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Curator’stextfor Consolation Prize exhibitioncatalogue,MorrisandHelenBelkinArtGallery,U.B.C.,Vancouver2001

ConsolationPrize:MikeKelleyandJohnMiller

RoyArden

Introduction Consolation Prize presentsmultimediaworksbytheAmericanartistsMikeKelleyandJohnMiller.Theyhavebeen

friendsandcollaboratorssincetheirstudentdaysatCaliforniaInstituteoftheArts.Thisexhibitionisthelatest

installmentintheirongoingdialogue.Inspiteoftelevision,theInternet,andotherformsofglobalcommunications,

regionaldifferencescontinuetoaffectartproduction.Iwasdrawntocuratingthisexhibitioninlargepartbecauseit

seemedthattheartKelleyandMillerweremakingwasdistinctlyunliketheartbeingproducedinCanada.Thereasons

forthisaremany;onecouldspeculateaboutthedifferencebetweenastate-fundedartsceneversusanartscenewitha

vigorousmarket,ortherelativedistanceofCanadafromtheAmericancultureindustry,andsoon.Thisexhibitionisnot

proposingtoansweranyofthesequestions,butrathertolaysomegroundworksothosequestionsmightbeaskedinan

informedfashion.

BothKelleyandMillerhavewoninternationalreputationsformakingartthatisatoncevisceralandcritical.The combinationofirreverenceandseriousnessthatmarkstheirworkhasearnedthemfirstnotorietyandthenrespect. Theirfrequentquotingfrompopularorsubculturalsourceshasattractedtheattentionofayoungeraudience,butshould notobscurethefactthatKelleyandMilleraresecond-generationconceptualistswhoarebothteachers.Kelleyteaches attheArtCenterCollegeofDesigninPasadena,andMilleratYaleUniversity.Whathasstruckmemostinthinkingabout theirartoverthepastdecadeisnotitsiconoclasticortransgressivenature thequalitiesthatfirstattractedmy attention buttheformalrigourandart-historicalperspicacitythattheseartistsbringtotheirenterprises.

Iremembermyfirstencounterwithbothartists’workascomparabletomyshockuponfirsthearingtheStoogesorthe

SexPistols.WhileIhopethatthisintensityofexperiencemightbereplicatedforsomeviewers,Iamawarethatmyrole

ascurator,andespeciallyauthorofacataloguetext,mightworkagainstit.Itwouldseemthatanyacademicaccount

contributestoanentombingoftheworkintheart-historicalcanon.Thisissomethingthattheseartiststhemselves

foreseeandaccept.AsKelleyhasstated:“Well,that’sjusttradition.Asthingsbecomeaccepted,theythemselves

becometherulesbywhichthingsaremade;thenyourworkbecomespartofanacademy.Youhavenocontroloverthat.

That’showcultureassimilatesconflict.”Asinevitableassuchassimilationis,I’mcertainthattheworkspresentedhere

in Consolation Prize areanindicationofhowveryfarawaywearefromthateventuality.

To a woman who had flopped down before an altar with her butt in the air I remarked in passing that the god was also behind her. Diogenes of Sinope 1

The Soiled Shorts The Lugubrious Game isthetitleofa1999installationbyJohnMiller.Itisalsothetitleofa1929paintingbySalvador

Dali.Dali’spainting,likemuchofhiswork,evokescastrationanxiety,analfixation,andmasturbationguilt.Itisavery

literaldepictionofaFreudian,anxiousdream.Theoffendinghandappearshereasaleadenstatue,heavywithguilt.In

thecentreofthecompositionabodysimultaneouslycomesapartandascendstowardthesky.Thebodypartstransform

intovarioussuggestiveforms,particularlyanalandgenitalfigures.Intheforeground,thesubjectstandsinsoiled

undershorts,“escapingemasculationthroughanignominiousandnauseatingposture.” 2

The“soiledshorts”becameapointofcontentionfortheopposingpositionswithinSurrealismheldbyAndréBretonand

GeorgesBataille.BataillesawBretonaspathologically“Icarian”andcounteredBreton’sidealismwithhisown

conceptionofabasematerialism,forwhichSurrealismwasameredevelopmentalstage,akintoa“childhooddisease.” 3

Breton,theself-appointedpopeofSurrealism,dislikeddirtythingsandideas.Bataille,Surrealism’s“enemyfrom

within” 4 andBreton’sarch-rival,hadlessdelicatetastes.HelikedDali’s The Lugubrious Game enoughtowriteanessay

ofthesametitleaspartofalargerworkontheinferioritycomplex.AlthoughBretonwasoffendedbyDali’sscatological

art,hewishedtokeepthevirtuosopainteronhisteamandwasmorethreatenedbytheprospectoflosingDalito

Bataille’scampofsurrealistsecessionists.BretonforbadeDalitoallowBataillepermissiontoreproducethepaintingas

anillustrationforhisessay.DalicompliedwithBreton’sorder,mostprobablyoutofopportunism,forwhilehehadmore

incommonwithBataillephilosophically,Breton’steamhadthemoneyandconnectionsthatDalicraved.Dali’sobsession

withshitwouldeventuallyevolveintoalustforgold,alustthatwouldearnhimtheanagrammaticalmoniker“Avida

Dollars.”BataillecircumventedDali’swithholdingbyproducingadiagramof The Lugubrious Game, whichwasperhaps

evenmoreusefulforhisanalyticalpurpose.

