Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mike Kelley au Centre Pompidou

A Band playing in the Serbian Cultural Centre 
As I sat listening to the mélange of rock and roll being played out in the streets last Friday night for the annual Fête de la Musique, I wondered if my cultural experience for the evening could have been more different. Fête de la Musique is a fun, happy, popular event when amateur bands, performers, choirs and musicians of all kinds set up in whatever space they can find on Paris streets and start playing. In the Marais, the music tends to be rock and roll; so it is loud, not always refined, but in true Paris style, people of all ages come out to join in the fun.

In my favorite space of the Centre Pompidou, the South Galleries that give onto the plaza on one side and the Niki de Saint Phalle sculptured pool on another, I had spent the evening at the Mike Kelley “retrospective” put together to mark his untimely death.

The more I think about Kelley’s work, the clearer and more disturbing it becomes. To the point where, after a few hours, on reflection, I want to say that a lot of the pieces on display at the Pompidou Center are frightening. Whereas, when I was in the exhibition I was more perplexed than emotionally affected by the work. It’s the lingering effect of seemingly benign, or hastily put together conceptual installations, that make this work so powerful. Kelley’s art is an onslaught — of sounds, images of all media, objects, lights — all of which somehow come together into some of the most searing political statements made by contemporary art.
Mike Kelley, Exhibition View @ Centre Pompidou
Perhaps the most disturbing works are those that figure children’s very worn, soft fluffy toys, arranged into perverse, sexually suggestive positions. They are often dismembered, placed on the wall as though they are paintings, on the floor like sculptures, photographed as portraits. A number of the series feature these stuffed toys and other references to childhood  Half a Man, 1987; Ah … Youth, 1991). These are usually discussed by critics as embracing a nostalgia, with a sentimentality of reminiscence. To me, these works are more sinister, and more disturbing than the idea of a lost innocence might suggest. The mere display of these assumedly once loved toys is unsettling, if only in its turning of the private lost world of childhood inside out to become a public performance. Many of the stuffed animals and toys are physically distorted, often suggesting sexual activities. Whether this is ironic, or critical or simply good old fashioned fun, whether the sexual connotations are sublimated or unconscious, the display of very worn children’s toys, having been dismembered, sometimes sewn together with the next one is, for me, incorporating a violation of all that is meaningful in childhood. Similarly, there are gestures towards corruption, pain and a lot of misunderstanding.
Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler, The Poetics Project, 1977-1997
One of the most striking and brilliant of the series in this retrospective is that of The Poetics Project which Kelley did together with Tony Oursler, exhibited at Kassel in 1997 for the Documenta X. Oursler’s contributes his familiar video projections in shocking colours over talking heads, and other footage on screens, objects, mirrors, paper cut outs. Together, the artists have designed musical soundtracks that overlay the images. The music is apparently the creation of Kelley and Oursler’s rock band from the late 1970s and 1980s, “The Poetics.” Once again, the experience is one of bombardment with music and image, the perspective and effect changing as the visitor walks around the series.
Mike Kelley, Kandors
I think my favorite pieces were the Kandors series; oversized belljar chambers on LED screens, sculptures, videos that are apparently inspired by Superman’s home kryptonite city. The city itself is miniatiarized, just as Superman believed it to be, and placed inside the bottles, like a precious, carefully crafted object. However, it is not Superman’s lost city that is the delicately crafted art work here, but the huge bell jars that are surely extraordinary glass objects that were so difficult to fabricate because of their scale. The installation is colourful and tongue in cheek, moving from the deeply moving to the light hearted LED screens on which the jars breathe as if the otherworldly realm of Kandor is still alive, laying low as it waits for the future to arrive and set it free.

Mike Kelley, Memory Ware Flat
Kelley’s work is rarely aesthetic, and often I found myself looking dazed at the collages, assemblages, sculptures, videos and so on, trying to work out what was happening in each piece. This said, the two pieces that faced the glass façade that overlooks the fountain were extremely beautiful. Memory Ware Flat, # 18 in which beads, jewellery, watches, buttons are immersed in resin, reuse treasures filled with meaning and memories are framed to create what Kelley called “paintings.” Of course, because it is Kelley, there is also a strong derision of practices of collecting, keeping, and the accompanying nostalgia. In an otherwise very cerebral exhibition, the two Memory Ware Flat pieces were anomalies.

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