The Secrets of Mobile Homestead

Feature

Friday, August 02, 2013

In downtown Detroit, among office buildings, vacant lots, and abandoned factories, sits a suburban home — a gleaming white single-story ranch with blue shutters sitting on lush mowed grass. In this landscape, it’s like some suburban version of The Wizard of Oz.

But this house wasn’t dropped by some fantastical tornado. This is Mobile Homestead, and it’s a creation of artist Mike Kelley, who died last year. The house is a replica of his childhood home in the Detroit suburb of Westland. Kelley had wanted to buy the actual building, but when the current owner wouldn't sell, he did the next best thing: construct a replica at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Mobile Homestead is intended as a public space, for events, activities, and community services to be programmed by the museum. Kelley’s friend John Welchman, an art professor at the University of California San Diego, says “Mike wanted to produce the possibility of his own home, this place that stood for himself, in the end, being able to do some objective public good.”

But that’s the ground floor of the ranch house. What sits beneath Mobile Homestead is a completely different story. Kelley designed a basement level of bunkerlike rooms that can only be reached by a series of ladders and tunnels. This is definitely private space — it does not meet any kind of code for safety — that Kelley intended for “rites and rituals of an aesthetic nature.”

“It makes you feel like you’re lost,” says Kelley’s friend and bandmate Cary Loren, “even though you’re maybe 20 feet into it or 30 you kind of lose your equilibrium. You just don’t feel entirely safe in there.”

What are these tunnels? Kelley “was obsessed with this idea of subterranean space” according to John Welchman. He became increasingly agoraphobic. And he was intrigued with stories like that of the McMartin Preschool, where childcare workers were falsely accused of bizarre rituals and sexual abuse in tunnels below the preschool. Kelley made a work called Educational Complex influenced by that trial. He designed models of every school he attended from memory; the spaces he couldn't remember he left blank, and filled in those spaces with videos representing traumatic experiences that might have happened there.

Kelley explicitly denied that he himself had been victimized. But his obsession with the subject is complicated by serious depression that led to his suicide in January 2012 — immediately after he finalized arrangements for the piece. Kelley left no note; what he left was Mobile Homestead. John Welchman sees a complex psychological metaphor in the piece. “The very fabric of Mobile Homestead, the base on which it stands, is the idea that public art may in the end be based on lies and deception, it may be based on wishful thinking at the very least.” Some part of Mike Kelley’s psyche was as dark and unsafe as the tunnels he built below his house.

 

Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead was commissioned by Artangel in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, LUMA Foundation and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. It opened in Detroit on May 11, 2013. It will sit in permanent residence on MOCAD’s property.

 

Slideshow: Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead

Photo by Julia Lowrie Henderson

Mike Kelley’s childhood home on Palmer Road in Westland, Michigan.

© Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Photo by Julia Lowrie Henderson

Mobile Homestead on its opening day, May 11, 2013. The hatch in front of the house is one of two access points to get to the private subterranean levels.

© Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Photo by Julia Lowrie Henderson

Inside Mobile Homestead. The living room space is currently a lending library.

© Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Photo by Julia Lowrie Henderson

Inside Mobile Homestead, an electronic keyboard plays constantly.

© Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Photo by Julia Lowrie Henderson

One of the access points to the subterranean levels of Mobile Homestead.

Courtesy Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts / Photo by Julia Lowrie Henderson

This digital rendering of the project by EG Architecture shows the ground and lower levels of Mobile Homestead.

Photo by Cary Loren

Mike Kelley taking pictures in his childhood home circa 2006 — in the attic.

© Estate of Mike Kelley. All rights reserved. Courtesy of MOCAD and Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Photo by Corine Vermuelen

Mobile Homestead; the detachable façade on a flatbed truck.

    Music Playlist
  1. Incidental
    Artist: Ryan Ross Smith
  2. Rock Springs, Wyoming
    Artist: Ryan Ross Smith
    Album: Field Mapping: Winter Holiday
  3. Jersey
    Composer: Ryan Smith Music
    Artist: Power Player
  4. 100%
    Artist: Sonic Youth
    Album: Dirty
    Label: Geffen
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. No Marble
    Composer: Ryan Smith Music
    Artist: A Million Billion
    Album: Appelline ([in]finite LP)
  6. Detroit City
    Artist: Bobby Bare
    Label: Courtesy of Universal-Cedarwood Publishing/BMI
    Bobby Bare adapted by Mike Kelley and Mark Lightcap. Performed by Mike Kelley and Mark Lightcap. Vocals by Wil Ridge.
    Adapted by Mike Kelley and Mark Lightcap
    Performed by Mike Kelley and Mark Lightcap
    Vocals by Wil Ridge
    Originally by Danny Dill and Mel Tillis

     

Contributors:

Julia Lowrie Henderson

Comments [2]

Lindsay from texas

Great story.

Aug. 09 2013 01:50 PM
Marlies van der Schaaf from Massachusetts

Listen!! A clean recording about Kelley’s troubled subconscience, documenting the subterraneous maze below an impeccable outward appearance; Julia’s articulate voice, over a music playlist which mirrors the unseen tunnels and ladders. This audio-experience is kaleidoscopic to the ear! Listen!!

Aug. 02 2013 08:44 AM

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