Who in the world goes to a sweltering Nevada desert for seven days to an event that boasts of an anything goes mentality? Well, approximately 50,000 thousand people. You can catch a glimpse of the Burning Man festival at the SculptureCenter in Long Island City, with Michael Smith and Mike Kelley’s first collaborative project, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery. The show was co-produced by Emi Fontana’s organization West of Rome and is comprised of a six-channel video featuring Michel Smith’s legendary character Baby Ikki and several sculptures and installations created by Mike Kelley. Although both artists worked separately on their respective areas, Kelley with his sculptures and Smith with his performance, they both did collaborate side-by-side editing the raw footage for the video.
Right outside, before entering the SculptureCenter building, viewers will find an installation of porta-potties and an old Volkswagon van filled with stuffed animals. Once inside, the space is overwhelmed by Kelley’s 30 foot junk sculpture of Baby Ikki signaling to the sky, among others that resemble a playground, and video projections of Baby Ikki’s odyssey in Burning Man.
The video begins in Baby Ikki’s mobile home, while he amuses himself with a variety of things including a lighter. He then ventures out into the desert, starting his peculiar voyage. Through day and night, drum circles, guys on stilts and even a slight sandstorm, Baby Ikki strolls through the desert with his peculiar walk, little bonnet and pacifier. An entertaining moment in the video is a dream-like sequence where three women are dancing in a sexually suggestive manner with a confused Baby Ikki. It seems that these women were grappling for some type of protagonism, as they were all struggling for the camera’s attention. The video also captures the highlight of the festival, the moment where a very tall wooden sculpture of a man is burned to the ground, hence the name of the festival. As a viewer who has never seen or experienced this before, the festival seemed like a cross between Halloween and a half-naked rave.
During the press preview on opening night, Michael Smith said that he would never return to Burning Man. It must have been an unusual experience to perform Baby Ikki without anybody feeling immensely uncomfortable. Even Emi Fontana was hesitant to mention Burning Man when I spoke with her earlier during the preview. In portraying this festival, the installation was incredibly entertaining, but what are these artists really trying to say? Maybe they are trying to suggest that these type of festivals are simply an attempt to cling to our inner child? Or are they criticizing the festival in its claims of being an experimental community of artists and hipster revelers?
The basement of the SculptureCenter, an area that might have escaped some visitors, housed the In Practice Projects for emerging artists. I was impressed with the quality of the works on display particularly Jason Kraus, Mario Pascual and Xaviera Simmons. One of the sculptures that immediately grabbed my attention was Mario Pascual’s Untitled, where he stuck a fluorescent light tube through a photograph of Elizabeth Taylor. Jason Kraus’ proposal, titled Making a Mold, included computer generated images and two oil drums with a pump that propose to fill the museum space with silicone to cast a mold. The installation has two separate views; one where the images are displayed as a short circuit video and another where viewers can see the working pump and oil drums. Xavier Simmon’s created an imaginary city landscape of text, images and collected cardboard in her installation titled 3. With cardboard boxes, the artist constructed a wall that seemed to slowly disappear at the far end, where it coincides with a photographic collage of urban scenes of all the places she encountered while collecting the hundreds of cardboard boxes used to build her installation.
Images by DaWire