Mike Kelley Babbles, Bullshits, and Speaks in Tongues

Mike Kelley is a multi-media artist, prankster, and spinner of yarns. His work has been exhibited just about everywhere, including solo shows at the Whitney and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Even so, it may be most recognizable from the covers of several Sonic Youth albums. Despite an ongoing interest in modes of play, Kelley means business when he pokes and prods the human psyche.


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


mike kelley: The traditional Pentecostal preacher starts off talking about something that's very common, and then he starts slowly to link it to biblical scripture, and it slowly becomes more and more allegorical... and then he starts speaking rhythmically, and then by the end, not only he, but everybody, they're all speaking in tongues, and they're in this frenzy. But how'd they get there? The guy didn't just walk out and start speaking in tongues ... he had to get them to that place - by going through this slow progression that disoriented people in a way they didn't even notice. And that's how it's done - you have to think about it programmatically. If you walk out and start babbling, people aren't interested. But you can get people to babble along too, if you approach it in the correct manner.

conduit: Is that the goal, to get people to babble with you?

kelley: Yes, that's the goal. To play games with perception. As an artist, that's what you do. You're a culture producer and you look at how culture is produced. Art is a public form and it's about a social experience. And you try to engage people in a dialogue about that shared experience. But the way to do that is to approach people with things that they're familiar with, things from their daily life: rock music, pop culture, stuff like that.