Withholding

ThesoiledshortsinDali’spaintingsmightbeseenasanur-figureinthearthistoryofJohnMiller’spractice.Inthe

1980s,Millerbecamenotoriousforhisworksthatliberallyemployedashit-brownacrylicpaint.Thebrownpaintcovered

andunifiedthevariousobjectsandmaterialsthatconstitutedhispaintings,assemblages,reliefs,andsculptures.So

muchdidthesubstancecometounifyandsymbolizehisoeuvrethat“JohnMillerBrown”or“J.M.B.”becamea

trademarkofsorts.AsBataille’s bassesse counteredBreton’shigh-flyingoptimism,soJ.M.B.mightbeunderstoodasa

materialistantidotetotheI.K.B.or“InternationalKleinBlue”ofYvesKlein’scosmicmonochromes.

Recently,Millerhasabstainedfrompaintingbrown,choosingtoexplorephotographyandothermediaandstrategies

instead.Hehasnotedinconversationthatalthoughhisuseofbrownpaintwasoftenmetwithdisapprovalordisgust,

soonafterheabandonedthepracticehehadtobegindeflectingrequestsformoreJ.M.B.Thosewhodiagnosedhimas

anobsessive-expulsivemightnowbelamentinghisself-cure.Miller’spersistencehaspaidoff;wegotusedtotheawful

medicine,andnowthatwereallywantit,wecan’thaveit.ThisexhibitionincludesaworkfromMiller’sbrownperiod.

Shit from Shinola InMiller’spractice,Dali’sshamefulstaingrowsandcoverseverything.InBataille’sinterpretation,thestainis“both

originalcauseandremedy.”Daliisbothpatientanddoctor.Dali’sstaincanbeconstruedastheatavisticoriginofMiller’s

campaign,butforMiller,theafflictedsubjectisnottheartistbutcontemporaryart,ormorecorrectly,certaincontem-

poraryartpractices.Inhisessay The Fig Leaf Was Brown, 5 Millerelucidatesthegenesisandrationaleofhismaterialist

strategy:“…formeit’snotsomuchaquestionof‘scatologicalreferences’asitisoneofarelationbetweenexcremental

materialandtheart’sunderpinningsinlibidinaleconomyandcommodityfetishism.” 6

Millerdistanceshimselffromtheautobiographicaloperationsofanold-fashionedartistlikeDali.Hisstainisnota

confessionbutanallegoricaltropeattheserviceofaninstitutionalcritique:“…becauseanartist’schoiceofmaterialand

technique—nottomentionsubjectmatter—isneverjustthat,itisalsotheresultofpredispositionsinscribedwithin

particularideologicalandinstitutionalframeworks.” 7 Miller’s“stain”is,likeDali’s,madefrompaint,butwhereDali’s

“stain”ismeanttobereadasatransparentrepresentation,Miller’sisalwaystobeunderstoodasastrategicmove

withinaninstitutionalizedgame.Thereisalsoathirdkindofstain.Millerhascommentedonhow“artworksoperating

underthesignofBeautyortheSublimecommittrulyfecalindiscretionsagainstwhichthe‘transgressive’artistcan’t

compete.” 8

The Future Is Plastics

Alongwiththosewhoarerepelledorfeignrepulsion,therearealsothosewhoexperiencedisappointmentuponfirst

contactwithJ.M.B.No,it’snotrealshit,it’snotevenshitinacan,it’snotevenrealoilpaint,it’sjustodourless,relatively

inertacrylic.Intheassemblagesthatcombinepaintwithplasticobjectslikedollsandbuckets,thepolymorphous,

chameleonnatureofplasticismadeabundantlyandpoeticallyclear.Thefuture is inplastics,andnoothermaterialmore

adequatelysymbolizescontemporarycapitalism.Thatplasticcantakesomanyheterogeneousformsandcolours

disguisesitsubiquity.Ifallplasticproductswereproducedinonecolouronly—let’ssaybrown—theworldwould

indeedbeamonochromeexperience.PerhapswhatismostdisturbingaboutMiller’sbrownperiodisnotthereferenceto

shitbuttheactualityoftheplastic.Betweentheecologicalmessthatplastichasbroughtanditsperfectrealizationofthe

analityofcapitalism thedrivetoleavenothingwasteditisdifficulttoabstainfromdemonizingthesubstance.Inan

ironicdovetailingofintentions,therecycledplasticclothesproudlywornbytheecologicallyconsciousareperhapsthe ne

plus ultra ofanality.

Friends JohnMiller’s My Friend (1989)isastandardadultmalemannequin,withabadwig,ina1970swide-lapelsuitpaintedin

J.M.B. My Friend isamanofaction,aninternationalplayboytoadmireandemulate.

Inthe1980s,neo-expressionistartstarslikeFrancescoClementeandJean-MichelBasquiatsubmittedtothecreationof

amediaimageofthepainterasdandybyposingintheirstudios,ostensiblyatwork,inpaint-spattereddesignersuits.

Theirpalettewaspolychromatic,thepaintspattersmereaccentsdesignedtodrawattentiontotheirexpensivethreads.

Millertakesthegesturefurtherandthoroughlyinfuseshis“friend’s”suitwithonebigdeftstroke.Hisconceptual

forerunnershadearlierdeclaredapuritanmoratoriumonpainting,onlytobetrumpedbythemarketcardoftheneo-

expressionists.Miller’snegativepracticedoesnotposepaintastheenemy.Rather,ifhandledproperly,paintcanbean

effectivetool,andperhapsevenafriend,forthecriticalartist.

Showroom Dummies

Themannequin’sfirstappearanceasamotifin20thcenturyartwasinDada’sprotestagainsttherationalizationoflife.

