Ménage à Trois at the Fork in the Road

by Pasadena Adjacent

In the late evening after the ‘craft’ lab closes down, I skip the freeway and return home on the road less traveled: Foothill Blvd. And every time I pass a certain ‘fork in the road’ with Hiromi Takizawa’s neon “Bird Houses” I think of Mike Kelley. He was a defining force for Los Angeles artist of my generation – one forged on TV and barbed cynicism. Our solid rock of irony would not be weakened. That is, until it was weakened. ‘Conceptual’ fissures began to crack Mike’s stone. Placed there by folks like David Foster Wallace – who came through town to kick the tires. And I’m grateful for that too. And though I think you can justify anything you have a stake in, including failure, I won’t try here. I have my regrets. I was ‘too’ late – here and there, now and then.

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Back in the late 70’s Mike, our bright and shining star, won international attention when his CalArts graduate exhibition landed him a coveted write up in Art Forum. Unheard of. His subject? bird houses.

Bomb Magazine 1991

MK When I first started working with crafts they were invisible to me also. The first piece I did with stuffed animals, for example, wasn’t even about stuffed animals but was about gifts. That was because the primary discussion in the art world at that time had to do with commodification. There were these Utopian ideas being bandied about, “Well, we can make an art object that can’t be commodified.” What’s that? That’s a gift. If I give you this art-thing, it’s going to escape the evils of capitalism. Well, of course that’s ridiculous, because if you give this thing to junior he owes you something. It might not be money, but he owes you something. The most terrible thing is that he doesn’t know what he owes you because there’s no price on the thing. Basically, gift giving is like indentured slavery or something. There’s no price, so you don’t know how much you owe. The commodity is the emotion. What’s being bought and sold is emotion. I did a piece called More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid. I said if each one of these toys took 600 hours to make then that’s 600 hours of love; and if I gave this to you, you owe me 600 hours of love; and that’s a lot. And if you can’t pay it back right away it keeps accumulating…

If you read the article I’ve linked (then read it again and again) until you discover how articulate, well read… dare I say brilliant? Mike was in his arguments; his intentions.

And here I am. Two years after Mike’s suicide; bringing up the rear of this little me’nage a’ trios. A return home from irony to earnestness. You see, I’m hauling a birdhouse too. It’s made from clay and riding shot gun.

Tweet that.

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