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Mike Kelley in "Memory"

In a body of work that includes sculptures, performance, and installations, Mike Kelley explored contemporary culture’s obsession with repressed trauma. Many of Kelley’s projects drew on his own memory. “Educational Complex,” he said, “is a model of every school I ever went to plus the home I grew up in, with all the parts I can’t remember left blank.”

That project led Kelly to create a performance/video called Day is Done, which was originally conceived to consist of 365 tapes, one for every day of the year. In scenes that he wrote, directed, and scored, Kelley drew on yearbooks to re-stage high school rituals with surreal elements, such as donkeys, devils, and eerie music in a student-body assembly.

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Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Mike Kelley

Mike Kelley’s work ranges from highly symbolic and ritualistic performance pieces to arrangements of stuffed-animal sculptures, to wall-size drawings, to multi-room installations that restage institutional environments (schools, offices, zoos), to extended collaborations. His work questions the legitimacy of “normative” values and systems of authority, and attacks the sanctity of cultural attitudes toward family, religion, sexuality, art history, and education. He also comments on and undermines the legitimacy of the concept of victim or trauma culture, which posits that almost all behavior results from some form of repressed abuse. Kelley’s aesthetic mines the rich and often overlooked history of vernacular art in America, and his practice borrows heavily from the confrontational, politically conscious, “by all means necessary” attitude of punk music.

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Mike Kelley

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Mike Kelley

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Language and Psychology

Artist Mike Kelley discusses psychological theories, beauty, and the sublime.