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From “Playing With Dead Things: On the Uncanny” by Mike Kelley

3 Jan

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In 1993 and 2004 Mike Kelley presented an exhibition titled The Uncanny, consisting of sculptures, objects and images that he found “creepy”, with “an ‘uncanny’ aura about them”. The majority were life-sized polychrome models of the human body in whole or part. This accorded with ‘scary’ experiences of my own involving figurative sculptures, particularly one winter in my early teens when I was repeatedly surprised and slightly unnerved by a deshevelled Guy Fawkes that we had propped in a living room chair awaiting the evening’s bonfire. Kelley’s exhibition centred on Sigmund Freud’s essay The Uncanny (1919), which draws on Ernst Jentsch’s The Psychology of the Uncanny (1906), in which the uncanny is exemplified by “doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate”3. It is this ambiguity that I have attempted to give my own sculptures in Attic Basement Garage, which this essay accompanies.

“It is important to me, first of all, that the objects displayed maintain their physical presence, that they hold their own power in relation to the viewer. I decided, therefore, to exclude miniatures–smaller than life-size statues, dolls, toys, figurines, and the like–from the exhibition. Generally, I believe that small figurative objects invite the viewer to project onto them. By this, I mean that the viewer gets lost in these objects, and that in the process of projecting mental scenarios onto them they lose sense of themselves physically. The experience of playing with dolls is a case in point. The doll becomes simply an object to provoke daydreams, and its objecthood fades into the background. Once the fantasy is operating, it could be replaced by any other object. On the other hand, I am interested in objects with which the viewer empathizes in a human way–though only as long as the viewer, and the object viewed, maintain their sense of being there physically.”

(p. 75)

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“The disposability of the venerated substitute has modern correlatives […] Then there are whole classes of figures designed specifically to be destroyed in use: car-crash dummies, the effigies of hated political figures hung and burned at demonstrations, the mannequins that people the perimeters of nuclear test sites, and the electrified human decoys recently used in India to shock man-eating tigers into losing their taste for human flesh. In a way, all these figures ask to be mistreated. The iconoclast, the one who feels compelled to destroy images, knows: statues invite violence. Like the vampire, they desire a violent death to relieve them of the viewer-projected pathos of their pseudo-life.”

(p. 90)

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Mike Kelley

3 Jan

5-MIKE KELLEY

Born in a Detroit suburb to a maintenance worker and a Ford Motor Company cook, Kelley suffered all his life from agoraphobia, yet he made his first works on the stage. While an undergrad at the University of Michigan in 1973, he played drums with the influential noise-rock group Destroy All Monsters, which he cofounded with the artist-musician Jim Shaw, among others. At the California ­Institute of the Arts in the seventies, where his teachers included Baldessari and Laurie Anderson, Kelley became an incandescent performance artist who “drove himself into these frenzied states,” recalls the video artist Tony Oursler, Kelley’s then roommate. “He would babble faster than anyone could think.” Riffing off absurdist scripts, he could charge a room with the simplest of props: “transforming himself,” recalls Oursler, “with only a bucket full of water with a whoopee cushion inside it or a cardboard tube stuffed with tin foil and a microphone.”

Fellow Los Angeles artist Paul McCarthy, who became equally transfixed by ­Kelley’s stage presence during a performance festival in the early eighties, soon struck up a collaboration with him on a series of psychobiographic videos. Their first was Family Tyranny (1987), about an abusive father-son relationship. “We knew we had similar interests in family, architecture, low-culture objects, and this thing of costumes and pretend,” says McCarthy, who along with Kelley was a breakout star of MOCA’s seminal 1992 survey “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s.”

McCarthy remembers how his hours-long conversations with Kelley would often lead to unlikely projects. “It was a lot of laughing, making jokes, and then all of a sudden we’d see something and go, ‘That’s an idea. We should do it.’ Then it’s like, ‘Should we really do it?’ And then we’re remaking Vito Acconci performances [with models portraying porn stars] in a house in Beverly Hills like it’s a commune, like a joke.”

