Tag Archives: Mike Kelley

Heidi

Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone, (1992) by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy

May 21, 2012 – Rewrite

I consider Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone (1992). The work is a 62:40 minute video1 that retells the two-part children’s story Heidi’s Years of Learning and Travel and Heidi Makes Use of What She Has Learned written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri. The story’s English translation is most often published as one volume known simply as Heidi. About the project itself Mike Kelley said, “We chose to work with the novel Heidi because it offered many opportunities to work with doublings (sic) and polarities which seems appropriate for collaborative work. The novel is a parable of the curative qualities of the ‘natural’ life and sets up an overt schism between city and country, with urban life depicted as pathological….” (130). From the novel Heidi:

“My dear, dear uncle! What have we to thank you for! This is your work, your care and nursing—
“But our Lord’s sunshine and mountain air,” interrupted the uncle, smiling.
Then Clara called, “Yes, and also Schwänli’s good, delicious milk. Grandmama, you ought to see how much goat-milk I can drink now; oh, it is so good!” (Spyri n.p.)

Heidi’s cousin Clara, a sickly urban girl, has recovered and become healthy thanks to ingesting the clean mountain air and pure white milk during a visit from the city.
The setting for the film Heidi: Midlife Crisis, is a building based on two forms of architecture. One half of the structure is based on the American Bar in Vienna, which was designed by Austrian architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933) who famously wrote, “the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use” (Loos 168). Kelley and McCarthy introduce discord by basing the other half of the building on the classic highly decorative Alps chalet.

A blogger who goes by the alias of “C Way” has this to say about the film:

If I remember correctly there was a man and a woman, both were manipulating some kind of mannequin torso, struggling to push what appeared to be sausages down its cavity & (sic) which exited the doll’s anus in some kind of basin of liquid. The adult figures went about their activity with haste & (sic) focus and urgency, splashing and slipping and wrangling with the doll in this weird pointless (and simultaneously deadly important) ritual of forcefeeding (sic) that sort of resembled midwifery or operating room surgery in its energy and concentrated involvement with the body. It was a weird tangle of fluid and skin and wet that suggested birth, death, defecation, abuse, parental care, discipline, emergency room, horror movie […]. (C Way)

Kelley and McCarthy’s film takes the idea of wholesomeness and destroys any notion that this Heidi is innocent and pure. The film points to the falseness of the purity ideal of the snowy Alps mountains, and the Whites who live there. The way in which these ideals are represented generally in Spyri’s novel Heidi is countered with abjection. Kelley and McCarthy have effectively exposed the “blank spots” in the ideology of Whiteness (Žižek 26). The construct of Whiteness works to maintain a false mask that it is normal and pure, but in reality it is not (Dyer 21).

Jan 25, 2011

Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s Heidi is a 62:40 min video that retells the two part children’s story Heidi’s years of learning and travel and Heidi makes use of what she has learned written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri. Both novels are commonly referred to as Heidi.

Kelley and McCarthy use a film set and the constructed nature of film (films are experienced as a whole that is created from fragments) to re-tell the classic children’s story. Kelley who has been working with stuffed toys during the late 80s introduced puppets to this work as well. There is a connection between his use of puppets to the use of puppets in Heidi. Kelley initially used stuffed animals a comment on commodity culture, but those seeing his works thought of them as a comment on child abuse (ART:21). Kelley sees this mis-read as a comment on the shared experience within the culture of child abuse which he consciously allows and now encourages (ART:21).

Mike Kelley sees art making as a materialist ritual which harkens back to his interest in Catholic rituals (ART:21). Kelley feels that his work is reactive (to culture/other works etc.). It is reaction, as a directive, that I think his collaboration with Paul McCarthy in their project Heidi (1992), stems from. Richard Dyer in White (1997) points out that Whiteness is associated with purity. It is not simply the colour white, but the construct of Whiteness that is associated with pristine snow, the snow capped mountains, the clean mountain air, the vitality required to live in the mountains, and the nearness to God who lives above the mountains capped with pure snow (21). The film points to the falseness of the purity ideal of the snowy alps mountains and the whites who live there. The way in which these ideals are represented generally in Spyri’s novel Heidi is countered with abjection. The pair of artists work to offer another view of what it means to be part of a white middle-class family (Berger). The White myth of wholesomeness is compromised in Heidi.

If my interest in the ideology of Whiteness involves looking for ways to talk about it or make work about it, then Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy provide an excellent example of how to do so. A blogger who goes by the alias of “C Way” has this to say about the film:

If I remember correctly there was a man and a woman, both were manipulating some kind of mannequin torso, struggling to push what appeared to be sausages down its cavity & which exited the doll’s anus in some kind of basin of liquid. The adult figures went about their activity with haste & focus and urgency, splashing and slipping and wrangling with the doll in this weird pointless (and simultaneously deadly important) ritual of forcefeeding that sort of resembled midwifery or operating room surgery in its energy and concentrated involvement with the body. It was a weird tangle of fluid and skin and wet that suggested birth, death, defecation, abuse, parental care, discipline, emergency room, horror movie […]. (C Way)

The project points to the falseness of the purity ideal of the snowy alps mountains and the whites who live there (see Richard Dyer’s White). The way in which these ideals are represented generally in the novel Heidi and modern media is countered with abjection.

…and Laura Parnes

Ironically, Laura Parnes reacts to Kelley and McCarthy’s Heidi with Heidi 2 (2000). In the first film Heidi, the artists are both male and tell the story of Heidi in relationships with her grandfather and the village boy Peter. Re-interpreted, Laura Parnes in collaboration with Sue de Beer tell a female story. Heidi and her mothers relationship is based on bulimic contests, sexual play, and surgery “reclaiming patriarchal abjection” (Cohen).

In relation to my practice I also see myself as working reactionally. I appreciate both efforts. Kelley and McCarthy for tackling the story of Heidi with racial consciousness, and Parnes and de Beer for pushing the idea further by questioning Kelley and McCarthy’s male take on abjection.

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Works Cited & Consulted

“ART:21 Memory.” PBS, 2005. PBS Video. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Avgikos, Jan. “Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley: Heidi.” ArtForum (1993). Find Articles at BNET. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Berger, Maurice, Wendy Ewald, David R. Roediger, and Patricia J. Williams. White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. Baltimore, MD: Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2004. Print.

C Way. “Art of the Day: Stills from Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley’s “Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone” (1992).” Web log post. Snailcrow. 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

Cohen, Michael. “Heidi 2.” Laura Parnes. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Kelley, Mike. “Heidi (excerpted from Playing With Dead Things) 1992.” Mike Kelley. Ed. John C. Welchman, Isabelle Graw, and Anthony Vidler. London: Phaidon, 1999. 130-31. Print.

Loos, Adolf. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays. Ed. Adolf Opel. Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 1998. Print.

“Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley – Heidi (1992).” Web log post. Art Torrents. 7 Mar. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Spyri, Johanna. Heidi. Trans. Elisabeth P. Stork. Gift ed. Philadelphia: Washington Square, 1919. Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Project Gutenberg, 09 Mar. 2007. Web. 27 Feb. 2012.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. 2008 ed. London: Verso, 1989. Print.