Poetry News

Brandon Brown Gives New Dimension to Mike Kelley's Dust Balls

By Harriet Staff

Brandown Brown

Open Space keeps on giving. This time with Brandon Brown's essay, "Dust Balls," which circles a Ketamine-fueled near-death experience and Mike Kelley's Dust Balls, a series of fourteen photographs from the mid-1990s, "nine of which are on the seventh floor of SFMOMA, with a stray in the photography exhibition on the second floor."

"Mary Clare Stevens, executive director of the Mike Kelley Foundation, shared with me that they were shot with a 35mm camera on tinfoil by the artist himself," writes Brown, who goes on to explain that the dust balls were, in fact, lint from the dryer. More:

The photographs in Dust Balls render these small, insignificant pieces of human trash as sublime, apocalyptic natural phenomena. Without the parenthetical subtitle, one might mistake them for galaxies being born, or tremendous explosions in the sparse outlying areas of the universe where stuff like “galaxies being born” happens.

This warping of scale, portraying a little piece of lint in the dimension of a major outer-space event, reflects the uncanny as well, and recalls an interview in Minor Histories (The MIT Press, 1999, p. 77) in which Kelley discussed the experience of watching television: “you must mentally blow yourself up to the size of a giant to account for the minuscule figures on the screen.” 1 Transgressions of space, like transgressions of time, displace the body, effecting a deletion of the self as it is replaced by something bigger, smaller, or in another epoch.

Kelley has linked the photographs which make up Dust Balls with other works, including Color and Form (1999) and The Two Faces of God (2002), describing them as “overt attempts at applying the aesthetics of painterly biomorphic abstraction to photography.” The “biomorphic abstraction” he refers to here is represented in part by Abstract Expressionism and the painters who emerged from that tradition. But it is also a quality he identifies in kitsch. Writing in Minor Histories (Ibid, p. 122) about a local landmark in Los Angeles known as the “Chinatown Wishing Well,” a whimsical, miniature landscape behind a dilapidated fence meant to evoke Chinese gates, he addresses the “formlessness” he adduces in the sculpture:

“Part of my admiration for such coloration is the murky unspecific ‘space’ it produces. I have recognized and appreciated this kind of space in paintings that span art history from the obscure, muddy backgrounds in Rembrandt’s paintings, to the primordial goo space of 1940’s biomorphic abstraction. Such space has an erotic appeal for me.; it is the confused ‘nothing’ space of presexual consciousness.”

The piece in all its appeal can be read here.

Originally Published: October 28th, 2016