Tate Liverpool presents the first museum solo exhibition in the UK of Mary Reid Kelley (b.1979, USA) and Patrick Kelley (b.1969, USA). Known for their stylised black-and-white videos, they present a new commission for the gallery, In The Body of The Sturgeon, as well as the 2016 work, This Is Offal.
Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley collaborate to create video works that combine painting, performance and poetry to tell surreal stories inspired by history and mythology. Played by the artists acting multiple roles, their characters speak in poetic verse filled with wordplay and puns to tell stories that imagine unrecorded histories.
In several vignettes, In The Body of The Sturgeon envisions a peculiar time and space: an American submarine at the very end of the Second World War. Sailors on the (fictional) USS Sturgeon grapple with claustrophobic boredom, distill bootleg alcohol and entertain each other with ad-hoc burlesque performances. Historical significance intrudes on this confined world in the form of President Harry Truman’s announcement of the bombing of Hiroshima. Mary Reid Kelley’s script for In The Body of The Sturgeon is a sustained act of mosaic wordplay, an ancient form of verse collage called a cento. Every word of In The Body of The Sturgeon is appropriated directly from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem The Song of Hiawatha. This often-ridiculed fantasy pastiche about Native Americans in a pre-industrialized idyll serves as the sole textual source for a narrative about the industrialised, machine-centric environment of the submarine.
Originally commissioned as a performance for BMW Tate Live, the video work This Is Offal 2016 is inspired by Thomas Hood’s 1844 poem The Bridge of Sighs, in which a male narrator laments and speculates over the body of a young woman who has committed suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Thames. In This Is Offal, the speaking role belongs to the young woman herself – it is narrated by her corpse’s body parts and internal organs. From the vantage point of the dissecting table, the body and organs argue with each other as to who was ultimately responsible for the woman’s death, revealing the impossibility of a rational, scientific explanation for this tragic and complex event.
The exhibition will also include a series of life-size, light-box portraits of the videos’ characters. Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley: We Are Ghosts will be accompanied by a publication featuring the scripts of the videos alongside new writing on each of the new works by the exhibition’s curators.
Mary Reid Kelley is a 2016 MacArthur fellow and received the Baloise Art Award at Art Basel 2016. She and Patrick Kelley live and work in upstate New York. Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley: We Are Ghosts is curated by Lauren Barnes, Assistant Curator, Tate Liverpool. The new video, In The Body of The Sturgeon, is co-produced with The Baltimore Museum of Art and The Center for Advanced Media Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. We Are Ghosts will be presented at The Baltimore Museum of Art from 4 April – 15 July 2018. Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley has been programmed in parallel with John Piper and Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberté 1938–1948.
Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley: We Are Ghosts
17 November 2017 – 18 March 2018
Sponsored by Edge Hill University and supported by Tate Liverpool Commissioning Circle