ThemannequinalsobecameastandardmotifforphotographyfromAtgettotheBauhaus.SurrealistslikeHansBellmer

exploitedtheuncanninessofthemannequin,and Pittura Metafisica artistslikedeChiricobasedthebulkoftheir

melancholictableauonthelifelessfigure.ThemannequinresurfacesinPopArt,butnotasacentralmotif.Thespotlight

thatshoneonWarholorLichtensteindidnotlingeronAlanJones—themannequinwastoodisquietingandcreepyfor

Pop’shappyagenda.Recently,themannequinhasmadeacomebackthatdrawslargelyonsurrealistprecedent.Artists

suchasCindySherman,CharlesRay,andtheChapmanshavemadeitaleitmotifof1990sart.Whilemostoftheseartists

haveexploredthemannequinintermsofsexualityandfetishism,Miller’smannequinpiecesaregroundedinmaterialist

critique.WhereotherartistshavemodifiedtheirmannequinswithHollywood-qualityspecialeffects,Millerhassimply

dressedthemupandaccessorizedthem.Whatisanxious-makingabouthismannequinsistheirabjecttawdriness:they

arebadlydressedmelancholicjunk.Millersometimesleavesthepricetagsonhis“friends”clothestodrivehomethe

pointthatwecan’tescapefromreificationandtheeconomy.Itwillalwaysbeamonkeyonourbacks.

WalterBenjamin,amongothers,seizedonthemannequinasapotentsymbolofreification.Fashion“isthedialectical

switchingstationbetweenwomanandcommodity—desireanddeadbody.” 9 Fashionasthecommodificationofthebody

hasbecomeaclichéthatnonethelesscannotbewilledawayasboringor“outoffashion.”Norcanitsuccessfullybe

ironicallyappropriatedbyfashionitself. 10 TheexcitementofthenewPradaoutfitisalwaysaccompaniedbytheintuitive

Beware the Holy Whore Atfirstglance,itseemsthat The Lugubrious Game ismodeledontypicaltelevisionshowslike The Price Is Right,butwe

quicklyseethateverythingin The Lugubrious Game hasbeenperverted:weareinBobBarker’snightmare.Thevibrating

coloursarenothystericalorhappybutqueasyand,well,lugubrious.Theshapesoftheplinthandthecontestants’

podiumsseemtoquoteArtschwageranddeChiricoratherthanquiz-showsets.Millerhassaidthattheworkispartly

inspiredby“Moorish”design.Thenumbersonthepodiumsread“6-6-5,”whichisnotquite666,asMillerhasnoted. 12

Insteadofabsoluteevil,capitalismisjustabanalaccident.Onaplinthwherewewouldexpecttofindamicrowaveoven

orabackmassager,wefindadecorativesphereofgreenglassandsomecheapMoroccanbrassware.Theartist

purchasedtheseitemsfromtheimmigrantmarketinGrenoble,wheretheinstallationwasfirstrealized.Insteadofthe

pieslicethatmightsay“missaturn”or“wildcard”onMiller’swheeloffortune,wefindthefaceofCharlesManson,

suggestingthatfailuremightbecatastrophicratherthansimplyunfortunate.Mansonrepresentsarejectionofthestatus

quoandmightdeliveryoufromtheoppressionof konsumterror, butyoumightjustwanttogetbacktothemallinKansas

instead.

Inthecentreofthings,underthesicklyglareofthefluorescentlights,isapileofdark-browndirtstrewnwithdildos,

lubricant,tabloidnewspapers,andmoney.Isitamud-wrestlingpit,anarenaforgladiatorialbattle,anArtePoveraora

RobertSmithson–likeinstallation,oracornucopiaofprizes?Theonlywaytofindoutistoplaythegame.Butthehostis

missing,andwe’renotsureoftherules.Norules,nogame.

The Golden Calf

Whentheplanningforthisexhibitionwasunderway,anewprime-timeprogram, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,debuted

onAmericantelevision.HostedbytheappropriatelyavuncularRegisPhilbin, Millionaire provedanimmediatesuccess.

Apocalypticlightinganddramaticcamerazoomingareintendedtoheightenthetensionascontestantsclimbaladderof

questionscrownedbyamillion-dollarprize.Ateachrung,thechoicetoquitwhileaheadorriskallforthebigprizemust

befacedanew.UncleRegis’sspectacleofAll-Americanidolatrywassoonfollowedbyamoreinstructiveshowcalled

Greed.

Insteadoftheheroicadventureoftheloneprotagonistin Millionaire, Greed beginswithateamofcontestantschosen

fromtheaudience.Theteamstartsitsquestforgoldbyworkingtogetherandpoolingresourcesunderthedirectionofa

teamleaderchosenforhisorhersuperiorskill.Atarandompoint,asoundeffectcalledtheTerminatorsignalsthe

opportunityforateammembertochallengetheleaderandpossiblyhavetheleadercastoutofthegamewithnothing.

Thegameproceedswithinternecineconflictuntilonlyoneplayerisleft.Herethelessonofabsolutecompetitionis

ritualizedwithallofthenastinessoftherealeconomy.InspiteoftheritualhumiliationofdaytimeTVgameshows,they

seemlikerelicsofthe1950s—cheerfulcelebrationsofthematerialisticutopiathatawaitedthewar-wearyparentsof

thebaby-boomers.Miller’sarthasbeenimitatedbycynicallife.Theproducersof Millionaire and Greed havethe

dystopianidea,butneedmorehelpwiththeartdirection.

