Ryan Kelly‘s performance, Mazeppa, part of his Wind Challenge show, is a short piece with a rather profound sad meaning. I saw it on Oct. 6 at Fleisher Art Memorial. From a simple childhood trope, a rocking horse, Kelly has ridden into being the idea of the Everyman, who is beset by fears and hobgoblins. As he rocks back and forth going nowhere, passive and lulled by the comfort of the rocking horse, life is a dream that passes him by. This somber piece is heartfelt by the artist, who acknowledges in his statement the despair and pathos in the work.
In Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1797) the artist portrays himself asleep while goblins surround and menace him. Kelly’s echo of Goya is unmistakeable, yet Mazeppa’s perfect mix of silliness (rocking horse) and pathos (adult on rocking horse) satisfies a contemporary viewer’s need for dark humor to spice the darkling message.