The Poetics Project

The Poetics,from right: John Miller, Tony Oursler, Mike Kelley, Bill Stobaugh, and John Arnheim
The Poetics,from right: John Miller, Tony Oursler, Mike Kelley, Bill Stobaugh, and John Arnheim

The late Mike Kelly was known for his work with Destroy All Monsters, a band he formed in 1973 in Detroit with Jim Shaw, Niagara and filmmaker Carey Loen, but audiences might be less familiar with The Poetics, an art rock band he played in with fellow artist Tony Oursler.  The loosely assembled group kicked around between 1977 and 1983 and worked on various projects including a radio show, a sound track and a dance piece involving mop poles entitled ‘The Pole Dance’.

Still from Pole Dance by Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler and Anita Pace, 1997
Still from Pole Dance by Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler and Anita Pace, 1997

During that period Oursler kept notes from each of the Poetics brainstorming sessions, later used as inspiration for The Poetics Project Installation created by Oursler and Kelly in the late 1990s at Metro Arts in New York that went on to tour internationally.  Together, they re-examined the projects they’d begun in the 70s, re-mastering and releasing old tracks, re-executing The Pole Dance and creating an installation that was hailed by the New York Times as the ‘most irritating show in New York City’ (to Mike Kelley’s delight).

The Poetics Project by Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler. Installation view at Centre Pompidou, Paris, featuring a projected interview with Genesis Breyer P Orridge (right)
The Poetics Project, installation view at Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2013, featuring a projected interview with Genesis Breyer P Orridge (right)

Both artists were interested in exploring the conventions of documentary video and ‘rockumentaries’, and one element of the installation was Synesthesia, a suite of videos by Oursler featuring interviews with twelve legendary underground figures of the downtown New York art and music scene in the 1970s and 80s.  Participants included Genesis Breyer P Orridge, Lydia Lunch, Kim Gordon and Suicide’s Alan Vega.  Sadly difficult to watch online!

Still from Synesthesia: Alan Vega by Tony Oursler
Still from Synesthesia: Alan Vega 1997-2011 by Tony Oursler

There are however some great texts about the project written by Kelly and Oursler respectively that you can read here and here.  And you can watch Tony Oursler talk about The Poetics Project in situ in its 2013 incarnation at the Pompidou Centre here.

The Poetics Project

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