Mike Kelley: The Uncanny: Room guide: The Harems

The Harems represent collections from all periods of my life, the earliest being the rocks and marbles that possibly go back to when I was five or six years old. Some are collections that I pursued with great fervour, such as my preadolescent comic book collection. While others are not collections at all in the standard sense – such as the business card group, which is simply an unorganised selection of cards given to me over the years that were found stashed away in a kitchen drawer. The squeeze toy collection, which might strike some viewers as being on display for their ‘charm’, was, in fact, accumulated for a completely different reason. They were bought over a ten-year period for use as percussion instruments; their visual qualities were of no interest to me. Some of the collections consist of as few as six objects, while others contain hundreds of items. Certain groups are overt jokes on established collector genres: the shot glasses and spoons for example. However, the spoons are not even of the type designed for collecting: those miniature spoons with place names etched on their handles. My spoon collection consists of every household spoon I have: a ragtag accumulation of cheap utensils acquired from years of moving from place to place. This particular collection could have been substituted with any other random assembly of like items in my house.

Thus the Harems consist of objects that range from those that had great importance to me, to ones that have absolutely no importance to me at all. They consist of objects consciously collected, and of things unconsciously accumulated. What is consistent is that none of the Harems are complete collections; every single one of them contains absences. The uncontrollable impulse to collect and order is itself, uncanny; the strange sense of loss and wonder attendant to the gaps in collections is uncanny. At the same time, most of this stuff is utterly mundane – the everyday crap that fills the house. It could be tossed out tomorrow and it wouldn’t make any difference to me at all.