A photo set from Day is Done by Mike Kelley. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.
"Mike Kelley After School" Zoo Magazine No. 11. (2006) pg. 82-83.
The Gagosian Gallery in New York's Chelsea district was a majestic mess. A
chaotic jumble of outsized objects, stages, works on walls, video projections, flashing
lights and bursts of sound filled the sprawling gallery's normally shiny space. Artist
and musician Mike Kelley was exhibiting Extracurricular Activity Reconstruction
, also known as Day is Done, his most accessable and enthralling work in
20 years. Art Forum's John C. Welchman called the work Kelley's "chicken dance
around the art world." High praise indeed.
At the root of the madness is a collection of photos taken from high school
yearbooks dating between the 1920's and the late 1990's, which Kelley had amassed
over the years from thrift stores and swap meets, or by borrowing from friends.
Images depicting kids engaged in extracurricular activities were juxtaposed with
amusing photographic representations of people who were often older and prettier,
dressed in newer costumes that did their best to replicate the original.
Videos of the newly photographed characters were projected on to screens
whose layout followed the logic of dream and chance. Characters dressed as
vampires, devils, farmers, animals, pastors and hillbillies fought with one another,
danced, pranced, and did other indescribable things on sets that looked like they
came from public access TV studios.
Kelley's subverted pop culture references, noise music, punk rock, and teenage
transgressions serve as common ground. "These shared social conventions are the
starting point for the viewer to ask, "What's wrong? What's being done with this stuff?"
explains Kelley, who says the American folk rituals and entertainment conventions
create an allure both satirical and formal. "That's the first level of attraction or
repulsion depending on how you look at it."
Kelley's "Gospel Rocket," a giant caped phallus that is at once nuclear and
religious in a Jimmy Swaggart kind of way, is announced by the roadside arrow, the
type of big yellow board where you can advertise anything from "Corn for Sale" to
"10 strippers dance for you tonight!" to "Help Wanted." The artwork possessed all
the charm of a hell house ministry hoedown and all the anarchic wrongness of an
episode of Wondershozen.
What appears at first to be props from the videos has an essential extra
dimension for Kelley. "One of the problems that comes with making sculptures based
on performance is trying to end up not just displaying props," he says. "I tried various
things to make these not just dummies with clothes on them, or leftovers. I wanted
them to have a fetishistic quality. I wanted them to be very present materially. That's
always been a primary concern in my work.
Kelley came to prominence in the 1980's with a series of sculptures composed
from craft materials such as quilted and woven dolls most famously seen on the
cover of Sonic Youth's Dirty album. Throughout his experiments in performance,
installation, architecture, writing, drawing, painting, video, and sculpture, he has never
let the medium hamper the message. Day is Done, says Kelley, is really about "getting
back to the performance aspect of what I do."
Despite the fact that a few compositions were produced in collaboration with
old school art rocker Mayo Thompson of Red Krayola, getting back to his roots in noise
and garage rock with bands such as Destroy All Monsters wasn't the goal. Kelley is
quick to point out that Mayo, who he worked with on the blues rock versions of some
of the video's songs, was not a significant contributor to the compositions. "I've
performed in punk rock bands my whole life. I'm not interested in having this kind of
work involved with that. It's the wrong audience."
Because Kelley has always treated music as a kind of politic, Day Is Done, which
took about a year and a half to produce, allowed him to take music more seriously. "For
me, music was always a sideline, kind of a free-for-all. Now I'm more interested in
treating it analogously to how I treat writing or painting."
Kelley played most of the instruments for Day Is Done, from percussion to
keyboards and samples. He says he's working on scoring the music so that it can be
played by other musicians. The cost and the practicalities of dealing with professional
musicians, touring, finding venues, as well as the collaborative necessities in the
filmmaking process, are a source of frustration for Kelley, but he says he's working on
it. "I've been in discussion with some people in Vienna, but whether it will happen or
not, I don't know," he says. It comes down to whether they are willing to treat this
seriously as a kind of opera. I want it to be treated as a musical theatre."
While this prospect is still in the talking stages, one thing is for sure- Kelley has
a busy exhibition schedule this year. In March, he exhibited in Paris at the Centre George
Pompidou and Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot; in June, he will be at the Louvre; and in
October, a show is scheduled at Koln's Jablonka Gelerie featuring new sculptures and
animation. Photos by Frederik Nilsen courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
For more on Mike Kelley visit www.mikekelley.com.
For more on Zoo Magazine visit zoomagazine.de.
The cover of Zoo No. 11.
Page 82 as it originally appeared.
Page 83 as it originally appeared.
Thanks to Zoo Magazine and the artist for permission to reproduce this article.