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Thread

Tuesday, April 22, 2008–Saturday, May 31, 2008

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Thread offers Justin Cooper’s first large-scale sculpture/installation, which fills the entirety of Gallery 400 ’s space. The exhibition is bookended by two performances featuring Cooper with Noelle Mason and Ross Moreno. The installation and performances interact intimately with each other, like lovers, as well as ignore each other completely, like lovers. At the same time, several dichotomies are pressed into service: temporality vs. permanence; abstraction vs. personification; audience vs. performer; speech vs. gesture; observed impossibility vs. unseen possibility; low profile vs. high body mass; hard factual accounting vs. ethereal hazy accounting; retention vs. loss; celestial chimes vs. terrestrial drums; object vs. space; cold equations vs. heart-warming pseudoscience; eye-witness account vs. eye-witness account; acting vs. re-acting; realistic expectation vs. idealistic projection; unexplained giant fur-covered paper bag vs. explained giant fur-covered paper bag; etc…

The exhibition consists of two elements, one effable and one ineffable. In order to create what he calls a “three dimensional scribble,” Cooper fills the space with garden hoses run through with rebar armatures and attached end-to-end in one continuous thread. The hoses will remain within the gallery for the duration of the exhibition. Within the mess of hoses, Cooper staged two performances in which two actors improvised a conversation about the state of their romantic relationship, the recent birth of their son, and whether or not they had recently seen a Sasquatch. During the performance, the actors continuously thwarted attempts at documentation – an action that emphasized the temporality of the performance itself, and also paralleled the question asked within the performance of whether what the characters had seen earlier that night was real.

As Gallery 400 Assistant Director Anthony Elms wrote:

“If one is prepared, abstraction, ethereal phenomena, and impossibility are observable everywhere. A shrub becomes Sasquatch, every blur a ghost. Some can ’t see a thing through the thicket and must interpret sounds into images. A rustling becomes a rushing little green man. Cooper ’s work reminds us that interpretations of these types—of which there are many—make clear what is always present in our explanations: projection and causality.”

Thread was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2008 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago
series.

Related:

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

Thread is supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago; and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2008 At the Edge
projects: John Arndt (artist), Monica Haslip (Director of Little Black Pearl), Kerry James Marshall (artist and former University of Illinois at Chicago faculty member), Stephanie Smith (Director and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum of Art), Lorelei Stewart (Director of Gallery 400) and Deborah Stratman (artist and University of Illinois at Chicago faculty member).

EXHIBITION ESSAY

Anthony Elms

Justin Cooper prefers materials that are basic and a touch absurd: pumpkins, popcorn, axes, craft paper, cardigan sweaters, packing tape, to name a few. Often he assembles the materials in masses that are more performative prop than sculptural matter. Thread is his first to resist bricolage and just sit still. For Thread, Cooper has produced a pared down sculpture using one material, garden hose, on a grand scale. Yet, its stillness does not contribute to a clearer definition of meaning or explanation of form.

When there is no definitive end in sight and all is jumbled, it is difficult to know where to even begin. Disagreements, lovers ’ spats, scribbles, politics, balls of string, trains of thought; with these, beginnings and endings rarely line up. Confronting these tangles, chances are you perceive what you are prepared to recognize. If you have a suspicious constitution, for example, every tick uncovers proof of ill-intentioned nature. It comes down to viewpoint. This fact is at the heart of Justin Cooper ’s Thread.

You won ’t be harmed. You will probably be harmed. There are no throttles in there. It ’s seamless, brands forgotten. I crept. Not solid and had never been. Creature, balancing.
— Clark Coolidge, Alien Tatters

The rational does not like the individual viewpoint, it always desires instead a tidy beginning, middle, and end. The temporal thrives on viewpoint, always wanting to spring beyond frame and nomenclature. In clearest terms, that is why this garden hose is relentless in the way it dives, bends, weaves, and coils in the space. It wants you lost. It wants you to make your own ends. This garden hose clings to some facts (the columns, the ventilation ducts, and water pipes) but otherwise, curves, folds, and kinks mid-air. The sculpture is an engine for meandering observation. The opening reception of Thread and the last day of the exhibition each feature a performance. The performances also stress observation, specifically interpretive engagement as events unfold. All requires talk. Did you see…