Paint by Numbers Millerhaspaintedfigurativeworksinavarietyofquotationalstyles,whicharealwaysironicappropriations.Forartists

likeMiller,paintingisfraughtwiththemostseriousreactionarybaggageandcannoteasilyberehabilitated.Withhis

recent Game Show seriesofpaintings(1999),hedropsthebrushaltogether.In1921,AleksandrRodchenkoproduceda

triptychofthreemonochromesbytelephoningapaintshopandsupplyingpreciseinstructionsforthepaintingof

rectangularcanvasesinred,yellow,andblue.Thusbeganatraditionofanti-auratic,materialistpainting.Miller’sbrown

periodevolvedasasimilarlymaterialistcritique.Inhis Game Show series,Millerhascreatedpaintingsbyentirely

mechanicalmeans.

The Game Show paintingsaremadebysnatchingdetailsofgameshowset“supergraphics”fromvideo,withacomputer.

Theimagesarethentranslatedintopaintingsbyacomputer-controlledink-jetpaintingmachine.Millerhasfound

anotherwaytopaintwithout“regressing”.Thisisbestunderstoodasphotographydisguisedaspainting;iteschews

everythingassociatedwiththetechniqueoftraditionalpainting—mostlytheevidenceofthehand—yetstillexistsasa

painting.Theseworksplayagamethathasbeenplayedbeforeandmustbeplayedagain.Therulesofthegame,as

determinedbythemarket,aresoblindlyandliterallyunderstoodthatitisstillpossibletosatisfythedemandfor

paintingwithalmostanyobjectsolongasitfollowsthephysicalprescriptionof“paintoncanvas.”FromRodchenkoto

theproto-popofDuchamp,tothesilkscreensandpaint-by-numbersofWarhol,avant-gardeartistshaveclobberedaway

atpaintingbydevisingmechanicalpaintingstrategies.Paintingpersistsbecausenophysicalmediumis inherently more

progressiveorreactionarythananyother.Thesestrategicattackshavecontinuedtocontestanytoo-easyorunexamined

revivals.ThatMillerchosethehystericalvisualnoiseofthegameshowismorethanappropriateinatimewhensomany

intheartworldappeartobeobliviousto,orwelcomingof,theartinstitutions’gradualincorporationintotheculture

industry.

Let Them Eat Cake Inoldentimes,thekingsharedhiswealthwitheventhelowliestpeasantthroughthespectacleofhisexcessive

expenditures.LouisXIVinvitedtheluckytowitnessthevoidingofhisfundament,theultimatesacrificeofhisprivacy.The

trulywealthyandpowerfuloftodayprefertoliveanonymouslyandspenddiscreetly.Thereareexceptions,ofcourse,but

DonaldTrumpisnotoneofthem;hisvulgaritynotsomuchamatterofhispovertyoftasteashispovertyofspirit.The

Britishroyaltycontinuetoattempttoforestallcriticismbyspendinglessinsteadofmore,inspiteofthelessonof

PrincessDiana.

InthepotlatchofthewestcoastFirstNationspeople,Bataille,followingMauss, 13 foundanalternativemodelto

capitalism’sclaimtonaturalness.Ratherthanestablishingwealthandpositionthroughacquisition,thenativechiefs

cementedtheirstatusandcelebratedfamilyeventsthroughritualizedgenerosityandsometimesprofligatewaste.

Spectacularexpenditureservedsocialcohesionandoccasionallyreplacedactualwar.InAmericatoday,therichand

powerful,captainsofindustryandcommerce,areanonymousormakeapointofappearingdiscreetlybourgeois.While

BillGatesmaintainsamodestappearancewearinghisHushPuppies,itfallstothemilitaryandentertainmentindustries

toexpendspectacularly.Show-bizfiguresaremanufacturedtofrontfortheking,whomusthidehimself.Occasionally,a

figureappearswhounderstandshisfunctionperfectly.InthecaseofElvis,thepeoplerecognizedhisgenerosityand

crownedhimwiththeirloveandgratitude.

A Modest Proposal MikeKelley’s Surrogates seriesofsoftsculpture(1998)isintroducedby A Stopgap Measure (1999),aposter/manifestoin

dramatic,agitpropstyle.Theboldtypographyanddesigninurgentred,yellow,andblackannounceKelley’s

disappointmentwithPresidentClinton’sfailuretoinstitutenationalhealthcare.Kelleygoesontoproclaimthat,along

withphysicalhealth,theemotionalhealthofAmericaneedstobeaddressed.Zeroinginonsexualfrustrationasaprime

causeofemotionalunwellness,hesuggeststhatthecultureindustryisthemajorcontributortothisproblemandshould

bepressedtohelpsolveit.

“Movieandtelevisionactors,pornstars,popsingers,rockmusicians,athletes,supermodelsandthepamperedchildren

ofthewealthy” 14 shouldbeforcedintoprostitutionaspartofanextendedhealth-careserviceandfinallyearnthe

privilegetheyhavetakenforgranted.SincetheseobjectsofAmerica’sfantasiesaresofew,Kelleysuggeststhatthose

whoareinclinedmightbegivenfreeplasticsurgerytobecomecelebritydoubleswhowouldsimilarlyprovidepleasureto

thepublic.Oncethesemeasuresaretaken,thepopulacewillbecuredofitsrepressionandattendantmentalillnesses,

and“withinageneration,sexualrepressionwillceasetobeamajorfactorasacauseformentalandphysicalillness,it

willbecomeasinconsequentialasthecommoncold.” 15 Thecultureindustrywillwitherandbecomeobsoleteaspeople

begintoauthortheirowndesire.

