Ever since I’ve seen (parts of) the Educational Complex by Mike Kelly*, I took an interest in this work. It consists of eight tabletop architectural models, each representing every school Mike Kelley attended, as well as the house that he grew up in.
I’m in the midst of reading Mike Kelley – Educational Complex by John Miller (2015) from Afterall–a research and publishing organization based in London– as part of their One Work book series*. Publishing/distribution house MIT Press describes: “Miller approaches Educational Complex through corresponding lines of inquiry, considering the making of the work, examining it in terms of education and trauma (sexual or otherwise), and investigating how it tests the ideological horizon of art as an institution.” This publication is a very readable, dense and informative 50-page essay for everyone who would like to learn more about Mike Kelley’s sculptural installation.
Educational Complex resides in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. On their website, you can listen to a short clip in which Kelley explains the work, here’s the transcript:
MIKE KELLEY: I decided to build a reconstruction of every school I ever went to with the all the parts I could not remember left out. And then these were combined to one super school. They were cut apart and reconfigured, in a kind of very formalized way that made it look more like a kind of modernist architecture.
NARRATOR: Educational Complex explores how we remember spaces—and how much of them we forget.
MIKE KELLEY: Educational Complex was done directly in response to the rising infatuation of the public with issues of Repressed Memory Syndrome and child abuse. It led to a rash of similar kinds of cases. The popularization of this certain kind of therapy which was predicated on the idea that certain traumatic events, that especially sexual abuse are repressed and only removed later through therapy. The implication is that anything that can’t be remembered is somehow the result of trauma.
So the parts I could not remember of these buildings were the majority of them, probably like 80 percent. So that meant 80 percent of these buildings that I had been in for most of my life were the sites of some kind of repressed trauma.
No one’s going to think that when they look at it. It looks completely orderly. It doesn’t look dysfunctional at all. But seen through the theory of repressed memory syndrome, that’s what it means.
Like why can’t Mike Kelley remember all these rooms in the schools he went to every day for, you know, most . . . half of his life. Well, nobody can.
*The American artist Mike Kelley (1954 – 2012) is considered one of the most influential artists of his generation. In 35 years he created a remarkable and multifaceted oeuvre including painting, sculpture, installations, performances, music, video and photography, exploring themes as varied as grassroots politics, religious systems, social class and repressed memory.
* The One Work book series focuses on the artworks that have significantly shaped the way we understand art and its history.
Image: Mike Kelley, Educational Complex, 1995 (installation view, Full House: Views of the Whitney’s Collection at 75, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2006).