Mike Kelley, Kappa Scalp (Wig), 1986-1987.

Kappa (1986)

Bruce and Norman Yonemoto and Mike Kelley

 26 minutes

I collaborated on this tape with Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, the well-known deconstructionist video production team, who are second-generation Japanese-Americans.1 Finding ourselves on the suddenly important Pacific Rim, the Yonemotos and I decided to make an East/West tape. The Yonemotos took the West half and I took the East. They wrote an adaptation of the Oedipus myth, enacted by famous B-movie actress Mary Woronov and Eddie Ruscha, son of artist Ed Ruscha, and shot it in the manner of a television soap opera.2 I wrote about, and played, the Kappa, a minor Shinto god who is still a very popular figure in Japan.3 The Kappa is the subject of many folk tales that are often extremely violent and sexual. In contrast to the Oedipus scenes, the Kappa takes are shot in an “art film” manner to underline the cultural “otherness” they represent. That the tape is a Freudian burlesque is made more than obvious by the inclusion of a scene from a Hollywood portrayal of the life of Freud starring Montgomery Clift.4 Aside from collaborating on Kappa, I have acted in other Yonemoto productions, including Garage Sale II (1980), Green Card: An American Romance (1982), and Made in Hollywood (1990).

-Mike Kelley


1On Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, see the exhibition catalogue for their retrospective, Memory, Matter and Modern Romance: Bruce and Norman Yonemoto (Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 1999). Objects by Kelley related to the Kappa project were exhibited at the Third International Triennial at the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan; see the exhibition catalogue, Toyama Now ’87: New Art around the Pacific (1987).

2For more on Woronov, see Richard Herskowitz and Cynthia Baughman, Mary Woronov: Cult Film Star (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Cinema, 1990). Eddie Ruscha is a musician; he has been a member of the bands Medicine, Maids of Gravity, Future Pigeon, and Dada Munchamonkey.

3For variations on the Kappa myth, see Richard M. Dorson, Folk Legends of Japan (Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962).

4Freud (dir., John Huston, 1962).

As published:

Welchman, John C., ed. Mike Kelley: Minor Histories. Statements, Conversations, Proposals.Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2004.