Mike Kelley writes: "In Superman Recites Selections from 'The Bell Jar' and Other Works by Sylvia Plath an actor portrays Superman and does exactly what the title describes. In a dark no-place evocative of Superman's own psychic 'Fortress of Solitude' the alienated Man of Steel recites those sections of Plath's writings that utilize the image of the bell jar. Superman directs these lines to Kandor, the bell jar city that represents his own traumatic past, for he is the only surviving member of a planet that has been destroyed. Kandor now sits, frozen in time, a perpetual reminder of his inability to escape that past, and his alienated relationship to his present world. For us, Kandor is an image of a time that never was — the utopian city of the future that never came to be.
This videotape was originally produced as an element for the installation work Kandor-Con 2000, which was presented as part of the exhibition Zeitwenden at the Kunstmuseum Bonn in 2000. The title mimics the term comic-con, which is a comic book collector's convention, and the piece is meant to be reminiscent of the kinds of displays found at such events.
The main body of the project consists of two renderings of a fictive futuristic city, named Kandor, found in Superman comic books. As depicted in these comics, this city, in a reduced state, sits inside a bell jar in Superman's secret Fortress of Solitude. It is a constant reminder of his lost homeland and functions metaphorically as a symbol of his alienated relationship to the planet he now occupies.
One rendering of Kandor consists of a computer animation of the city by Martin Middelhauve, presented as a video projection; the other is a collection of architectural models of various buildings from the city arranged on a large circular base. Architecture students continued to create these models during the run of the exhibition.
Originally, my proposal for this work included a website where fans of Superman comics could log on and make proposals for the construction of a virtual version of Kandor. One of the things that interested me the most about Kandor is that there is no continuity in its depiction in Superman comics. Its skyline changes from story to story, making it impossible to truly reconstruct. An interactive computer program that would allow the city to be changed continuously, based on fan's input, would be a perfect reflection of the ambiguous nature of the city, and an appropriate model of memory's elusive nature. Middelhauve's animation, which presents multiple overlays of various versions of the city, is a compromise solution for this idea.
Part of my interest in having an internet component in the work was to stress the alienation metaphor relative to Superman's city in a bottle, one that is in line with Sylvia Plath's use of the image of the bell jar as a symbol of psychic disconnection. I wanted to draw a comparison between the bell jar and the net, presenting the net surfer as a lonely, disembodied, individual.
To counteract this pathological reading of the net, I also proposed to physically bring all of the Superman fans together who met on line via this project. Kandor-Con 2000 would then truly have functioned as a real celebration and meeting place for like-minded people. Of course, this was impossible. A number of large graphs and charts reveal the economic impossibility of bringing these people together. Budgetary restrictions did not allow for even a tiny proportion of the city to be virtually or physically built. Middelhauve's computer reconstruction of the myriad cities and the few finished architectural models barely scratch the surface of this immense endeavor. The project as a whole then became a mirror of the failure of Modernism's vision of a technological utopia."
With: Michael Garvey. Camera: Greg Kucera. Editing and Post: Greg Kucera. Crew: Dave Huges, Catherine Sullivan, Won Ju Lim.