Mike Kelley's Timeless/Authorless was created in 1995 and comprises fifteen panels, each showing what appear to be blown-up articles from newspapers. These magnified excerpts have each been illustrated with a range of photographs. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that those images have little direct connection with the restaurant reviews, narratives and other articles that have been magnified in each of the pages. An example of Timeless/Authorless was first presented in Kelley's exhibition Towards a Utopian Arts Complex at Metro Pictures in New York in 1995. There, the panels were shown interspersed with other pictures, surrounding Kelley's Educational Complex. Both of these works explored the nature of memory and of childhood. In Educational Complex, what appeared to be a crisp architectural model was in fact a subjective construct, recreating the various educational spaces of Kelley's youth from memory, allowing subjectivity to elongate and distort the architectural features of his school and home. Likewise, in Timeless/Authorless, the shifting narratives, deliberately discordant illustrations and incongruous headers of the various newspapers, sometimes shown atop restaurant reviews for eateries in the wrong city, highlight the disorientating nature of memory. These panels combine to form a fictitious portrait of the artist as a victim: Kelley was reacting against recent reviews of his works in which critics assumed that he himself had undergone childhood traumas. Here, in the form of the narratives and images, he has fabricated a new past that intersects the true axes of Kelley's biography through the newspaper titles. These are all taken from places that have played a part in the artist's life: Wayne, Michigan, where he was born; Ann Arbor, where he grew up; Detroit, where he spent some of his youth before moving to California, where he went to art college and made his home; and New York and Cologne, where he has had important exhibitions, not least at the Jablonka Gallery in the latter city, where he had his first one-man show. However, that distorting lens of memory and of the viewer's interpretation introduces a curveball with the deliberate jumbling of content and context, made all the more extreme by the presence of so many pictures largely showing the high jinks of teenagers, images culled from high school yearbooks.
Kelley has used the newsprint format because of its associations with the voice of authority and authenticity. However, it soon becomes clear that he is deliberately tapping into, and undermining, our visual and media education, as almost all of these pages feature disruptions which echo those of the elongated passages and distorted doorways of his Educational Complex: often, the restaurant being reviewed is in, say, Los Angeles while the paper is from Detroit, and in one case an article taken from the Los Angeles Daily News has been placed under the header for the Los Angeles Times. The assumed legitimacy of the authorial position has been deliberately undermined, as has the entire mode of communication, and the viewer is left disorientated through these confounding maneuvers. Kelley, one of the most influential artists to emerge from the 'West Coast' scene in recent decades, whose multi-layered and multi-disciplined work has had a huge influence on generations of artists, has here constructed a narrative that is plagued with conundrums, authenticity being scrutinised and discarded, all the more so in the case of the two English-language pages of the German newspaper, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
The stories in Timeless/Authorless which Kelley has created all take the form of supposedly repressed memories, an area that he has long explored and by which he has been fascinated. The flawed area of memory and the dysfunctional nature of childhood have been key themes in his work, especially since the mid-1990s, the period when Timeless/Authorless was created. Kelley's pictures, performances, installations and sculptures often probe the manner in which people are indoctrinated during the course of their formal and emotional educations. On the PBS programme, Art 21, Kelley explained that in some of his earlier works - for instance his distorted, maltreated and mutated soft toy sculptures - he was exploring 'commodity culture', in part investigating the way that people are converted into consumers at a young age.
The subject of youth and adolescence is emphasized by the yearbook photographs interspersed throughout Timeless/Authorless. Those images, of the rituals and entertainments of teen America, often present amusing scenes. Yet taken as a whole, there is a transgressive element to many of the pictures, which feature masks, uniforms, disguises, transvestism and implied violence, albeit mock. Placed among Kelley's selection of texts, the 'fun' of these snapshots is compromised: in the context of the supposedly repressed memories, these images become unsettling and uncanny.