Mike Kelley: Mobile Homestead at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Mobile Homestead is a permanent art work by the late Mike Kelley located on the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. It’s both a public sculpture and a private, personal architecture – based on the artist’s childhood home on Palmer Road in Westland, a neighbourhood which primarily housed workers for the Big Three auto makers: Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. In a largely disinvested city with many abandoned houses and dilapidated buildings, Mobile Homestead enacts a reversal of the ‘white flight’ that took place in Detroit following the inner city uprisings of the 1960s. It does so at a time when the city is exploring new options of renewal by assessing its singular post-industrial conditions in an attempt to articulate a new model for American cities. The sculpture, which almost exactly replicates the vernacular architecture of working class neighbourhoods in the American Midwest, brings the suburbs back into the city, and as it travels – on specific missions – the mobile home performs various kinds of community services, establishing a permanent dialogue with the community that houses it.

Plans and a site for the project had been signed off by Kelley in late 2011 before his death in January 2012. He envisaged the ground floor of the homestead functioning as an open space for diverse community activities. At the same time, he designed a labyrinthine basement complex for more covert activities – what he called “private rites of an aesthetic nature.” The completed Mobile Homestead will house these co-existing public and private functions mindful of Kelley’s typically challenging contention that “one always has to hide one’s true desires and beliefs behind a façade of socially acceptable lies.”

The first stage of the project – a mobile home designed to travel around the city and dispense various kinds of socially useful services – was ‘unveiled’ in 2010. Its maiden voyage from downtown Detroit to the ‘mother ship’, the original Kelley home, was part of Kelley’s final video work filmed in 2010 and completed just before his death. The trilogy of documentary films premiered at the Whitney Biennial in New York in May 2012 in dedication to Kelley’s memory. They will be on view at MOCAD from 11 May until July 31 alongside a display of documentation materials related to the project, and will also screen over five days at Tate Modern in May, and at Site Gallery in Sheffield from June until July 2013 for the exhibition Mobile Homestead Videos.

In Detroit, MOCAD’s Department of Education and Public Engagement will programme the ground floor of Mobile Homestead as a community space, as Kelley intended. It will be home to projects, events, gatherings, conversations and displays that are created by and for a diverse public. Removed from public view, the basement complex, with its characteristically Kelly-like crawl spaces, will from time to time be used for secretive sub-cultural activities. Jim Shaw and Cary Loren, Kelley’s long-time friends and collaborators, notably in the infamous band Destroy All Monsters, will be the first to venture down below.

Mobile Homestead is Mike Kelley’s first public art project anywhere and the first major permanent installation of his work in his hometown.

Mike Kelley: Mobile Homestead, 11 May until 12 May, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201. www.mocadetroit.org

Image courtesy MOCAD.