In the exhibit The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin challenges the notion that the past is a fixed object, waiting to be elucidated. He calls the present “a waking world, a world to which that dream we name the past refers.” The dream quality of the past suggests that is is mutable, a patchwork of images and symbols that can be understood in myriad ways.”
The late artist Mike Kelley’s work has also focused on the unreliability of memory. His project, Mobile Homestead, a full-scale reproduction of his suburban, childhood home, resides on the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. The building’s first floor maintains the floor plan of the original, but its multilevel basement, closed to the public, includes crawl spaces and rooms that can only be accessed through ceiling hatches.
The dreamlike, labyrinthine architecture suggests the slipperiness of the past. Kelley explores the denial of uncomfortable realities of abuse and oppression in domestic life, not in tune with the American Dream as represented by the suburban home, with its white picket fence. This lamp, a miniaturized version of the building, adds another layer of surrealness to the house.
Photographed as part of the exhibit, The Arcades Project: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, on Exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan Through August 6th, 2017.