Drag acts and drunken sailors – Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley: We Are Ghosts review

By Adrian Searle

Tate Liverpool
In their bizarre black-and-white films, the Americans confront war and death – with a boisterous, cartoonish take on Das Boot

The films of American artists Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley are, to use a technical term, bonkers. Actors and sets are rendered as though they inhabit a slapdash monochrome painting, rejigged as a silent-era black-and-white movie. The actors wear cartoonish theatrical makeup, which extends to cover their clothes and all the objects and furnishings that surround them. This, in itself, is arresting and strange. Somewhere between the avant garde and the amateur, between theatre and cartoon, history lesson and literature class, their films are equally curious in their subject matter.

For their first UK exhibition in a public gallery, Mary and Patrick (the pair prefer to use their first names) are showing two films and a number of lightbox photographs. In one film, This Is Offal, we find ourselves witnessing the autopsy of a drowned woman. In the second, In The Body of the Sturgeon, we are on board a US submarine, somewhere in the Pacific, in the closing days of the second world war.

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