Written in 1981 and shot in 1982 while I was teaching a performance / installation class at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, THE BANANA MAN was my first completed video work. Basically it is a one-person affair, though several of my students assisted and performed in the project. The tape was my attempt to deal with the problem of character, the subject of much discussion at that time in relation to performance art. I
In my own performance work, character was a function of language. As ideas shifted, so did one’s understanding of who was talking: unlike traditional theater, there were no consistent characters. I realized I could never deal with all the material I had written about the Banana Man in a live performance because it was character-based. I felt that the character would ground the piece too much, and prevent the kind of temporal confusion I was interested in. No matter what happened or how the ideas would flip, the viewer could always resort to this stable character as the “logic” of the piece. This is why I decided to present the work in video. Because of the conventions of editing, video and film tend to normalize fracture. The viewer is expected to jump from one image to the next and experience it as a seamless development. To me, this experience of seamlessness seemed to correspond to the notion of unified character. As film viewers try to normalize time, so they also attempt to normalize character. No matter how inconsistent their actions are, actors are seen as portraying “beings” driven by some unifying “psychology.” The viewer’s job is to figure out what that is. In THE BANANA MAN, I was interested in this impulse toward unification. The tape is a series of scenes about one character, and it is up to the viewer to come to terms with what this character is. — Mike Kelley
As part of the program At Home with Mike Kelley, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Electronic Arts Intermix present an online screening of THE BANANA MAN, followed by a live conversation with Cauleen Smith, Michael Smith, and Ying Liu, moderated by Mary Clare Stevens and Rebecca Cleman.
See link below for details.
CAULEEN SMITH, MICHAEL SMITH, and YING LIU IN CONVERSATION
Tuesday, July 14.
5 pm on the West Coast; 8 pm East Coast.
Mike Kelley, from top: Portrait of the artist as the Banana Man, circa 1983, photograph by Jim McHugh; studies for The Banana Man, 1981–1982 (3); The Banana Man (1983), still. Images courtesy and © the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.