Becausehisprogramwilltaketimetogetrunning,Kelleyhascreatedsomehandmadecelebritysurrogatesasan

intermediatesolution.Heinvitesthe“damagedandshy” 16 peopletoleavetheirrelianceonculturallyproducedfantasies

andfetishismand“moveforwardintoreality,thenmoveontoecstasy.” 17 ThusFrankfurtschoolanalysisisrevived

throughSwiftiansatireanddeliveredviatheBrechtiantacticsofavant-gardeartandtheReichiansexolutionofthe

1960s.

Case Study Fromthecentreof A Stopgap Measure,adrawingofananthropomorphizedjuveniledinosaursmilesoutatusaswe

contemplateDoctorKelley’sdiagnosisandcure.Thisimagerelatesdirectlytothetextontheversooftheposter,acase

studyoftheillnessinquestion.Apparentlycompiledfromdifferentnews-servicereports,thetextrecountsthestalking

offilmdirectorStevenSpielbergbya“Homosexualex-con” 18 whofantasizedaboutsodomizingthecreatorof Jurassic

Park infrontofSpielberg’swife.

JohnathanF.NormantriedonseveraloccasionstogainaccesstoSpielberg’shome.Whenarrested,hewasfoundin

possessionofducttape,razors,handcuffs,andadiarywiththenamesofSpielberg’sfriendsandfamily,including

children.AnotebookinNorman’spossessionalsoreferredto“eyemasks,nippleclips,dogcollarsandchloroform,” 19

whichheintendedtoobtainforuseinhisfantasymeetingwithSpielberg.

Norman’slover,CharlesMarkovich,laterrecountedNorman’smethamphetamineflavoureddelusionsofbeingababy

Tyrannosaurus rex inSpielberg’s The Lost World.InNorman’s“lostworld”nuclearfamily,themommyanddaddydinos

wereSpielbergand,DavidGeffen.Thebaby-dinostalkerbelievedthat“Spielberg wanted toberapedbyhim”(my

italics). 20 AblackbookfoundinNorman’spossessioncontainedacollageofanakedyoungmanonwhichhadbeen

pastedSpielberg’shead.

Byprovidingdifferentaccountsoftheincidentsthatleduptothestalker’simprisonmentfor25to40years,Kelleyinvites

acriticalreadingofthestory.WhileitseemscertainthatNormanwasuptonothinggood,thespecialtreatmentthat

Spielbergreceivedfromthepoliceandcourtswarrantsscrutiny.Anunusualdegreeofsecrecyattendedthecaseandthe

mediaquestionedtheprivilegeofanonymitythatwasinitiallyaffordedtoSpielberg.WhileNormanwaswithoutdoubta

sickman,heneveractuallymanagedtocommitanyassaultsormakedirectthreats.Hisdefenselawyersuggested

psychiatrictreatmentwasmoreappropriatethanalifesentenceinprisonandquestionedwhetherstrangethoughts

alonewereacrime.

AsidebaronthebackofKelley’spostercontainsanarticlefromthe Sunday Telegraph discussingtheinvasionofcelebrity

privacyby“stalkarazzi”andthemovetocontrolthemthroughlegislation.Moviestarswanttoenterourfantasies,but

theydon’twantustosharethem;theywouldpreferthatwekeepthemtoourselves.In The Secret (1999),theconnection

betweenNorman’ssecretworldandKelley’sproposalismadeclearbytheinclusionoftheposterforthesaccharine

animatedfeature The Land Before Time VI alongsidethefrontandbackof A Stopgap Measure.Areouridentificationswith

starsreallyanydifferentoranylessdelusionalthanNorman’sdino-familyfantasy?

Action Figures ThesurrogatesKelleyhasconstructedforourpleasurearebuiltfromacombinationofreadymadeandfounditems.

Eachstartswithone,two,orthreeposters,usuallyforsecond-ratefilms,fromwhichthefaceshavebeendisplacedby

softpillow-likeelements.“Boomboxes”playrepeatingsnippetsofsoundordialoguefromthefilm.Eachsurrogate

respondstoagenreorrelatedgenreoffilm.Thenarrativeofthesefilmsbecomessecondarytotheidentification

betweenfanandstar;eachworkistailoredforadifferentdemographic.Whatwasformerlyenmeshedinanunfolding sequenceofsupposedlypurposefulcauseandeffectisdistilleddowntothestaticorrepetitiveformsoftotemandchant. Kelley’ssurrogatesrecallhis“arenas”inwhichstuffedanimals“interacted”onusedblankets.Theyalsoinvokethe mises en scène oftheVienneseActionists,whomKelleyhasacknowledgedasinspirationaltohispracticeingeneral.

In’69 Action Heroes (1998),Jean-ClaudeVanDammeandDolphLundgrenarerefiguredasfucktoysofquasi-Mondrian design.Paddedredbatonsareprovidedforsafeplayfightingorinsertionintotheknittedorificesofthepillowsor possiblyintoanorificeprovidedbytheviewer/patient.Foley-artpunchesandhardbreathingexcerptedfromthe soundtracksof Sudden Death and Men of War rhythmicallyrepeattheiraccompanimentforwhateveronechoosestodo.

69 Action Heroes appearstailoredforthetribeofheterosexualmenwhoidentifywithVanDammeandLundgren.While theensembleisformallycomplexandharmonious,theclashofsignifiersisnothinglessthanperverse:thehard modernismofDeStijlisinvokedas“Nordicmasculine,”onlytobeemasculatedbytheprissyorgrandmotherlyknitting and heimisch qualitiesoftheneatlyorderedpillows.Kelleyappearstofollowthecommonwisdomthatthistribe’s problemistheirrepressedhomosexualfeelings.Thetitle,theknittedorificesfittedtothemouthsofLundgrenandVan Damme,andthebifurcatedstructureofthepiece,allpointtotheobviousremedy—atherapeuticregressiontosuckling, orjustplainsucking,withthatbestfriendwhounderstandslikenowomancan.

