The (re)creation of memory in Mike Kelley’s work

We can state without any doubts that we are living in the fake news era. The pandemic crisis has given the final boost to the production and consumption of fake information and the consequences are becoming a serious social issue. But the manipulation of information and the creation of false collective memories through the Media are no news.

In 1995 Mike Kelley started his series “Educational Complex”, inspired by the raising popularity of the Repressed Memory Syndrome. This practice was based on the idea that memories of traumatic events, usually occurred in the childhood stage, may be stored in the unconscious mind and blocked from normal conscious recall. Therefore, the purpose of the therapy was to recover the traumatic memories, sometimes using hypnosis. Quite often, though, the therapy influenced the patients to the point of making them create false memories. In “Educational Complex” Kelley realised models of his childhood’s places such as schools, houses, churches, gyms, relying only on his, obviously partial, memories. He postulated that the spaces he couldn’t remember were related to abuses or traumatic events and therefore they had been erased from his mind together with those episodes. He filled the empty spaces with false traumatic memories inspired by books, movies, comics, chronicles, news. He used popular narratives as private stories connecting the collective memory with his own, unable to tell the difference between the truth and the fiction.

Notebook Drawings (Related to Educational Complex) , 1994, Ink on paper, 21.6 x 27.9 cm

Kelley explored the ways in which memories are stored, recalled and created, analysing both the mind processes and the collective narratives. His work aimed to show how the memory, either personal or collective, can easily be manipulated.

But what happen if we don’t deal with the past but with the present? What happen if we create collective misinformation? What happen if we are unable to tell the difference between the truth and the fiction? Mike Kelley got stuck in his own suggestions unable to recognise his real memories from tales and fantasies. Today the manipulation interested information instead of memory but the danger is the same: to get stuck in a mind labyrinth.

Mike Kelley Educational Complex (Detail), 1995, acrylic, latex, foam core, fibreglass, wood

Mike Kelley Educational Complex (Detail), 1995 Acrylic, latex, foam core, fiberglass, wood 57 3/4 x 192 3/16 x 96 1/8 in.

Drawing for Repressed Spatial Relationships Rendered as Fluid No. 3: Reconfiguration of Wayne High School into the Ritual Presentation Arena of the Educational Complex, 2002, Mixed media on butcher paper mounted on rag paper, 121.92 x 168.91 cm

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