Mike Kelley and Michael Smith's feature-length video, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery (2011),
follows the existential journey of Baby IKKI over several days at a festival of "radical expression" held
in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Baby IKKI, prelingual and of ambiguous age, is a character that artist Michael Smith has been performing for thirty years. The Baby, alone in his journey, despite
being surrounded by throngs of revelers, negotiates the rave-like festival environment, exploring the primal elements of fire, water, earth and wind. The video mirrors the annual event: four days and nights of festival, preceded by an introductory travel section, and followed by a post-festival day. Baby IKKI is a compelling comedic, melancholic wanderer whose sense of innocent wonder is contrasted with the ironic vision of the film's creators.
Originally the collaboration was a multi-media installation of sculpture with a six-channel video presentation, presented in 2009 at the Sculpture Center, Long Island City, NY, and in 2010 with West of Rome Public Art, Los Angeles. The film was written, directed and produced by Mike Kelley and Michael Smith. It was edited from many hours of footage from a sustained performance by Smith under demanding circumstances. Mike Kelley described it thusly: "I had in mind Swee' Pea from Popeye meets Antonioni…this little baby that keeps moving along just barely avoiding danger. I wanted the baby alone…against vast wilderness."
This project was the only collaboration between Mike Kelley and Michael Smith, both acclaimed artists and friends since 1975. Mike Kelley (1954-2012) was born in Detroit and lived and worked in Los Angeles. He was recognized for work that is groundbreaking in its unorthodox embracing of performance, installation, drawing, painting, video, sound and sculpture. Michael Smith, born in Chicago in 1951, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY, and Austin, TX. Smith has been performing various characters over his
30-year career including Baby IKKI and has created works in video, television, exhibitions, puppet
shows, comic books, and drawings.
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