Commonwealth and Council

Primarily Domestic

David Kelley


Primarily Domestic is a new 2-channel video and photography installation by David Kelley. Continuing his interest in researching and repurposing documentary and art historical materials, Primarily Domestic takes a 1972 interview with Italian artist Marisa Merz as its source. For the interview in Notiziario Arte Contemporanea with Mirella Bandini, the notoriously private Merz refuses to talk about her art work and instead, interviews her own daughter Beatrice about what she wants to eat for lunch. Their domestic conversation turns philosophical, as it hones in on the nature of reality and desire. This quotidian activity of caring for her daughter can be read as enacting the essence of Minimalism’s commitment to reëncountering everyday life and the unmonumental, while also making public her own reality as a working mother and artist.

Marisa Merz, frequently described as private, shy, and uninterested in promoting her career, is the only woman artist associated directly with the history of Arte Povera. Writers and critics narrating her contribution to the scene often quote this interview. Is it a shorthand these writers use to illustrate the popular view that Merz’ oeuvre is autobiographical, domestic, women’s work, and private by nature? Or is the interview an extension of her art practice to make her private conversation with her daughter a public record in the art magazine? Is this interview the most important and little known social practice artwork by an Arte Povera artist?

Kelley’s suite of mural-scale photographs portray domestic objects, artificial hair, food, and images of Merz’s work set against the backdrop of street scenes in Dorchester, Massachusetts (Kelley’s home) and Turin, Italy (Merz’s home). Nested in these blown-up vanitas, actors perform Merz and her daughter’s interview (narrated by two readers) and art critic Yve-Alain Bois reads Francis Ponge’s poem Le Cageot about a fruit crate that invokes a compassion for everyday objects that the Surrealists share with Merz.

David Kelley (b. 1972, Portland, OR) makes films, photographs, and video installations through a hybrid practice of studio, site-specific, experimental documentary, and ethnographic productions. Often involving performances of non-actors, and the construction of sculptural sets, Kelley applies choreographic and performance art strategies to respond to local realities. The legacies of the avant-garde and ongoing waves of modernization and infrastructural development are recurring themes in his work. He has recently produced films in the Alberta tar sands, Canada; Amazonas’ capital Manaus, Brazil; rural Laos; Turin, Italy; and Three Gorges Dam, China. His work has been included in exhibitions at: Museum of Modern Art in New York (2014); Nanjing Art Museum (2014); Davis Museum (2014); deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (2013); and BAK, basis voor actuele kunst in Utrecht, Netherlands (2011). Kelley received a Master of Fine Art from University of California, Irvine (2008) and participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program (2010-11). He is currently based in Boston, Massachusetts, where he is a Professor of Art at Wellesley College.