Mike Kelley

Channel One, Channel Two, and Channel Three


Not on display
Mike Kelley 1954–2012
Wood, plastic and sound
Overall display dimensions variable
Presented by the Tate Americas Foundation 2013


Channel One, Channel Two and Channel Three consists of three long, unpainted plywood boxes of different sizes, each of which is placed on top of two trestles that are around one metre in height. Two of the boxes point towards one other and are separated by a gap, while the other is placed perpendicular to them with one end adjacent to this gap, in which one person can stand surrounded by the three boxes. At the end of each box is a peephole for visitors to look into by bending or kneeling down. The interior of each box is covered with tinfoil, and each is illuminated by a light bulb in one of the primary colours – red, yellow and blue. Visible black wires attach the plywood containers to a small amplifier, which emits a droning sound, produced by a noise music track, that fills the room. The installation is surrounded by a rope that keeps visitors from wandering among the sculptures and electrical wires. Instead, visitors are asked to form a single line and enter the space between the three containers one at a time, so they can look through the peepholes under the supervision of a gallery assistant.

The elements that make up this installation were first made in 1994 by the American artist Mike Kelley when he was living and working in Los Angeles, California. The work’s title evokes the channels that are used in sound production to record multiple tracks and when playing live music through a public address system. Kelley played in bands and made noise music throughout his career, and his artworks and performances often incorporate sound elements. The trance-like sounds that feature in Channel One, Channel Two and Channel Three may also relate to Kelley’s interest in spiritual experiences and psychedelia. However, the artist has been careful to distinguish his work from that of other artists and musicians who, according to Kelley, attempt to combine new technologies with the aesthetics of ‘early spiritualism’. In 2004 he called this approach ‘a kind of techno-shamanism’ or ‘techno-tribalism’, stating that as ‘media become so much a part of everyday life, an environment is created where people increasingly think of media as akin to nature ... I think that’s very lazy and sloppy’ (Kelley and Sconce 2004, accessed 10 September 2014). Channel One, Channel Two and Channel Three deflates these ‘techno-shamanist’ ideas through its makeshift, DIY appearance and its use of unashamedly man-made materials.

The simple geometric shapes of the wooden containers in Channel One, Channel Two and Channel Three can be compared to minimal sculpture, which emerged in North America in the 1960s and was still a strong influence at the California Institute of Arts (CalArts) when Kelley was a graduate student there in 1976–7. The droning sounds in the installation are also comparable to minimal music, such as the work of La Monte Young and Steve Reich, which developed as a genre around the same time as minimal sculpture. In 1978, the year after he left CalArts, Kelley produced a series of sculptures called Birdhouses, which mimic the simplified shapes of minimal sculptures while also resembling nesting boxes for birds. In that they appear to serve a practical purpose, the Birdhouses may be seen to offer a critique of minimalism’s reductive formalism. In a similar way, Channel One, Channel Two and Channel Three is comprised of basic geometrical volumes that, due to the lit tinfoil, accompanying sounds and the interactive nature of the installation, give the impression that they may be functional objects, such as props for a low-budget science fiction film.

Plain plywood boxes feature in several works made by Kelley during the 1990s, including the installation Orgone Shed 1992 (Sammlung Grässlin Collection, St Georgen). Curator Valentina Ravaglia has connected these two works through their use of ‘vernacular and craft materials’ and their references to ufology: in the case of Channel One, Channel Two and Channel Three, through the vivid colours and tunnels of light that recur in descriptions of alien abductions (Ravaglia 2013, accessed 10 September 2014). Ravaglia drew out this association with reference to Kelley’s cynicism towards ‘the gullibility of UFO and supernatural phenomena enthusiasts’, which she argued is revealed in Channel One, Channel Two and Channel Three through ‘a mundane construction of plywood and tin foil with coloured light bulbs and some background noise: a set of objects on to which we project meaning’ (Ravaglia 2013, accessed 10 September 2014).

Further reading
John C. Welchman, Isabelle Graw, Anthony Vidler and others, Mike Kelley, London 1999, reproduced pp.112, 113.
Mike Kelley and Jeffrey Sconce, ‘I’ve got this strange feeling: The uncanny’, Tate Etc., no.1, Summer 2004, pp.88–93, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/ive-got-strange-feeling, accessed 10 September 2014.
Valentina Ravaglia, ‘The Supernatural Powers of Plywood’, Tate Etc., no.27, Spring 2013, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/supernatural-powers-plywood, accessed 10 September 2014.

Natasha Adamou
March 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

Viewers are encouraged to bend or kneel at the intersection of three long plywood structures and peer through the lenses at the ends of each box. The interiors glimpsed within are made of simple tin foil saturated with light in the primary colours of yellow, blue and red. Meanwhile, a droning noise emanates from an adjacent boom box. Intended to simulate a trance-like state, this combination of elements reflects Kelley’s interest in folk myths and the collective unconscious by hinting at possible relationships between Ufology, psychedelia and spiritualism.

Gallery label, October 2016

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