A Voyage of Growth and Discovery
SculptureCenter, Long Island City
September 13 - November 30, 2009
Mike Kelley and Michael Smith
View video here
Assembly of Baby IKKI video here
A Voyage of Growth and Discovery centers on Baby IKKI, a character that artist Michael Smith has been performing for over thirty years. Pre-lingual and of ambiguous age, Baby IKKI is both comedic and melancholy. The six-channel video follows the existential journey of the Baby over several days at a festival of "radical self-expression," famous for its presentations of large-scale displays of fire, held in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada. The Baby, alone in his journey despite being surrounded by thousands of revelers, negotiates the rave-like festival environment while also exploring the primal natural elements of fire, water, earth, and wind. Michael Smith offers a masterful tragicomic performance that exhibits extreme physical endurance. The two-and-a-half hour multi-channel video, culled from hours of raw footage, is the result of an intensive and meticulous editing process between Mike Kelley and Michael Smith. The video's six-part narrative structure mirrors that of the event: four days and nights of festival preceded by an introductory travel section and followed by a post-festival day. In the introductory section Baby IKKI is shown "on the road" in his mobile home, where he is bombarded and inculcated with televisual material that presage his experiences in the desert. En route, the Baby busies himself with candies, cushions, and matches, while watching scenes from B-movies and cartoons replete with pyrotechnics and themes of infantilism. The festival itself is a carnivalesque event where IKKI is subsumed in raves, faced with erotic encounters, and surrounded by multitudes of costumed party-goers-many dressed in childish attire (though none as infantile as IKKI). The culmination of the event is the massive public "burn," after which the Baby is left alone to ponder his "voyage."
The installation presented at SculptureCenter reflects the fantasy-oriented environment of the festival, which is both grand and folksy-an odd mixture of fairground, playground, hippie commune, and the futuristic architectural aesthetics of R. Buckminster Fuller. Resembling an abandoned festival site of the post-"new age" era, the structure circles a 30- foot tall junk sculpture representing Baby IKKI himself. Surrounded by video projection screens, the viewer is invited into this world of regression and tactile experience-to share in Baby IKKI's journey.
This project marks the first collaboration between Mike Kelley and Michael Smith, artists who have been friends since 1975. Mike Kelley, born in Detroit in 1954, lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Kelley's work embraces performance, installation, drawing, painting, video, sound works, and sculpture. Referencing both high art and vernacular traditions, his works draw from historical research, mass cultural references, and psychological theory. Michael Smith, born in Chicago in 1951, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY and Austin, Texas. Smith's 30-year artistic career includes live performance, video works, commercial and cable television skits, puppet shows, exhibition installations, comic publications, and drawings.
A Voyage of Growth and Discovery was co-produced by SculptureCenter and West of Rome.
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