more from the May/June 2013 issue:
Because the Night:
Curating One-Off Nocturnal Events
by Helena Reckitt
Palace of Propositions:
Beyond the boundaries of space and time: Massimiliano Gioni's dual-venue exhibition The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale
by Belinda Grace Gardner
the Guest Editor:
Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead:
Mike Kelley's highly anticipated first permanent public sculpture and final project, Mobile Homestead, opened in May 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).1 Mobile Homestead is a full-scale replica of the 1950s ranchstyle home in Westland, Michigan, a metro Detroit suburb, where Kelley was raised. The lot neighboring MOCAD is the permanent home of the installation, which will function as both a public and private space. The project exists in multiple segments; it consists of a mobile home that imitates the façade of Kelley's childhood home and a permanent structure, built on a lot next to the museum, that replicates the floor plan of Kelley's childhood home. Each segment of the project will serve a range of functions. The mobile section of the project will travel within the city and outlying areas of Detroit, providing a transportable space where numerous social services will be offered. A documentary video that Kelley made in the fall of 2010 accompanies the public sculpture and includes footage of the journey taken by the traveling portion of Mobile Homestead—from MOCAD's location in downtown Detroit, along Michigan Avenue to the site of Kelley's childhood home, and back to the museum, a pilgrimage of approximately 40 miles round-trip, passing through disparate areas of urban renewal and decay on its way to the blue-collar suburbs of Detroit.2 When it is not mobile, this segment of the project will remain stationary at MOCAD. The permanent portion of the project houses a community gallery on the main floor, an area that will primarily function as a space for artistic and cultural programming and reflects the interests of the greater Detroit community.3 The community gallery sits directly above an ambiguous maze of permanent underground rooms that will remain closed to the public, functioning primarily as an enigmatic space available, on occasion, to artists as a site to realize concealed endeavors.4 As envisioned by Kelley, Mobile Homestead will provide a place for Detroit community members and artists to push the boundaries of contemporary art practice and address a broad range of social and political issues. Mary Clare Stevens, executive director of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, notes that the project will function as a living artwork and is enthusiastic about the potential outcomes to be realized in the space.5
The Mobile Homestead project has evolved quite drastically in terms of its spatial concept and context since its inception, as Kelley had initially envisioned it as a personal rather than a public project.His earliest concept required the purchase of the actual home where he grew up, but circumstances beyond his control did not allow this acquisition. In 2005 Kelley was approached by London-based arts organization Artangel,6 and from that point the work took a new turn in its journey by transforming into a public project. Once the work had been commissioned, MOCAD came on board to assist in bringing the project to the city of Detroit. Marsha Miro, acting director of MOCAD at the time, regards the project as a means for the community to become involved in a work of art and as a way for an artwork to become part of a community.7 It is intriguing that Kelley became so engaged with the Mobile Homestead project, as he had expressed an unyielding opinion that public works were unsatisfactory, a view he made clear in his essay on Mobile Homestead, stating, "Public art is a pleasure that is forced upon a public that, in most cases, finds no pleasure in it."8 Regardless of Kelley's initial misgivings about the potential success of the work, a significant accomplishment of Mobile Homestead is that it buttresses a new social realm in Kelley's often privatized oeuvre.
Mobile Homestead represents both an important transition and fulfilling culmination of Kelley's work, which for more than 35 years traversed drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, video, and performance. His range of media was varied, yet the implications of Kelley's personal experiences with coming of age in a workingclass family in Detroit resonate deeply and darkly throughout his portfolio. Works such as the architectural model Educational Complex (1995) and the film drama Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #1 (Domestic Scene) (2000), included in Kelley's retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, are prime examples of his investigations into chilhood memories and issues of identity. The exhibition encapsulates Kelley's visual explorations with issues of family, class struggle, and the inner workings of the psyche, which seem to culminate in Mobile Homestead, and, like much of his work, challenges viewers to look beyond the popular culture paraphernalia presented and to put aside the feelings of sentimentality typically associated with the innocence of youth, to consider the effects of repression, suffering, and loss that are intimately tied to childhood and adolescence. Kelley's works resonate universally with one's own secret inner childhood dreams, nightmares, and desires by presenting the familiar in unexpected ways and by articulating the hauntingly veiled visual cues of suppressed memories.
Although Kelley never intended for Mobile Homestead to act in any way as a shrine to his upbringing, family, or life, nor to have a resonating sentiment attached to it, one almost can't avoid experiencing feelings of nostalgia upon viewing this work. Perhaps Mobile Homestead would yield different reactions if the fact were not offered as public knowledge that it re-creates the facade and floor plan of Kelley's childhood home. This knowledge forces us, however, to investigate the work through a set of preconceived notions of what home means to us and ultimately to Kelley, as the specificity of the decision to replicate this particular home suggests a direct correlation between his life and work. Mobile Homestead oscillates between familiarity and function to re-envision a site of public and private purpose. Unlike homes featured in living history museums—particularly Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford, a metro Detroit attraction9— we are not given a view of what life was like for Kelley through display of objects or historical context. Instead we are presented with empty rooms that imitate the footprint of the Kelley home, and while not meant to function as a homage to the artist, in a unique way the artwork does.
Mobile Homestead contributes significantly to discussions in contemporary art that examine
the roles, relationships, and proximity of public art to notions of public and private space. In most
instances public sculptures are located on the grounds of a museum or other highly trafficked
areas in city centers and function as accessible institutional or civic extensions of these spaces.
This is not the case with Mobile Homestead. Instead visitors are seeing only part of the larger
whole—below the main gallery is a subterranean, multileveled space where select artists
will work on projects in secret.10 This element of mystery is very much in the spirit of Walter De
Maria's The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977), where viewer's only see the circular top of a brass rod
that lies flush with the earth, and although the work implies that a full kilometer length of the
rod continues straight down into the earth, we can't be certain unless we try to dig it up. This
element of the unknown perpetuates a mystique similar to Kelley's inclusion of unsettling and
unknown domains below the ground in Mobile Homestead. Kelley's secret space reveals a sense
of the uncanny in that this work invigorates the disparate concepts of a private sphere concealed
within a public site. The labyrinth hidden deep below the earth metaphorically takes on the role
of the inner psyche; it is an underground area containing various chamberlike structures
carved out solely for the purpose of realizing the inner mind's workings and hidden desires. These
quarters below the surface may in time, like a basement, contain the remnants of memories
and materials stored or left behind by those who once inhabited them. By carefully planning and
executing the space himself, Kelley inserted his own psychology, as in many of his works, at the
core of this public sculpture.
Rana Edgar holds an MA in art history from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah,
Georgia, and a BFA in photography from College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan.
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