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The four groups of photographs presented at Wako Works of Art all reflect, in some manner, my interest in spiritualist, symbolist, and pictorialist photography.  None of these works have been previously exhibited.  The earliest image in the exhibition dates from 1976, when I began to shoot in 35mm black and white film.  I would sometimes process my own film and make prints in the bathtub.  This still life, shot in the small house I shared with artist Jim Shaw, depicts our music area with instruments – an odd assortment of used electronics and found objects.  The distorted quality of the image is the result of sloppy home film processing.  It is one of the few photographs from this era that I have kept.

The Ectoplasm series is linked to a project made in association with artist David Askevold in 1978, titled “The Poltergeist.”  David and I shared an interest in the aesthetics of the occult which led us to make a series of photographic works that addressed that history.  We did not work collaboratively, though we had numerous discussions about the project as it was developed.  Each artist’s works were produced independently, but with the intention that they should be seen simultaneously to inflect the reading of the other.  My portion of the project includes faux spiritualist photographs of a “medium” (myself) exuding the mysterious ethereal substance ectoplasm.  The photos mimic the look of period spiritualist photography from the early part of the 20th century; they are grouped with texts and drawings (also presented photographically) that relate to this theme.  David assisted me in the photo shoot and one of the photos (of a sock monkey wrapped in gauze) ended up being used in his half of the project.  Only four of the ectoplasm images were included in “The Poltergeist;” the photos selected for this exhibition include never-before-printed images.

Two other sets of photos showcase my experiments with Vaseline photography.  Vaseline, a brand of skin lubricant, is often rubbed onto the camera lens by photographers in order to achieve a soft-focus romantic effect.  One pair of photos from 1987 feature the dancer and choreographer Anita Pace in cheesecake poses, lying amidst the piles of craft objects I had collected in order to construct the artwork “More Love Hours Than Can Ever be Repaid” (1987).  In the second group of photos from 1989, Anita performs a “dance of the veils” clothed in a series of silk scarves I designed in which Irish-American and Heavy Metal iconographies are conflated.  Anita also choreographed the release event for the scarf edition where dancers, also costumed in the scarves, performed to heavy metal music. These photos were intended to evoke the symbolist overtones of early pictorialist photography. I believe the fact that Vaseline is used as a sexual lubricant informs the viewer’s reading of the photographic imagery.

The series of “Untitled” photographs from 1996 depict ambiguous organic forms and are overt attempts at applying the aesthetics of painterly biomorphic abstraction to photography.    In this, they are linked to other photographic works I have produced such as the “Untitled (Dust Balls)” series (1994), “Color and Form” (1999), and “The Two Faces of God” (2002).  The series documents various foodstuffs, which were arranged within a multi-tiered glass structure in order to produce a photographic image of objects free-floating in deep space.  In other photos in the series, the materials were positioned on black plastic and shot through a Vaseline-coated lens to produce the ambiguous spatial effect.  Two variations on this series will also be on display at Wako Works of Art.  It had been my intention to produce a large edition of unique variations of the eight images that make up the original series by overlaying them in all possible combinations and by shifting the coloration of each layer.  Even though these shifts in coloration would be limited to the four colors utilized in the CMYK color printing process, the unique variants that could be produced through overprinting would be vast.  Unfortunately, this edition was never produced and I only have these two test prints to show what the final results would have been like.


The photographs will be shown with a selection of recent sculptures from the “Kandors” series.  These works are derived from various depictions of the futuristic city Kandor, found in the pages of Superman comic books.  The city plan of this metropolis was never strictly codified, so its appearance has changed drastically throughout the years.  In my research I discovered hundreds of images of Kandor, some barely more than scribbles while others are highly-rendered illustrations. I chose twenty widely-diverse renderings to work from.  The sculpted versions of the cities range from blob-like organic forms to crisp architectonic structures. Some of the Kandor sculptures are translucent and internally lit so they glow; others are cast in sand or other opaque materials.  Each one is unique. The organic versions are reminiscent of Chinese scholar’s stones (unusual natural rock formations, mounted on bases) that are evocative of fantasy landscapes.  Kandor’s myriad versions, for me, make it a perfect symbol of the vagaries of memory and the endlessly-shifting nature of recollection.


Mike Kelley