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Mike Kelley and Michael Smith: A Voyage of Growth and Discovery at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Mike Kelley and Michael Smith, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery. Installation view: Sculpture Center, Long Island, New York, 2009.

GATESHEAD.- After its great success in New York and Los Angeles, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead announces the UK premier of A Voyage of Growth and Discovery, a remarkable collaboration between renowned American artists and longtime friends Mike Kelley and Michael Smith.

A Voyage of Growth and Discovery centres on Baby IKKI, a character developed by Smith for over thirty years. Here the pre-lingual man-child, dressed in a nappy, sunglasses and baby’s bonnet, visits the Burning Man festival in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Infamous for its carnivalesque atmosphere and existence beyond wider societal norms, the annual event is an “experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance.” Alone in his journey, yet alongside thousands of revellers, the part-comedic, part-forlorn IKKI navigates ravers, erotic encounters and basic human survival, while exploring the primal elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Gathered from hours of raw footage and meticulously edited by Kelley and Smith, a six-channel video projection at the centre of the installation replays the baby’s ‘voyage’, as performed by Smith, at the festival over five days and five nights. The narrative begins with IKKI travelling to the desert in his mobile home, distracted by sweets, water, matches, B-movies and cartoons that mirror his infantilism. At the festival he waddles and dances, interacts with bizarrely costumed party-goers and finally, after days of physical endurance and basic human survival, witnesses the culmination of the event in its mass public ‘burn’. The film concludes with a day of post-festival wind down.

The screens of the film are enveloped by a fantasy stage-set evocative of the tents and towers of the eclectic festival. Stuffed toys in oversized cages, a burnt-out VW camper-van, bunting, coloured lights and portaloos are all included, along with a 30ft incarnation in metal junk of IKKI himself. We are invited to contemplate IKKI’s existential journey in this multi-sensory environment. Part-crèche, part-hippy commune, it coaxes a moment of our own regression.

A Voyage of Growth and Discovery is curated by Emi Fontana and was co-produced by West of Rome, Los Angeles and the Sculpture Center, Long Island City, New York.

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