“A Voyage of Growth and Discovery” is a collaborative video, sculpture, and sound installation by Mike Kelley and Michael Smith. The exhibition includes a six-channel video featuring Michael Smith’s character Baby IKKI filmed at a festival in the Black Rock desert in 2008. Related sculptures fill the 15,500 square foot space surrounding a 30-foot tall junk sculpture of Baby IKKI.
Baby IKKI is the character that Michael Smith has been performing for over thirty years and on which “A Voyage of Growth and Discovery” centers. Pre-lingual and of ambiguous age, Baby IKKI is both comedic and melancholy. The six-channel video follows the existential journey of the Baby over several days at a festival of “radical self-expression” held in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada. The Baby, alone in his journey despite being surrounded by thousands of revelers, negotiates the rave-like festival environment while also exploring the primal natural elements of fire, water, earth, and wind. Michael Smith offers a masterful tragicomic performance that exhibits extreme physical endurance. The two-and-a-half hour multi-channel video, culled from hours of raw footage, is the result of an intensive editing process between Mike Kelley and Michael Smith. The video’s six-part narrative structure mirrors that of the event: four days and nights of festival preceded by an introductory travel section and followed by a post-festival day. In the introductory section Baby IKKI is shown “on the road” in his mobile home, where he is bombarded and inculcated with televisual material that presage his experiences in the desert. En route, the Baby busies himself with candies, cushions, and matches, while watching scenes from B-movies and cartoons replete with pyrotechnics and themes of infantilism. The festival itself is a carnivalesque event where IKKI is subsumed in raves, faced with erotic encounters, and surrounded by multitudes of costumed party-goers. The culmination of the event is the massive public “burn,” after which the Baby is left alone to ponder his “voyage.”
The installation reflects the fantasy-oriented environment of the festival, which is both grand and folksy—an odd mixture of fairground, playground, hippie commune, and the futuristic architectural aesthetics of R. Buckminster Fuller. Resembling an abandoned festival site of the post-“new age” era, the structure circles a 30-foot tall junk sculpture representing Baby IKKI himself. Surrounded by video projection screens, the viewer is invited into this world of regression and tactile experience—to share in Baby IKKI’s journey.
A Voyage of Growth and Discovery is exhibited in the same studio space where it was first conceived and developed — Mike Kelley’s space in Eagle Rock at the Farley Building. By opening the studio to the public, West of Rome calls into question the traditional division between the artist’s public and private sphere: the studio, which is normally reserved as a secluded, private space, is now turned inside out as it becomes the official site of public presentation.
Bringing the visitors to the Farley Building serves as yet another occasion for West of Rome to highlight a part of the city outside the art-world’s usual path, but highly interesting both for its history and its present. Ethnic diversity and a large population of creative professionals have long characterized the neighborhood of Eagle Rock, which only in recent years has seen a dramatic gentrification. Tucked in the hills of North-East Los Angeles, the Farley Building once served as a self-storage facility and is a typical construction of the local landscape.
A Voyage of Growth and Discovery is a collaborative project by Mike Kelley and Michael Smith. It was curated by Emi Fontana, and co-produced by West of Rome and the SculptureCenter (Long Island City, NY), where it premiered in Fall 2009.