Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #1 (A Domestic Scene)
2000. Video (black and white, sound), 29:44 min.
Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #1 (A Domestic Scene)—a black-and-white video by artist, critic, and musician Mike Kelley—opens with a still image of a photograph. Found in a high school yearbook, it shows two young men standing in a shabby room, in a scene from a high school play. Based on this photograph, Kelley created and directed the mini-drama that unfolds in A Domestic Scene. This video is part of a larger work, in which he aimed to create one video for every day of the year, each based on a photograph from a yearbook, a small town newspaper, or other everyday sources. The artist once described his working process: “So, all I have is this image, and then I have to write a whole scenario for it, like a play, and then do the music and everything. Each one is just based on the look of the photograph that tells me what style it has to be done in.”1
In A Domestic Scene, Kelley explores issues of identity, and how it is shaped by factors like our memories or our repression of them; psychological trauma; and the norms and expectations of our families and communities. The video is centered upon the tumultuous romantic relationship between two men, which plays out within the cramped space of the room they share. One is neatly dressed, comfortable with himself and his sexuality. The other is anxious, disheveled, and desperately resistant to his desire for men and the situation in which he finds himself. “Be what you are. Stop pretending you are something else. Then you will calm down,” says the collected man to his panicked lover.2 This advice proves impossible for the disheveled man to follow. The drama revolves around his struggle with himself, and the agony that results when someone’s true identity is denied.
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An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.
A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.
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A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.
A distinctive or characteristic manner of expression.
Cultural activities, ideas, or products that reflect or target the tastes of the general population of any society.
1. A detailed three-dimensional representation, usually built to scale, of another, often larger, object. In architecture, a three-dimensional representation of a concept or design for a building; 2. A person who poses for an artist.
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Making Art from Memory—and Forgetting
In 1995, Kelley completed a sculpture titled Educational Complex. Made of all-white materials, it is a model of the artist’s childhood home and every school he had ever attended, combined into a multipart structure. Though not a true-to-life replica—the artist omitted certain details of buildings he remembered less clearly—the sculpture is a comment on the ways in which places and spaces, and our recollection of them, shape our experiences. A Domestic Scene and the other videos in Kelley’s larger project were inspired by this piece. Through them, he aimed to create narratives that would jog his memories and fill in its gaps.
Social Gatherings As Performative Structures
Many of Kelley’s videos resemble those taken at a high school pep rally or small town parade. He sees these sorts of occasions as forms of ritual or performance. Through his work, he sought to look deeply into such everyday events to show how they reflect the values and social structures of American society. As he explained: “I’m making all these videos based on very common American performance types…school plays, children’s performances, Halloween, dress-up day at work—things like that.…So, I’m trying to play with popular or folk forms and reveal their structures—their performative structures.”3
On “Ripping Apart” Popular Culture
Many viewers and critics have assumed that because Kelley draws inspiration from American popular culture, his work is a celebration of it. In fact, the opposite is true: “Popular culture is really invisible,” he once said. “People are really oblivious to it. But that’s the culture I live in, and that’s the culture people speak. My interest in popular forms wasn’t to glorify them, because I really dislike popular culture in most cases. All you can do now, really, is…work with this dominant culture, I think, and flay it. You know, rip it apart, re-configure it.”4