Michael Smith will perform on Friday night and screen his videos the following evening. Since the 1970s, Michael Smith has nurtured two alter egos: “Baby Ikki” and “Mike.” In “Threshold,” his performance at Yale Union, Smith brings the baby and Mike together in a loop: Mike feeds into Ikki and Ikki feeds into Mike, going from one character to the next, like a life cycle.
Baby Ikki was born in 1975. Conceived as a mute, ambiguous character fixed neither by age nor gender, the Baby is an archetype with an unclear mission, onto which spectators project their own interpretations. “The baby was a reaction to a lot of feminist activity and discussion about gender at the time. I started thinking about what it would be like to have a character without gender, and I thought of an infant.” Since then, the baby has appeared on the street, in videos, at birthday parties, and at Burning Man. In spite of all that time, Ikki is much the same, a feral baby whose precipitous infancy drags against Smith’s increasing age and stoop.
“Mike” is a single white male. An American. A bachelor with no dependents. Hapless but lovable, Mike believes in self-improvement, though isn’t sure how to proceed prudently. Still, he has high entrepreneurial hopes, and when they bust, he finds solace in pertness, in trying to be the happiest, most contented guy in the world. His life is spent in a situation comedy, behind the curve, attempting to fit in. He’s hatched many venture. He hosted a public access TV show, built himself a government-approved fallout shelter with a snack bar, ran a lighting company, and started a “wellness centre.” He has attempted to memorize two words from the dictionary every night to improve his vocabulary, invented a new game for kids called ‘Take Off Your Pants!”, and tried to sell his loft with all his artworks hung in it. Little of it pans out, but Mike endures loss helplessly—one might say naturally.
More writing about Baby Ikki and Mike will appear after the performance.
Michael Smith (b. 1951) lives in Brooklyn, New York and Austin, Texas, where he teaches performance art at the University of Texas.
“Threshold” is organized by Robert Snowden. Thanks to Rhea Anastas, Max Smith-Holmes, and Lola Sinreich, who each taught me something about Michael’s work.
FRIDAY, MARCH 4, 8pm, Free
SATURDAY, MARCH 5, 8pm, Free
A Screening and discussion with Smith
Secret Horror, 1980
Baby Ikki, 1978
How to Curate Your Own Group Exhibition, 1996
Playground, (Michael Smith and Seth Price), 2002
Famous Quotes from Art History, 2003
Outstanding Young Men of America, 1996
Portal Excursion, 2006