Kelley was in the midst of a new project when he killed himself at age 57, leaving no note…

Mike Kelley, Kandors, Kandor 13

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Petros Chrisostomou

21 Sep

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Petros Chrisostomou photographs small-scale, ordinary, ephemeral objects in architectural models that he constructs himself, and then dramatically arranges, often employing lighting and staging conventions of the theatre. ..

Brooklyn Museum, Project Go!, December 1, 2012–February 24, 2013

Petros Chrisostomou website

The McKittrick Hotel

21 May

Sleep No More takes place at the fictional McKittrick Hotel, a reference to the film Vertigo. The hotel was completed in 1939 and “intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel”. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public until it was restored and reinvented by Punchdrunk and Emursive. The McKittrick Hotel is actually three adjoining warehouses in Chelsea’s gallery district at 530, West 27th Street. The address is the former home of megaclubs Twilo, Spirit, Guesthouse, Home, Bed and more. The 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) space has been transformed by Punchdrunk into “some 100 rooms and environments, including a spooky hospital, mossy garden and bloody bedroom.”

Inside the Hotel

See my previous post

Issa Samb

16 May

Behind an old iron gate in a side street, a bizarre Gesamtkunstwerk opens itself up. Under the high roof of a huge rubber tree hangs a web of strings studded with slips of paper and signs, expressionistic-abstract paintings and worn-out pieces of clothing, all held in place by clothespins. … For decades, the artist Issab Samb, alias Joe Ouakam, has created a universe in which the signs of everyday life are transformed into altars of a private obsession.

 In the 1960s, Ouakam, along with filmmaker Mambeti and others, belonged to the founders of the group Laboratoire AGIT-Art. Their multi-media actions were directed against the formalism of the Ecolé de Dakar; out of the “socialization of the aesthetic” developed an aesthetic of the social. This installation could function as a didactic piece for present-day artists – all that’s missing is a sign reading “National Museum” on the gate. (From)

The Museum of Stones

8 May

With The Museum of Stones Jimmie Durham inverts conventional Western thinking on mimesis, architecture and the museum. Along with found and defunct objects, stone plays a significant metaphoric role in Durham’s work, standing for the representation of state narratives, identity construction, and all things structured: architecture, monumentality, stability—and “belief.” For Durham, stone is the ultimate sculptural form, because each stone is itself a changing entropic sculpture, shaped over time by the elements. He is fascinated by the ways in which seemingly static objects like stones can become incredibly active, a character in an unfolding story—quite aside from how anthropomorphism may call to mind totems or other ritualistic objects.

See post about Animism

What do we perceive as being alive?

8 May

The exhibition Animism begins with that which we are all familiar with from art and the products of mass culture—the cartoon for example—as animation. Within art, animation is a common effect used to evoke life and vitality, in particular through movement, although it is also present when art works—sculptures or specific pictures—appear to return the gaze of the viewer. However, what we accept as an effect in art is a subject of historical contention beyond its confines. What do we perceive as being alive? When we ask this question outside the field of art it invariably raises questions which call on us to provide further distinctions for the purpose of clarification. The mere effect of vitality is not to be equated with independent life, this appears beyond doubt. But where is the dividing line? What possesses a soul, life, and the power to act? That the border between animate and inanimate matter, or between pure subjects and mere objects, is in no sense a natural given is demonstrated by the simple fact that in different cultures this border is perceived and conceived of in highly different ways. Consequently, there can never be an ultimately “objective” designation of the “correct” division—in order to illustrate this in terms of one’s own culture one only has to think of the imponderables in the debate on the point of death and the definition of so called “brain death.” However, the dividing line is not a “purely” subjective matter either—after all, it is just as important for the organization of our material relations to nature as for the question of the social and political status of living beings in a specific society. Is it possible to examine this dividing line itself, together with the organizing knowledge systems and practices? 

Text by Anselm Franke

Booklet

See previous post The Shell