Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mike Kelley | Reconstructed History

Mike Kelley
Reconstructed History
Cologne, Germany:  Galerie Gisela Capitain, 1990
136 pp., 32 x 24 cm., hardcover
Edition of 250 signed and numbered copies

Designed to resemble an embossed high school yearbook (with a removable mylar dust jacket containing adolescent doodles), Reconstructed History presents a series of iconic American photographs, defaced with crude drawings and marginalia.

The collection of heroic idealized images of a shared American heritage are culled from scholastic textbooks, all altered with puerile scrawlings, mostly sexual and scatological.

"Here we have a collection of grotesqueries, defacements of some of the most cherished images of our American past," Kelley writes in the introduction, on faux parchment paper, emulating a colonial design. "Who could be responsible for such defilements? What could be the purpose of tarnishing the heroic figures and events we hold so dear?"

Historical figures are seen sporting elongated noses and erections. The Statue of Liberty appears twice: first with added breasts, pubic hair and 'stink lines' emanating from the armpit of her raised torch arm, and later as a phallus with the addition of crudely drawn testicles and ejaculate. The Washington Monument and Empire State Building suffer similar fates.

A gold rush prospector defecates in a stream while panning for gold. The Declaration of Independence is covered in vomit. Speech bubbles convey sentiments such as "Your horse is hung heavier", "Sniff my finger" and "Eat Shit Dad".

 Kelley notes that this is not the work of "candidates for a revolutionary youth army or satanic murder cult", but rather grade school students. But - in addition to some recurring motifs - the handwriting appears remarkably consistent throughout. 

Unlike the bawdy cartoons, Kelley’s essay employs the jargon and tone of psychoanalysis. He asserts that the lewd doodles go beyond schoolyard mischief:

“Childish resentment is the cause of the defacements presented here. The inability to accept their lower position in the order of things provokes these ‘artists’ to drag back to the surface garbage long buried–to sully, vandalize, and render inoperable our pictures of health. Not that such a tactic is always bad.” 

The rare title (with an estimated value of between five and six thousand dollars) is available in the Joan Flasch Artists' Books collection, here. A video documenting the book can be seen on Vimeo, here.

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