Tuesday, 18 December 2012
Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley - Family Tyranny / Cultural Soup (1987)
Michael "Mike" Kelley (October 27, 1954 – January 31, 2012) was an American artist. His work involved found objects, textile banners, drawings, assemblage, collage, performance and video. He often worked collaboratively and had produced projects with the artist Paul McCarthy.
Writes Kelley: "Paul McCarthy is an artist familiar in the performance art world who is, finally, starting to become more visible in the general art world. I have been a fan of his work for years. I suppose you could say that Paul is an Automatist but the work is grounded not in Jungian Archetypes but rather in everyday social conventions. His version of the primal is the one found in store-bought Halloween masks and embodied in plastic dolls. This tape, Family Tyranny and another one, Cultural Soup, come from one taping session. In a public access television studio, Paul built a rough set approximating the type seen in television situation comedies. He called me in to help him out. When I asked what I was supposed to do he said, 'I'm the father, and you're the son.' That was it. When I arrived at the studio the cameras were turned on and, I would guess, at least six hours of tape was shot. The two tapes that came out of the taping are just short sections of this mass of material."
Both artists are interested in repressive family structures, so it is perhaps no surprise that their first collaboration should take up the theme of the family's dirty secrets. In 1987, when McCarthy asked Kelley to perform in a video, he offered only the instructions I am the father, you are the son. After all, training for society starts in the family and the subjection to authority begins with the relation of son to father. Tellingly entitled Family Tyranny: Modeling and Molding, the videotape opens with the text The father begat the son. The son begat the father. But this is not only a keyhole peek into the household where the reproduction of authority is replayed in family abuse. The video is modeled on a typical 1950s television fix-it, hobby show. In a wood-paneled television set/basement workshop, the father prepares a white concoction made out of processed foodstuffs. Using a makeshift styrofoam ball on a stick as a mock boy's head, he shows how to force the liquid through a funnel down the throat of the child, saying My daddy made me do this. You can do this to your son, too.
The architectural set here is both a hidden site of discipline and a surveillance device. As the latter, the set and the camera become one - a means through which society peers into the family, most effectively through the apparatus of television which instructs individuals as to society's dominant values. What was enacted there by Kelley and McCarthy became a prototype for their subsequent collaborations.
Kelley and McCarthy's collaborative interests extended to society's conditioning - through its institutions and cultural representations - of the individual and repression of his or her sexual instincts. In their installations and videotapes, architecture is used as both a model of these social formations and as a structural framework that incorporates the artists' analyses of contradictory cultural phenomena.