“I don’t know what exactly, but some shit went down when he was a kid. I’m trying to piece it together.”
Apparently not many people at MoMA PS1’s Night at the Museum this past Saturday had heard of the term biographical fallacy, much less contemplated the absurdity of believing that concrete facts about Mike Kelley and his work can be derived from one another. Pardon the fact that he looks like a serial killer. Pardon the fact that sex, violence, and childhood thematically and uncomfortably intertwine throughout his life’s work. Clearly “some shit” is going down in this exhibit. That’s obvious. Moving beyond the obvious and into the thought provoking, it strikes me that the abundance of assertions about Kelley’s life based around mutilated stuffed animals for example, or about the juxtapositional meaning of frog and vagina paintings based on Kelley’s life speaks, more than anything, to the pervasive human desire to look into other’s minds. Let’s call it mental voyeurism. Forgive the ensuing hackneyed rumination on the anthropological impacts of social media, but it does seem that our societal tendencies are increasingly performative. Consider this situation: a girl my friend tells me is really attractive, but who I’ve never seen, has presented herself a certain way across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, etc., and I’m going to check her out in at least some of these online spaces to assess my opinion of her physicality, but more importantly to piece together a picture of who she is as a person in order to place value judgements on a life I don’t actually know. I think all of us have experienced some version of this. We’ve all most likely been on the receiving end of such judgments as well. We are constantly asking others to engage in judging our character and personalities with the content we publish, and others are always willing to do so. What Kelley’s work magnifies are the peculiarities of life that we so often filter out of this process of properly conveying ourselves. One trend in his work that resonated with me is the ocd way in which he forms patterns and color gradients with various materials. I recalled my childhood ocd impulses to do things such as tucking exactly 6 pillows around my body before sleeping to prevent monsters from attacking me at night. Why do we shut out these memories, the darker, stranger events of life that form us just as much as the light, happy moments? Don’t we truly want to know each other? Don’t we want to know ourselves? These are the haunting, sobering, and fiercely contemporary questions oozing out of Kelley’s dystopia. The work seems to attempt jogging the observer’s memory into a contemplative state wherein he looks inward at the vast amount of things he deemed unimportant in the movie of his life. It conjures them back to break the spell of performance and voyeurism. Then again maybe ol’ Mikey was just being a creepy weirdo. Whatever you decide, GO CHECK OUT THIS EXHIBIT BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME AND IT’S LEAVING FEBUARY 2ND!
-By Chandler Craig