Three plywood boxes — each about the length of a coffin — sit atop wooden sawhorses, constructed simply and directly, the wood left unfinished or adorned. They look generic; like shipping crates for telescopes, homemade pummel horses — or better — low rent Donald Judd’s. A dig against Minimalism and Modernism’s consequence on societal aesthetics, where everything becomes bland geometry by accident. One end of each box excretes an electrical cord, snaking down to speakers which play a soundtrack of white noise. On the other end, a lens provides a window to the interior of the boxes. Displayed with the lens side forming a center, they create a performative space, demanding one viewer at a time to crouch down and peer through it. The objects in the installation create a sprawling mess shattering space, as power cords trail out towards the walls, between legs and in plain view, without apology.

Mike Kelley Channel #1, #2, #3 (1994) Exhibited at Tate Modern, photo taken from the internet

Mike Kelley Channel #1, #2, #3, 1994 Exhibited at Tate Modern, photo taken from the internet

 

Looking through the peepholes one discovers slender tunnels — colons made of tinfoil illuminated by red, blue and yellow lights. The experience is immediately underwhelming. All components are quickly transparent; as the emptiness from viewing the first interior gives way to boredom by the third. An acute awareness of time produced from the bodily act of viewing the work hurries one away. Channel #1, #2, #3 is undeniably bodily throughout, down to the material manipulation by Kelley. Crinkling and wringing the tin foil, tinkering, like a guy in his garage on a Saturday, searching for some truth within the solace of a project.

 

Mike Kelley Channel #1, #2, #3 (1994) Exhibited at Tate Modern, photo taken from the internet

Mike Kelley Channel #1, #2, #3, 1994 (lens detail) Exhibited at Tate Modern, photo taken from the internet

It is within bowing to peer into a peep show of glowing colons that something unexpectedly humbling can happen. Within three choices of primary color tunnels of light, one is able to be in the private audience of God: what only near death victims and alien abductees experience through trauma is offered up pain free. From the center of the installation begins the infinite within the finite, but like Being John Malkovich. (Rather, BJM takes its cue from Channel # 1, #2, #3.) One can approach these simple containers with expectations of beauty inside them, and find an honesty that deflates not just this experience, but perhaps the entirety of experience. That existence is merely a series of beautifully mundane moments possessing the amount of excitement that a prize from a novelty toy vending machine can generate. Is it blissful disappointment? Some abject loss tied to our subconscious? Maybe something this immediately disappointing can also be so gratifying.

Mike Kelley, Channel #1, #2, #3 (looking through the lens) iPhone photo of page 77 of Mike Kelley 1985 - 1996

Mike Kelley, Channel #1, #2, #3 (looking through the lens) iPhone photo of page 77 of Mike Kelley 1985 – 1996 catalog. Exhibition and catalog produced by the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, 1997

 

 

The Armchair Critic is an attempt to consider works of art through their representation in photographs, while replacing what is lost in an imagined, portable experience. 

Thomas Friel

Tom Friel is an artist and writer currently based outside of Detroit. He works within the cracks of performance, video, sculpture, sound and drawing, and has shown his work both nationally and internationally.