Mike Kelley, Day is Done, 2005/2006.

At Home with Mike Kelley

The Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) are pleased to co-present At Home with Mike Kelley, a series of online screenings and conversations about the moving-image work of Mike Kelley. Featuring videos that span from the 1980s to 2012, this series underscores the varied and inventive art practice of Kelley, praised widely for his use of lowbrow pop cultural material and everyday arcana to interrogate the basic structures of American life. These semi-weekly online events will pair Kelley’s video work with conversations between artistic collaborators, writers, curators, admirers, and other interlocutors to parse the artist’s work and legacy. 

This screening series will stream live at eai.org at selected times through July and August, accompanied by live conversations and audience Q&A. No RSVP or pre-registration is required. Additionally, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts will make available Kelley’s reflections on the videos on our website (see below), bringing forth further perspectives on and approaches to Kelley’s prolific output.

Beginning in the late 1970s with solo performances, image/text paintings, and gallery and site-specific installations, Kelley came to prominence in the following decades with a series of sculptures composed of common craft materials. Featuring repurposed thrift store toys, blankets, and worn stuffed animals, the Half a Man series focused Kelley’s career-long investigation of memory, trauma, and repression, predicated on what the artist described as a “shared culture of abuse.” Kelley’s solo and collaborative videos often tread similar territory, taking as their subject relics from the artist’s childhood, postwar Americana, and themes of social conditioning and alienation, the family, and public life. 

Kelley was acutely aware of video’s attributes and possibilities, and treated his moving-image work with the same keen specificity as his performance and gallery art. Writing on his first solo videotape The Banana Man, he notes that “video and film tend to normalize fracture. The viewer is expected to jump from one image to the next and experience it as a seamless development.” For him, this quality of fracture unlocked a new dimension in his solo character-based performance, allowing for seemingly incoherent and illogical parts to settle into a contradictory yet unified whole. As a collaborator, Kelley worked in various capacities with a wide array of artists including Michael Smith, Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon, Tony Oursler, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, and Ericka Beckman. Included in this series are Beckman and Kelley’s H.G. Wells-inspired BLIND COUNTRY and his collaboration with the Yonemoto brothers, Kappa, two stunning psychodramas fusing Freudian symbology with pop imagery. 

Later works by Kelley are singular in their scope and ambition. He would compare the experience of viewing his nearly three-hour opus Day Is Done, first exhibited as a sculptural installation at Gagosian Gallery in 2005, to “channel-surfing on television,” a barrage of “simultaneous and sequential scenes playing in architectural space” that recall both filmic montage and music video television. At the time of his death in 2012, Kelley had been working on  an ambitious public art installation, Mobile Homestead, and had completed an accompanying feature-length travelogue documenting the journey of a full-scale replica of his childhood home across Detroit and back, in the process interviewing citizens of the artist’s hometown.

The series will begin this month with screenings of The Banana Man and BLIND COUNTRY, with additional events throughout August to be announced. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 8 pm EDT (5 pm PDT):
Mike Kelley, The Banana Man, 1983
Followed by a conversation with Michael Smith, Cauleen Smith, and Ying Liu, moderated by Mary Clare Stevens and Rebecca Cleman.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 at 8 pm EDT (5 pm PDT):
Mike Kelley and Ericka Beckman, BLIND COUNTRY, 1989
Followed by a conversation with Ericka Beckman and Jamillah James.  

Portrait of Mike Kelley as The Banana Man circa 1983. Photo: Jim McHugh.

Video Statements and Related Texts

The Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts is pleased to make available a selection of Kelley’s texts related to the videos here on our website. From brief video statements originally written as introductions to various works screened at the Broadway Kino in Cologne on November 14, 1991, to creative writing as reflected in the darkly humorous libretto for his seminal, Day Is Done, Kelley's clear voice further elucidates his video practice.

Video Statements and Proposals (Introduction)

The Banana Man

Blind Country


The Banana Man (1983)

Tuesday, July 14, 5 PM PDT / 8 PM EDT 

Shot in 1982 with the assistance of a performance/installation class he was instructing at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, The Banana Man (1983) was Kelley’s first completed solo video work. Drawing upon his memories of childhood friends regaling him with their synopses of the antics of The Banana Man, a vaudeville act that appeared on Captain Kangaroo, Kelley uses his scant recollections—the Banana Man’s habit of pulling out bananas from his pocket, and his accompanying high-pitched squeal—to build out an intricate psychology of the character.  

