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Lot 57: Nativity Play
Post War And Contemporary Art Evening Sale
May 13, 2008
New York, NY, USA
Mike Kelley (b. 1954)
Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #28 (Nativity Play) chromogenic print and black and white Piezo print on rag paper
overall: 33 x 73 1/3 in. (83.8 x 186.2 cm.)
Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #28 (Nativity Play): 6:02 minutes; Nativity Electronique: 9:14 minutes
videos, screens and constructed stage set
overall: 144 x 180 x 272 in. (365.8 x 457.2 x 690.9 cm.)
Executed in 2004-2005.
"I want to create a grand public ritual, designed specifically for, and mimicking, 'victim culture,' yet unrepressed and ridiculous in nature."
Constantly exploring the underbelly of the American childhood experience, suburban living and religion, Mike Kelley is an artist both transfixed and appalled by the everyday rituals that dominate our lives. The present installation was one project in the artist's series from Day Is Done, an exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in 2005 consisting of multiple sets and videos projected onto a variety of screens. Taking cues from vaudeville and black-box and experimental theater, Kelley incorporates film props and costumes, photography and music to create installation islands divided into a projected 365 "scenes." His interest lies in commonly socially accepted rituals of deviance that elapses after school and after business hours, which he explores through everyday American rituals such as Halloween, school plays, pageants and square dances.
Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction videos and set stages recreate photographs of extracurricular activities the artist found in high school yearbooks. Kelley does not differentiate between his own memories and the narrative of mass media. He intertwines personal recollections of his education with popular films, cartoons, literature and mass-cultural experiences. His constructive narratives are purposefully ambiguous-removed from the context of the yearbook they would net necessarily be recognized as school related activities.
Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction # 28 (Nativity Play) references the child's role in ceremonial and religious spectacles in the church and in school. The scene is based on a photograph of two boys and one girl dressed up as angels, standing in front of a woodland background with a flock of sheep. The running video consists of three sections: the little girl telling the biblical story of Christ's birth in a painfully slow performance, a short montage sequence introducing the characters and the set pieces and the little girl performing a sort of choreographed dance to an electronic music score based on Sunbirds, the children's version of the song Owls of Night scored by Kelley scores to evoke the dark pagan roots of Christmas.
The Nativity Play sculpture is constructed from set pieces and props. Kelley states: "I have always been fascinated with film props; they usually have no life outside film production and were never designed to be seen in personthe objects in Day Is Done show were designed to be seen on video-close up-and thus were built in a more careful manner" (Mike Kelley as quoted in Day Is Done, New York, 2005, p. 464). The present scene consists of a wooden-plank stage backed by a woodland scenic painting. Upon the stage sits a cradle holding a "tar baby" (a replacement for the baby Jesus) and a patch of sculpted snow.
"Psychically there's no difference between fiction and memory-they become confused. In my case, things that I experience through film or literature become completely confused with real experience. So sometimes I don't know whether such a thing happened or didn't happen... (Mike Kelley as quoted in Day Is Done, New York, 2005, p. 472).
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Artist or Maker: Mike Kelley (b. 1954)
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Mike Kelley: Day is Done, November-December 2005, pp.400-412 (illustrated in color).