Magazine article Artforum International

Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley: Heidi

Magazine article Artforum International

Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley: Heidi

Article excerpt

Dear Heidi, Thank you for the videotape that Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Kelley have made of you and Grandpa and Peter. I was shocked to learn of your family problems--the violence, the incest, the obsessions with bodily functions--for from all outward appearances your life together in Nature had always seemed so idyllic! You say you're confused--it's OK to be confused. Who wouldn't be? The degeneracy of your home environment is glossly incompatible with the storybook image of childhood innocence and purity you have embodied for over a hundred years.

Of course, just as you suspect, the harm you suffer in the clutches of your Grandpa, whose depravity knows no bounds, may well be irreparable. Defenseless children subjected to criminal abuse in time become corrupted and visit upon others the molestation they themselves have been forced to endure. I'm sorry to have to tell you you show signs of malicious degeneracy, growing like a cancer within: your glassy-eyed stare, your absorption with excrement, your way of fonding yourself, your harsh treatment of little Peter.

But never mind! The video seems to be a work of art. Perhaps, then, it offers less cause of alarm than you think.

Look at it this way: the old traditions of the Modernist religion have supposedly been put to rest. Yet there are those who lament the demise of the time-honored values, and who ache for "origins" in a world they perceive as intolerably corrupt and post-Modern. Though they are sensible enough to have renounced essentialism, they still believe art is sacred, and attempt to restore its "truth," and to reinvent its sense of moral urgency. Presumably unintentionally, Heidi, in the arrested innocence of your century-long childhood you have parodied those who want their art to be morally exemplary. You have also brilliantly pointed up the resemblance of such a position to that of the earlier Modernist masters who defended art against the contaminations of kitsch and folkloric primitivism, which they saw as debased, and as little better than the kind of immorality and criminality from which, I see, the Alps are not immune.

As you know, Heidi reductivist Modern styles no longer dominate. The high-Modernist catechism has been discredited, and these days the boundary between kitsch and art is constantly shifting. Yet Modernist conceits and divisions continue to inform our polemics on the relationship between art and life. This is perhaps because the Modernists did have a point, if for the wrong reasons: make no mistake, child--and this is particularly pertinent to your situation--art and life are indeed quite different matters.

Many viewers might relate to Mr. McCarthy's and Mr. Kelley's videotape (so heartbreaking from your point of view, so intriguing--forgive me, dear--from ours) in terms of real, lived experience. But Heidi--and I do hope this doesn't come as news to you--you and Grandpa and Peter aren't real. You are fictional personas constructed out of dummies, masks, and play-acting, partly to perform an internal critique of art, partly to destabilize the normative fields of reference within which art is elevated and assigned a higher purpose. This fictional realm, richly metaphoric though it may be, is your only reality.

Given the nature of the events in question, it may console you to know, as so many analysts have told so many young women in your position, that none of this actually happened. Should you desire, on the other hand, to insist on the reality of the illusion (an entirely understandable desire, Heidi, given that you're fictional), I'm quite sure you'll find viewers to support you. …

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