If one is prepared, abstraction, ethereal phenomena, and impossibility are observable everywhere. A shrub becomes Sasquatch, every blur a ghost. Some can ’t see a thing through the thicket and must interpret sounds into images. A rustling becomes a rushing little green man. Cooper ’s work reminds us that interpretations of these types—of which there are many—make clear what is always present in our explanations: projection and causality. Clark Coolidge ’s book of prose poems, Alien Tatters, gathers a series of works using the language and syntax of UFO sighting and extraterrestrial abduction narratives. Tales of this variety are written by people with an excess of idealistic projection; rather than terrestrial drums pounding, they hear celestial chimes ringing. Throughout Coolidge ’s poems contradictions occur, descriptions hesitate, narrative voice lacks coherent place, and foreboding oozes from the shortest of phrases. These poems are crystallized views of language ’s behavior when we turn encounters into narratives that are not mirror images of our experiences. In his afterword, Coolidge writes,

“All those trapped yet oddly illuminated voices, each clinging to its own elaboration of the tale. I had a huge desire to participate somehow. If I couldn ’t go, then perhaps at least I might learn to speak the language, and use it to take myself further in, or out, to what? The brain bred up a notch to apprehend things it can ’t identify? Or is this just the human again but seen through an alternate rift, given a different spin?”

I would answer a resounding ‘yes ’ to Coolidge ’s last question. I dare say Justin Cooper would as well. His attempts to fix identifiable material into unexplained energies through manic sculptures and to script ungrounded dialogues and loopy arguments between workers, friends, and lovers in threadbare performances plot places where we elaborate. Cooper ’s protagonists are not us—they do not ‘act natural ’, neither are they so beyond as to be classified as aliens or yetis. Self-identification is the only true measure we find to register the differences. So we end up in Cooper ’s sculptures and performances looking into reality ’s mirror and seeing ourselves twisted in the contradictions, the hesitations, and the unease. Each one of the performers and garden hoses of Cooper ’s constellation becomes, to quote Cole Porter radically out of context, “one of those bells that now and then rings / just one of those things.”

****

Anthony Elms, Thread, April, 2008.

This essay was distributed in the gallery during the run of the exhibition.

PRESS RELEASE

Justin Cooper

Thread

Gallery 400
Chicago, IL
An At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago project
April 22–May 31, 2008

Opening Reception: Wednesday, April 23, 5–8 pm
Performance: Wednesday, April 23, 6:30 pm
Closing Night Performance: Saturday, May 31, 4:30 pm

Thread offers Justin Cooper’s first large-scale sculpture/installation. The exhibition is bookended with two performances featuring Cooper with Noelle Mason and Ross Moreno. The installation and performances will interact together intimately, like lovers, as well as ignore each other completely, like lovers. Meanwhile, several dichotomies will be pressed into service: temporality vs. permanence; abstraction vs. personification; audience vs. performer; speech vs. gesture; observed impossibility vs. unseen possibility; low profile vs. high body mass; hard factual accounting vs. ethereal hazy accounting; retention vs. loss; celestial chimes vs. terrestrial drums; object vs. space; cold equations vs. heart-warming pseudoscience; eye-witness account vs. eye-witness account; acting vs. re-acting; realistic expectation vs. idealistic projection; unexplained giant fur-covered paper bag vs. explained giant fur-covered paper bag; etc…

Justin Cooper, a sculptor and performance artist, has created projects nationally in California, Maine, New York, and Oregon; internationally in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, and Sweden; and locally at Links Hall and the Chicago Cultural Center. In 2007 Cooper attended Skowhegan and was awarded a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. He received an MFA in 2005 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sponsored in part by Smith & Hawken and Tekni-Plex.

Gallery 400’s At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago series annually commissions four new projects from Chicago area artists. At the Edge aims to support experimental projects that might not find support elsewhere.

All events at Gallery 400 are FREE.

Gallery 400 is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago; and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. The Voices lecture series is made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly. The Daryl Gerber Stokols and Jeff Stokols Voices Series fund provides general support to Gallery 400 programs.

PRINT COLLATERAL

Postcard: Thread – Performance, Reception

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

Justin Cooper

Thread, 2008
Installation at Gallery 400 in May 2008, incorporating 1/2 mile of garden hose

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

Justin Cooper Head ShotJustin Cooper (born 1976), a sculptor and performance artist, has created projects nationally in California, Maine, New York, and Oregon; internationally in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, and Sweden; and locally at Links Hall and the Chicago Cultural Center. In 2007 Cooper attended Skowhegan and was awarded a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. He received an MFA in 2005 from School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

MEDIA COVERAGE

“Justin Cooper.” flavorpill.com, April 22, 2008.