Childrencanhaveproblemstoo,andsotheever-helpfulDoctorKelleyhascreated Odd Man Out (1998)especiallyfor them.ChildstarstheOlsentwinsandalesser-knownboythespianarereconstitutedhereasstuffedsleepoverpals.The twins’movie, How the West Was Fun,providesthecueforthestylistictextureofthispleasurestation:denim,straw cowgirlhats,andlacyfrills.Justsothatchildhoodsexualityisn’tpresentedastoouncomplicated,theartisthas “checkedin”Hollywood’sDunstontheChimpanzeeasacatalystforfurthertransgression.

“Dunsty”isparkedonanappendedsectionoffabric,hisothernessresolutelyproblematized.Thesoundtrackpaintshim astheinstigatorofnaughtyfun.Dunston’ssmackingkissesanderuptiveaspirantfricativesorfarting“raspberries” incitetheboytomoanandplead,“Stopit!Stopit!”whilethegirlsgiggle,“Itwouldbenaughty,itwouldbewrong,let’sgo forit!”and“Poo-poo,we’resorry.”Childrenandanimalsarenaturetoadulthood’srepressiveculture.Theirvery existenceisanaffronttotherationalizationsoftheadultworld.Kelley’sprojecthasalwaysinvolvedastrategyofwillful regressiontoatransgressiveinfantilism.Hehasproudlyrecountedhisadolescentinterestinknittingandcollecting stuffedanimalsasaresponsetohisfather’srequestthathetakeupa“manly”hobby. 21

SomeoftherepressiveforcesthatKelley’sinfantiliststrategyisaimedatareliterallypresentin Untitled (Priest/Yankee Zulu) (1998).Relativelyminimalinconstruction,theworkalsoreferencesminimalismwithitsboldandsimplepairingof twopostersandtwoblankets,oneblackandonewhite.Theposterontheleftdepictsabeamoflightshiningdown throughstainedglassonananguishedpriest/actor“tornbetweenkeepingthefaithandexposingthetruth.”Theposter isfora1994film,entitled Priest,abouthomosexualityinthechurch,andKelleyhaspaireditwithaposterforthe apartheidcomedy Yankee Zulu.Thefaceshavebeenexcisedfromonlythe Yankee Zulu posterandhavenotbeenreincor- poratedintothesculpturalcomponent.FourblankwhiteStyrofoamballsplacedonthewhiteblanketinsteadechothe fourwhitespotsleftontheposter.Theballsonthewhiteblanketthreatentoformthefeaturesofamaskorface,butof anunindividuatedtype.Inthecentreofbothblanketsareaudiospeakers;whilethespeakeronthewhiteblanketplays whitenoise,thespeakerontheblackblanketrepeatedlysoundsanexcerptofmoaninganddialoguefrom Priest: …grinningsickeningevil…faithjustrunsawayinterror…giveittome,bigboy.”Insidethegallerywall,besidethe posters,aspeakeremitsthesoundtrackfrom Yankee Zulu,whichwearemeanttoexperienceasthougheavesdropping onamuffledconfession.

Thedynamicbetweenchurch,imperialism,homosexuality,andracehasbeenplayedoutaroundtheglobeforcenturies.

HereinCanada,recentcasesconcerningabuseinnativeresidentialschoolshaveprovidedaregionalversionofthis

problematic.WhileKelleyissurelyreferencingtheseworldlyissues,itisalsopossibletoreadtheworkasanallegory

aboutmodernistorformalistartpraxis.TrainedasapainterintheHansHofmannschoolof“push-pull”abstraction,

Kelleyhasmythologizedformalistartasapatriarchalfigureinseveralofhisworks.Likethepriestintheposter,he

facedthechoiceof“keepingthefaith”or“exposingthetruth,”andlikemanyartistsofhisgeneration,hechosethe

latter.Thestrategyoffillingup“empty”formalistformswithsocialcontentisahallmarkofhisgenerationofartists.

Kelley’soeuvredoesn’tderiveitsenergyfromasimplecelebrationoftherepressedasmuchasthedynamicof

repressionitself.

Mostofthesurrogatesincludepillowformstohugortogrope,ororificestoexplore.In Priest/Yankee Zulu,thereisonly

anasceticarenaforsolitaryactivity. Party Girl (1998)istheonlyothersurrogatewithoutsomethingtohug.Itisderived

frompostersforthecomedy Party Girl,featuringParkerPosey,and Bordello of Blood,emceedbytheundead

cryptkeeper.Thesculpturalcomponenthangsfromtheceiling,andthisdispositionpermitsthemotorizedconstruction

toturntwoeclipsingelements:adouble-headeddoll-fetishofParker/Cryptkeeperandadiscemblazonedwithanold

pictorialgag.Thegagdescribeshowaftersixdrinkstheoldhagtransformsintoabeautifulprincess.Thisungainly

suspendedmachineisimpossibletocuddle,anditisdifficulttounderstandhowitcouldfunctionasasurrogate:arewe

tosurmisethatitisnotafunctioningsurrogatebutratherarelatedsculpture?ItisalsopossiblethatKelleycreated

Party Girl asasurrogateforthosewhopreferanalooforhard-to-getobjectofdesire.Butthiswouldbepromoting

preciselythedynamicsofunfulfilleddesirethatKelley’smanifestodecriesandhissurrogatesproposetoremedy.Herea

literalreadingofKelley’sprogrambreaksdownintoperverseirony.

