presents the suburbs as places of comfort, boredom, monotony, and simplicity that offer an ideal scenic condition for interesting and rich characters. In his Project Los Altos piece — produced in three different mediums — he returns to this familiar setting, depicting the recent past, the present, and the future of a distinct American enclave through the perspectives of its inhabitants.

Mills selected the Costume Bank on State Street as the site of his installation. The forty-year-old community mainstay rents handmade costumes to fund local charities and provides a lesser known perspective on Los Altos beyond its association with Silicon Valley. Interested in the town’s slow transition from an agrarian landscape to a bedroom community for tech employees, Mills designed a broadsheet that revisits 1976 — a pivotal year for the town — by pairing an issue of the Los Altos Town Crier with official documentation of the formation of the Apple Computer Company produced the previous week. Today’s Los Altos is evident in a rack of eight costumes based on outfits worn by residents of varying ages and standings. And a local view of the imminent future is seen in a video of interviews with children whose parents work in technology. In this three-part work, Mills creates a contemporary chronicle of millennial change, from a region considered the most future-thinking in America at this moment in time.

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher
Helen Hilton Raiser Associate Curator of Architecture and Design


Mike Mills interviewed the children of people in the tech industry (often referred to as “futurists”) and was surprised at their dark predictions of what lies ahead.