Joining to discuss is artist Michael Smith in conversation with Cauleen Smith and Ying Liu.  

Michael Smith is a video, installation and performance artist who invokes the routines of popular comedy to articulate the banality and hype of mass consumer culture, and the isolation of those whose inner lives are defined by it. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY and Austin, TX.

Cauleen Smith is an interdisciplinary artist, whose work reflects upon the everyday possibilities of the imagination. Operating in multiple materials and arenas, Smith roots her work firmly within the discourse of mid-twentieth-century experimental film. Drawing from structuralism, Third World Cinema, and science fiction, she makes things that deploy the tactics of these disciplines, while offering a phenomenological experience for spectators and participants.

Ying Liu is a Brooklyn-based multimedia artist born and raised in a small island named Zhoushan in the East China Sea. Her evening-length, hybridized works often mix consumer technology such as VR, GoPro and GPS, and fuse mediums including theater, dance, video, and performance art with DIY props and an exuberant sense of play.

BLIND COUNTRY  (1989) Mike Kelley and Ericka Beckman

Tuesday, July 28, 5 PM PDT / 8 PM EDT 

Made in collaboration with fellow California Institute of the Arts alum Ericka Beckman, BLIND COUNTRY is loosely inspired by the H.G. Wells short story The Country of the Blind—an adolescent favorite of Kelley’s—in which a one-eyed man encounters a sightless society and must give up his vision to live among them. Kelley and Beckman’s take reestablishes the story as one of castration anxiety, emphasizing the “thinly veiled sexual and racial fears” within Wells’ original. 

Followed by a Q&A with Ericka Beckman, in conversation with Jamillah James.

Ericka Beckman is an American artist and filmmaker based in New York. Beginning her career in the 1970s alongside peers at CalArts, she is considered a key figure in the Pictures Generation. Over her three-decade career, her playful yet formally demanding films challenge traditional aesthetic and cultural values, mixing games with fairytales to create hybrids with new rules. 

Jamillah James is Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA). With Margot Norton, she is curating the 2021 edition of the New Museum Triennial. Prior to joining ICA LA in 2016, James was Assistant Curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, working in collaboration with the nonprofit Art + Practice.

Kappa (1986) - Bruce and Norman Yonemoto in collaboration with Mike Kelley

August 4, 5 pm PDT / 8 pm EDT

Deconstructing the myth of Oedipus within the framework of an ancient Japanese folk story, the Yonemotos craft a highly charged discourse of loss and desire. Quoting from Bunuel, Freud, pop media and art, they place the symbology of Western psychosexual analytical theory into a cross-cultural context, juxtaposing the Oedipal and Kappa myths in a delirious collusion of form and content. The Kappa, a malevolent Japanese water imp, is played with eerie intensity by Kelley; actress Mary Woronov plays Jocasta as a vamp from a Hollywood exploitation film. Steeped in perversions and violent longings, both the Kappa and Oedipus legends are presented in highly stylized, purposefully "degraded" forms, reflecting their media-exploitative cultural contexts. In this ironic yet oddly poignant essay of psychosexual compulsion and catharsis, the Yonemotos and Kelley demonstrate that even in debased forms, cultural archetypes hold the power to move and manipulate.

Bruce Yonemoto is a Japanese-American multimedia artist. His photographs, installations, sculptures, and films appropriate familiar narrative forms and then circumvent convention through direct, over-eager adoption of heavily clichéd dialogue, music, gestures, and scenes that click in the viewer’s memory without being identifiable. Working in collaboration with his brother, Norman Yonemoto, since 1975, Bruce Yonemoto has set out to divulge a body of work at the crossroads of television, art, commerce, and the museum/gallery world. His work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Film Institute, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Maya Deren Award for Experimental Film and Video, and a mid-career survey show at the Japanese American National Museum.

Andrea Lissoni is the Artistic Director of Haus der Kunst, Munich. He was previously the Senior Curator of International Art (Film) at Tate Modern, London, where he he launched an annual Cinema Programme conceived as an exhibition unfolding throughout the year. In 2012, he co-founded Vdrome, an online cinema for artists and filmmakers. Previously, he was curator at HangarBicocca, Milan (2009-13) and co-director of the international festival Netmage, Bologna (both Italy).