Beam me Down: Guidance Devices and Aftereffects of the Psychotropic Imaginary in the Work of Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley
John C. Welchman

This talk will not address the direct or experiential effects of psychoactive drugs – whether psychological, social, political or aesthetic – but instead examine the shadow cast by the absorption and reorchestration of their impact in popular or everyday cultures during the 1970s and 1980s, as manifest in the artistic practices of two Los Angeles-based artists, Jim Shaw (1952) and Mike Kelley (1954–2012). What results are called “aftereffects” for several reasons: first, because the during the initial stages of an (obviously contested) “normalization” of drug cultures, especially in American suburbs and high schools – a process sutured to unevenly stern and discriminatory regimes of criminalization – we witnessed the construction of new narratives and renegotiations, some consolidating a general misunderstanding, of the psychotropic discourse largely developed by a previous generation; secondly, the purview here is limited to representations of imagery arising, both directly and indirectly, from psychotropic experience, and is thus removed, possibly several times, from that somewhat mythical construct of the ‘trip’ itself. What is of interest, then, in the transmission, reception and, in a sense, the narrowing of, or even capitulation to, certain boundary conditions of drug-related experience. The discussion follows how this channelling connects to other social formations, including but not limited to education, acculturation, coming-of-age, ‘visionary’ religious phenomena and the reorganization of aesthetic codes during 1970s and 1980s.

John C. Welchman is Professor of Art History in the Visual Arts department at the University of California and a leader in the international arts community. He serves as chair of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Los Angeles and Advisor at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam. His books on art and visual culture include Paul McCarthy: Caribbean Pirates (forthcoming, 2017), Guillaume Bijl (JRP|Ringier, 2016), Vasco Araújo (ADIAC, 2007), Art After Appropriation: Essays on Art in the 1990s (Routledge, 2001), Invisible Colours (Yale, 1997) and Modernism Relocated: Towards a Cultural Studies of Visual Modernity (Allen & Unwin, 1995). He is co-author of Joseph Kosuth: Re-Defining the Context of Art: 1968–2014. The Second Investigation and Public Media (forthcoming, 2017), Kwang Young Chun (Skira Rizzoli, 2014), On the Beyond: A Conversation between Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and John C. Welchman (Springer, 2011), Mike Kelley (Phaidon, 1999) and The Dada & Surrealist Word-Image (MIT, 1989); and editor of Sculpture and the Vitrine (Ashgate, 2013) and Rethinking Borders (Minnesota University Press/Routledge, 1996). Past Realization: Essays on Contemporary European Art [XX to XXI vol. I] was published Sternberg earlier this year, the first of a series of six volumes of his collected writings.