Los Angeles

Mike Kelley

Foundation For Arts ReSources

Allegorical syllogisms are the stuff of Mike Kelley’s performances, and a pretense to logic underlies everything he does. Kelley presented three of his latest skits in a recent performance, while a show about poltergeists he had made collaboratively with David Askevold was on view. The simplest of the three pieces, My Space, showed Kelley at his maniacal, cogent best. In it he inveighs against plants since “if my behavior can affect plants/plants can influence my behavior.” The diatribe is punctuated by Kelley’s wild beating of a drum as he circles an unsuspecting succulent. Even as he insists his behavior has nothing to do with the plant Kelley orients all his movements toward it, pointing and grimacing. Conceding the plant has its area of influence and he has his, he determines that he must stay out of the plant’s area—“that zone which is head distance around the plant,” as “that’s the area in which I am most likely to be affected by the plant/ where my mind is most vulnerable.” Marking the radius of his arms at several points around the plant while lying with his head against it, he unwittingly draws a schematized flower: another dreaded plant! He insists, “My space isn’t like a flower/it’s mine/I a rose/no, I a man.” And so forth. In less than 10 minutes he kills two hip fixations with one stone, our fin-de-siècle affair with indoor greenery and the ubiquitous demand for all manner of “space.”

Unlike most of Kelley’s work to date My Space is blatantly topical. It resembles his other pieces, in that delivered by anyone else the script would be a baffling string of non sequiturs. Kelley’s powers of incantation are such that in his hands the sum of his nonsensical language is credible. His slow, insistently tautological stage manner is convincing.

In both of the other pieces, The Big Tent and The Monitor and the Merrimac, Kelley’s penchant for allegory is given free rein. The Big Tent postulates that “(1) small activity can lead to big thoughts; (2) a little thing can build up into a big thing;(3) a tiny thought can become the only thought,” and from those assertions proceeds as a demonstration of their collective verity. Along the way Kelley uses an array of props he has made, most of them toylike. His activities can, correspondingly, be seen as child’s play. But very shortly it becomes clear that his is a very prescient childishness.

Richard Armstrong