Mike Kelley- "The Kandor" and "Extracurricular Activity Project Reconstruction" at Gagosian Gallery- Whitehot Magazine (February 2011)
Entering Mike Kelley’s exhibition the Kandor series and Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction (EAPR) signifies the moment where the umbilical cord of the viewer is severed from the reality that exists outside of the gallery walls and is reconstituted by the decadent and fabricated universe of Kelley’s creation. A cacophonous orchestra of voices and indiscernible sounds creates a schizophrenic soundtrack, and suffocates the gallery, attacking the will of concentration. Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #34 (The King and Us/The Queens and Me) (Harem) a tie-dye patterned platform supported by three brightly painted walls and a small arched opening literally sets the stage for the exhibition. The viewer would be tempted to enter through the constructed doorway if not for the rolled up pile of a dozen Persian rugs set in front of it. Alternatively, we are guided around the perimeter of and encounter the main gallery on the opposite side of a multi-colored curtain supported by a bare metal frame. There is a substantial gap between the third wall of the installation and the fabric curtain, initiating the an instance of questioning how to move about the space. The decor of opulent fabrics and lush pillows meticulously piled on the floor paired with the mad scientist grotto feels utterly fantastical and dream like. A life-size sculpture of Colonel Sanders peers over a glass diorama containing a miniature version of EAPR #34 and a critical, all knowing Sigmund Freud. This is the subconscious of the artist and we are left with little choice but to try and interpret it.
Mike Kelley started the EAPR in 1995 as a comprehensive, pseudo autobiographicall study of the artist’s past. The multi-room institutional environments realized in the gallery recall ubiquitous interiors (such as the home or classrooms) where a majority of one’s time is spent. It seems that at the crux of the EAPR is Kelley’s desire to explore his childhood and push the elasticity of memory to the point where fact collides with fiction. Kandor 10 A (the Grotto) is an intricate installation containing a purple tank resuscitating an oversize Elastomer blown glass jug with a cityscape rendered from resin coating. The two objects are connected by a thick rubber hose and their shadows project against a green Lenticular panel. Multiple versions of the cityscape trapped in Urethane resin appear in the adjacent gallery, each scene rendered with slight alteration and appearing in different colors. While The Grotto seems a realized version of Plato’s cave, it also alludes to Superman’s fortress of solitude, located in Kandor the capitol city of Krypton the birthplace of the famed superhero. The City series are likely models of what Kandor could look like, as its appearance was changing in the comic books. Trapping Kandor inside the blown glass references Superman’s decision to keep Kandor trapped inside the Fortress of Solitude as it contains Kryptonite, Clark Kent’s only lethal threat.
The color green plays a recurring role throughout the Kandor and EAPR. In literature the color symbolizes inexperience and hope, and lends itself to a similar interpretation inside The Grotto where hope is possible so long as the bottle containing the city of Kandor does not break. Kelley juxtaposes innocence and experience by deliberately planting balls of worn of clothing and a rope tied in a sailor’s knot around the perimeter and inside The Grotto. The video titled Harem Night Scene plays on the nearby flat screen panel and depicts women in silk garb and staged on the tie-dye platform drinking and dancing into oblivion. The scene of debauchery on screen interacts with the real (or hyper-real) world Kelley has created for us. A Lenticular panel reflects two disparate images that reveal themselves depending on where they are viewed- one side a portrait of the young and beautiful cast starring in the films while the other shows the same faces dramatically worn and ragged.
Mike Kelley creates a palpable duration within the gallery by a diverse set of materials. Just as the city of Kandor changes each time it is represented in Superman, so too does our interaction with the past as it is always remembered differently. A part of Kandor 12 / Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #35 is a long wooden bureau lined with an excessive number of drawers. Set against a glowing green screen the piece of furniture feels like it would contain ingredients to concoct a science experiment. Kelley therefore is the alchemist, transforming that which has little value, a fleeting childhood longing into something with great value, and a realization of the past in the present.