Staff Picks: Mike Kelley

Staff Picks: Mike Kelley


Mike Kelley, The Banana Man (clip), 1983. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Los Angeles.

May 1, 2024
Staff Picks: Mike Kelley
The Banana Man (1983): May 1–31
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e-flux Film is very pleased to present the May 2024 edition of our monthly online series Staff Picks, featuring Mike Kelley’s The Banana Man (1983, 28 minutes).

In this first completed video work by the artist, Kelley, who was once described by John Waters as “the man who made pitiful seem sexy,” utilizes the character of the Banana Man—originally a minor figure from the children’s television show Captain Kangaroo. Developed entirely from second-hand accounts, this character becomes a vehicle for Kelley’s exploration of the construction and perception of identity. Created in 1983, The Banana Man marks a significant turning point in Kelley’s artistic oeuvre, showcasing the shift from live performance and gallery art towards the use of the medium of video that allows for more complex narrative, temporal, and psychological structures.

Performed and filmed in collaboration with Kelley’s students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the work subverts conventions of continuity and immediacy in video and performance art by presenting perplexing and humorous scenes that challenge viewers to piece together their understanding of the character. The Banana Man exemplifies Kelley’s interest in promoting a more dynamic interaction between the viewer and the artwork and sets a precedent for his future theoretical investigations into forms of engaging yet intricate video stories.

Writes Kelley: “This is my only truly solo video project. The tape is an exploration of character and was done in direct reaction to my performance work at the time, which was characterless. Video seemed a good way, by virtue of it not operating in ‘real’ time, of dealing with character and psychological motivation. ‘The Banana Man’ was a minor figure on a children’s television show I watched in my youth. I, myself, never saw this performer. Everything I know about him was told to me by my friends. The Banana Man is an attempt at constructing the psychology of the character — problematized by the fact that the character is already a fictional one, and by the fact that none of my observations were direct ones.”

Watch the film here.

Mike Kelley (1954–2012) was an American artist regarded as one of the most provocative and influential figures in contemporary art. His idiosyncratic works negotiate a charged terrain of desire, dread and sociopathology in everyday life. With deadpan humor, he invests childhood toys, kitsch, and ordinary objects with subversive meaning. His video projects, often created with collaborators such as Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon, and Tony Oursler, inhabit a peculiarly American landscape infused with irony and pop cultural debris.

Staff Picks is a monthly streaming series on e-flux Film of recommended videos designed to disrupt the monotony of an algorithm. Before the end times of big data, we used to discover suggested content along dusty shelves in video rental stores, where Post-it notes scribbled by shift workers implored us to experience the same movies that made them guffaw, scream, or weep. Sometimes the content bored us, sometimes it overwhelmed us, and sometimes, as if by magic, it was just right. e-flux invites you to relive this rental store mode of perusal, with personalized picks curated through judgment that does not take into consideration your viewing history. 

For more information, contact program [​at​]

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May 1, 2024

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