Timmy the Tooth (1998)hybridizesachildren’sfilmbythesamenameandthesci-fi/horrorflick Tremors. Tremors is

aboutstrangelybefangedgiantwormsthathuntdownanddevourpeople.Thisstationplaysonanxietyaboutdecayand

fearofthebody’sinsides.Timmyhasbeenremovedfromhisposterandisperchedontopofacrimson-trimmedwhite

tent.Hesportsaredberet,signifierofthingsFrenchandromantic.Theentrancetothetentisthroughared-rimmed

hole.Theholehasbeenmadetobeasperfectlyhole-likeaspossible.

Inside,allwarmandred,plushpillowsandakitschy“Mediterranean”lampprovidetheatmosphereofanoriental

harem.ThesoundtrackplaysTimmysaying“Lookatthesizeofthathole…theholedoesn’twanttorot…let’sfillitwith

somethingelse.”Thechthonicvibrationsofthe Tremors wormsemanatefromaspeakerthathasbeencoveredwitha

posterdetailofaworm’sgapingpiehole,chock-fullofrazor-sharpteeth.The vagina dentata hasbecomeastaple

monsterformoviesaimedatanadolescentmaledemographic.Castrationanxietyisbigboxoffice:theartistH.R.Giger

anddirectorDavidCronenberghavemadefortunesfromskinningthebody,turningitinsideout,dismemberingit,or

penetratingitinthewrongplaces.

Boyswholove Aliens wouldloveTimmy’ssexy/scarycavity.ThereferencetoMarioMerz’sArtePoveraigloosmightdraw

inartloversaswell.Kelleyagaintakestheformofacanonicalartstyleandsubvertsitbyfillingitwithcontentthatit

wasn’tdesignedtohold.Atthesametimeasitmadeadeliberateshowofemployinglowmaterials,ArtePovera’s

historicalmaterialismalsoneglectedtoacknowledgelowculture.Whereitonceappearedstartlingandroughedged,

todayArtePovera’stastefulFranciscanpoeticappearsalmostaristocraticorsacral.Kelley,ofcourse,hasnofearoflow

cultureandhasstatedthatheavoidsthinkingintermsofahigh/lowschemebecauseitsupportsastaticstructure.Heis

insteadinterestedinrepressionandtheactivetensionitcauses.

Academic

KelleyandMillerarereadilyreferredtoasavant-gardeorneo-avant-gardeartists.Tobesure,theirworkisprovocative:

itisdesignedtoprovokeareactionratherthanreproducecomfortablebeliefs.However,ifwewanttoidentifytheirwork

asavant-garde,weneedadefinitionoftheterm.Theonlyreasonablyarticulateddefinitionavailableistheone

formulatedbyPeterBürgerinhis Theory of the Avant-Garde. 22 Bürgerproposesthattheaimoftheclassicavant-garde

wasnothinglessthanthedestructionoftheseparationofartandlife.Early20thcenturyavant-gardeidealisticallyand

seriouslypursuedthisgoal.Workinginsyncoratleastincontextwithanactualrevolution,theRussianproductivists

actuallysucceeded.Theroleofartasanautonomousactivitywaseffectivelyeliminated,andartistsbecame

worker/soldiersfortherevolution—whethertheyhadsecondthoughtsornot.

TheDadaistsandSurrealistsalsocalledforthedestructionofautonomousartbutcouldnotachieveitoutsidethe

contextofatotalrevolution.Ithasbecomeapparentthattodosoisprobablyimpossible,justasithasbecomeapparent

thatlocalizedrevolutionshavelittleornochanceofsucceedingwithinalargerworldthatisstillunchanged.Artistsin

thecapitalistworldhaveinsteadcometorealizethatthemergingofartandlifemaycometothemthroughthe

absorptionofartintothe“entertainmentandinformation”industry.ClementGreenbergforesawthissituationin1939

whenhewrote,“Hereasineveryotherquestiontoday,itbecomesnecessarytoquoteMarxwordforword.Todayweno

longerlooktowardsocialismforanewculture–asinevitablyonewillappear,oncewedohavesocialism.Todaywelook

tosocialism simply forthepreservationofwhateverlivingculturewehaverightnow.” 23

Tobeavant-gardeinBürger’ssensewouldmakenosensetoday.Ifinthe19thcenturytheacademywastheforceof

reaction,todayitisthepreserveoftheprogressive.Contemporaryartistsusuallyidentifiedasavant-gardeareinactual

factpartofanew, critical academy.HereitmightbepertinenttorememberthatbothKelleyandMillerareteachersin

realacademies.Thattheacademyisnolongeridentifiedwiththelegitimationofpowerandthesocialorderisduetothe

factthattherealpoliticsofcapitalismlongagopassedbytheacademyasunnecessaryorobsoleteforitspurposes.

Insolent Dogs Betweenthetwoofthem,KelleyandMillerhaveincurredahostofcolourfuladjectivesandlabelsbywhichwemight

nametheirpositionandpractice.Kelley’sthespiantalentsinparticularhavegeneratedvariousmisfitcharactersthat

makehisanti-hierarchicalintentionsclear.Bycomparison,Miller’sintentionallyflat-footedProtestantaesthetic

economyandlessvisiblepersonahaven’tearnedhimthesamenumberoftags.Yetthelawofassociationallowsusto

tarthemwiththesamebrush,andalongwithseveralotherartiststheyhavebecometherepresentativesof“abjectart.”

