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Mike Kelley and Michael Smith's "A Voyage of Growth and Discovery" in One Shot

We are all Baby Ikki, lost in the desert, wearing a face mask and diapers, blindly being led into our technocrat-created realties.
Michael M. Bilandic
One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie. 
A late middle-aged man wanders alone in the desert. Lost. He’s dressed in a baby bonnet and baggy cloth diapers. He clings to a raggedy green and yellow stuffed animal. Lab goggles and a face mask shield him from a whirling sandstorm. It’s impossible to make anything out in the landscape beyond a diffused gray veil of dust. Only a pin sized speck of light peaks out above him. His arms are awkwardly splayed out as he pushes his way forward. The brutal terrain pummels him back. The ground’s a barren tundra, inhospitable to human life. Is this even Earth?
It is. It’s the Nevada desert. And Baby Ikki’s on his fourth day at Burning Man. He’s temporarily strayed off from the festivities. It’s been a punishing journey filled with nonstop digeridoo circles, blacklight finger painting raves, dreadlocked steampunk women banging gongs, rockabilly roller discos, bikini clad tetherball matches outside of RVs and inevitably more raves. All set in a vast sea of themed tents with names like the "Hookahdome,” "Orgasmeteria," and the “Whiskey & Whores Saloon.” The Baby never speaks. He simply roams (occasionally crawls) from attraction to attraction getting lost in hedonistic pits of “radical self-expression.”
A Voyage of Growth and Discovery is a collaboration between artists Mike Kelley and Michael Smith. It premiered as a six-channel installation in ’09 and was edited into a feature shortly after. Baby Ikki is a character Smith had been fine tuning for decades. With this one he goes full Jackass mode, humorously engaging with actual festival goers and their site specific art and structures. No one thinks twice as he attempts to hula hoop in a geodesic dome with glowsticks or dance on stage with a Jane’s Addiction-esque "alternative" band. It’s a chaotic, gonzo, blurring of narrative, documentary, and performance
It’s unsurprising that many of the key architects of our contemporary technopoly are veteran Burning Men. The same utopian desert candy flippers who promised us platforms to connect, create, and “not be evil” are the same ones responsible for the online content vortex we’re stuck in now; a shrieking, incoherent, IQ decimating, wasteland of opinions and emotions nudged along to maximize profit margins. These CEO gurus who insisted that access to the entire history of human knowledge mixed with unbridled broadcasting of our every whim would turn us into super sentient global villagers instead turned us into drooling adult baby narcissists, adorned in PPE, clinging to toys, unable to squeeze out coherent sentences. The image of Smith beat down, lost, and infantilized with nowhere to go, in the eye of a storm, is an accurate reflection of American life in the 21st century.


MIke KelleyMichael SmithColumnsOne Shot
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