Art Papers  

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

Letter From
the Guest Editor:
Erin Dziedzic

Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead:
a re-envisioning of space in public sculpture

Text / Rana Edgar

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

Mike Kelley, Mobile Homestead, 2010–ongoing, mixed media, 13 1/2 x 44 1/2 x 8 feet (courtesy of Kelley Studio and MOCAD, Detroit)

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.

Mike Kelley, Mobile Homestead parked in front of the original Kelley home on Palmer Road, Westland, Michigan, 2010 (photo: Corine Vermuelen; courtesy of MOCAD)

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.

top: Mike Kelley, video still from Mobile Homestead: Going East on Michigan Avenue from Westland to Downtown Detroit, 2010–2011; bottom: Mike Kelley, video still from Mobile Homestead: Going West on Michigan Avenue from Downtown Detroit to Westland, 2010-2011, three videos running time approx. 3.5 hours total

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.

Digital rendering of Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Michigan: Mobile unit with ground level plan (images courtesy of Kelley Studio/Escher GuneWardena Architecture)

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.

This monumental installation introduces a new public space specific to Detroit, and significant to Kelley's practice. Ultimately, it prompts a reinvestigation of Kelley's oeuvre and may provide alternative perspectives on the otherwise private discourse that his work conjures.

Mike Kelley, Mobile Homestead in front of the abandoned Detroit Central Train Station, 2010 (photo: Corine Vermuelen; courtesy of MOCAD, Detroit)

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.

1. Mobile Homestead was commissioned by Artangel and spearheaded by James Lingwood, in association with MOCAD, LUMA Foundation, and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts with the support of the Artangel International Circle. Mobile Homestead is the first project produced by Artangel in the United States. The project was overseen by Kelley's studio and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. The public project opened at MOCAD on Saturday, May 11, 2013.
2. Kelley's Mobile Homestead documentary was included in the 2012 Whitney Biennial. The documentary is to be shown at MOCAD May 11–July 31, 2013.
3. Kelley addressed his wish for the community gallery in his essay "Mobile Homestead." Kelley envisioned the space to operate independently, not as an extension of MOCAD galleries, and to function as a place where the community would dictate and facilitate the activities.
4. Kelley's original intentions were to use this space as a personal studio and occasionally allow other artists and groups to use the private area for secret projects.
5. Mary Clare Stevens (executive director of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts), in discussion with the author, March 27, 2013.
6. This project was realized with support and contributions from Artangel.
7. Marsha Miro (president of MOCAD board of directors), in discussion with the author, March 27, 2013.
8. Mike Kelley, "Mobile Homestead," 2011,
9. Henry Ford's Greenfield Village is a living museum located in Dearborn, Michigan, consisting of 83 historical homes and structures that housed important figures from American history. In his 2011 essay "Mobile Homestead," Kelley described his structure as having a "parasitic relationship with Henry Ford's collection."
10. The first artists to have access to the underground level will be Jim Shaw and Cary Loren, friends and former Destroy All Monsters bandmates of Kelley's. Shaw, Loren, Kelley, and Niagara formed the proto-punk band in Michigan in 1973. Shaw recently had his first retrospective at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (BALTIC).

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