ItmightthenappearironictoinvokeaclassicalreferencelikeDiogenesinspeakingofKelleyandMiller,but,following

HalFoster,Ibelieveittobemostappropriateanduseful. 24 Kelleyhimselfhasinvokedtheimageofa“naughtydoggy,”

butIthinkbothKelleyandMillerarefarclosertothesortofinsolentdogthattheGreekshadinmindwhentheycalled

Diogenes“TheDog—aSocratesgonemad.”

Inhis Critique of Cynical Reason,PeterSloterdijkidentifiesDiogenesastheoriginofthe kynical impulse. 25 Thishe

opposestocontemporarycynicism:

Cynicism is enlightened false consciousness. It is that modernized unhappy consciousness, on which enlightenment has laboured both successfully and in vain. It has learned its lessons in enlightenment, but it has not, and probably was not able to, put them into practice. Well-off and miserable at the same time, this consciousness no longer feels affected by any critique of ideology; its falseness is already reflexively buffered. 26

Incontrast,kynicismisa“lostcheekiness”thatSloterdijkspendshalfhisbookarticulatingandtracingthroughhistory.

Kynicism’senemyistheidealismthatsupportshierarchicalorderandpower:

Ancient kynicism begins the process of “naked arguments” from the opposition, carried by the power that comes from below. The kynic farts, shits, pisses, and masturbates on the street, before the eyes of the Athenian market. He shows contempt for fame, ridicules the architecture, refuses respect, parodies the stories of gods and heroes, eats raw meat and vegetables, lies in the sun, fools around with the whores and says to Alexander the Great that he should get out of his sun. 27

SloterdijkassertsthatDiogenes’basetheatricsaredirectedagainstSocrates’dialectic.Diogenescannotenterintoa

dialoguewithSocratesbecauseconversationitself“presupposessomethinglikeanidealistagreement.” 28

TheidealisticrhetoricoftraditionalpoliticalideologiesislikewiseuselesstoKelleyandMiller,notbecauseitdoesn’t

containanytruth,butbecauseofhowitissaid.Todaywearewellawarethatafewgoodjokesonalate-nighttalkshow

candomoretohurtapoliticalcandidate’sprospectsthanalargedemonstrationororganizedpoliticalcampaign.

Likewise,apopularsongcanaffectpublicconsciousnessmorepowerfullythanamasterpieceofliteratureorphilosophy.

Suchpopularmediaareoutofreachforartists,andthecompromisesinvolvedinaccessingthemarenotworthwhile.The

expressionsofKelleyandMillercertainlyhavepoliticalcontent,butthiscontentisfornowbestexpressedinthe

remarkable,cheeky,hybridformstheyhavedeveloped.

WhileKelleyinvokestherhetoricofrevolutioninhispseudo-activistposter,heonlyreassertstheobsolescenceofthat

typeofrhetoric.Fromacertain,idealisticpoliticalposition,artcanbeseenasplacation,adistractingboneor

consolationprizetosseddownfromabove.Ifthisisso,thenKelleyandMillerhavedecidednottodespairbuttomake

themostofthesituation.AsKelleyhasstated,

It’s always a bit embarrassing to be a professional artist and to do sort of confronta- tional work and to know you’re basically like a neutered doggy. Everything you do is fine and dandy. But at the same time, because I believe art is a symbolic act, it still has an effect on an ideological level. And that’s why I’m not totally depressed about art production. In fact, I think it’s important that it operates in the intellectual sphere. It isn’t just about brute force and slitting each other’s throat. That’s what politics are. 29

Footnotes

1. Guy Davenport, Herakleitos and Diogenes, Translated from the Greek by Guy Davenport (San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1976), p. 56.

2. Georges Bataille, “The Lugubrious Game,” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927–1939, ed. and trans. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 27.

3. Georges Bataille, “The ‘Old Mole’ and the Prefix Sur in the Words Surhomme [Superman] and Surrealism,” ibid., p. 32.

4. Dawn Ades, Dada and Surrealism Reviewed (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978), p. 229.

5. John Miller, “The Fig Leaf Was Brown,” Economies Parallèles/ Parallel Economies (Grenoble: Le Magasin–Centre d’Art Contemporain, 1999), p. 9.

6. Ibid., p. 10.

7. Ibid., p. 10.

8. Ibid., p. 12.

9. Walter Benjamin, cited in Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), p. 101.

10. The fashion business’s attempt to appropriate the anti-fashion of street “Grunge” in the early 1990s backfired terribly or wonderfully. Designers recuperated from their miscalculation with a “return to glamour.”

11. Ibid., p. 101.

12. Ibid., p. 50.

13. See Marcel Mauss, The Gift (New York: Norton Library, 1967).

14. Mike Kelley, A Stopgap Measure (poster), (Santa Monica: Patrick Painter Inc., 1999).

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Mike Kelley, “Some Aesthetic High Points,” in Mike

Kelley (New York: Art Resources Transfer, 1992), p.

54.

22. See Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

23. Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Partisan Review, Vol. 6, No. 5 (New York, 1939).

24. See Hal Foster, The Return of the Real (Cambridge:

MIT Press, 1996).

25. See Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

26. Ibid., p. 5.

27. Ibid., p. 103.

28. Ibid., p. 104.

29. Mike Kelley and Thomas Kellein, A Conversation (Stuttgart: Cantz Verlag, 1994), p. 39.

My gratitude to Peter Culley for being available and generous with his immense store of useful knowledge.