Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lane Cooper

Lane Cooper is the second artist here on Life the Universe and Art. Lane is currently an Assistant Professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art in Ohio. She received her B.S. in Studio Art from the University of North Alabama, her M.A. in Art History from The University of Alabama at Birmingham and her M.F.A. in Painting from the University of Alabama. Lane is a visual and textual artist, working in drawing, painting, video and installation. She has shown widely most recently participating in “Visual Connections: A History of the Moving Image,” a group exhibition dealing with TIME-based work with featured artist Bill Viola

1. Your current project deals with the idea of a life debt, what exactly is that and how did you come to work with this idea?

There are moments in your life that stand out – pivotal moments that decide the course of things. A life-debt has to do with these moments in a positive way – people that give something, a word, an action – for the better. It can be something that’s small, but whose value can’t easily be measured.

To give an example, in 1996 I was diagnosed with cancer and I went through a really tough time for a couple of years. I remember sitting with my friend Chris waiting to have my first biopsy. She kept making jokes about how maybe my lump had teeth and hair. She kept cracking me up and then afterward we went and got pizza and watched a movie. That’s a life-debt… something beyond ordinary understandings of value.

So I was thinking about these people, like Chris, that I owe so much to and I was also thinking of this idea of a debt and payment and value. The idea of value is one that I’ve worked with in the past and I’m still very interested in – part of it is this idea of art as a precious commodity – even a priceless commodity.

Images… text… these are currency…

2. This project seems to be very much about the act of creating and the act of giving, how does this idea impact your process and the work?

When you talk about art with people who aren’t artists, this idea often comes up that how much work, how much effort, how much time is put into a thing determines, at least to some extent, its value, its goodness. I’m interested in this idea of exchange value versus its more intangible value. It’s a juxtaposing in my work always of metaphysical concerns with the perceived reality of value; of commodity.

In terms of the process, the actual act of making and giving - when I was a kid, my grandmother made quilts – they were piece-worked, built moment on moment, very methodical and with very consistent aesthetic decisions guiding the process. In the end one might look very much like another, or not, yet they were usually made for someone specific and as objects they have this personal value that is impossible to quantify. These quilts were what she had to give. This is one of the models for this process.

3. Throughout your video work, and with this project there seems to be a thread of biography, not only of yourself but of the culture you have grown up in, the Appalachian foothills. How has that informed your aesthetic choices?

4. The philosophical and cultural implications of your work, and the choices you make seem very much to understand art as not necessarily “ART”, but rather as something that lives and breathes with the artist and the community in which it interacts. How did you arrive at this idea?

(3 & 4 together) –

We’re all informed by our biographies. We’re either reacting to or acting on the content of that biography.
I always wanted to be an artist – since I was three… and when I went to undergraduate school I left with a certain understanding of what that meant. Primarily it meant being something “other than” – when I left my tiny town I did not value my identity or the generosity of those who made me. I didn’t understand that my passions were a product of that culture. Those passions: language, the tactility of sound, of voices, an understanding of image as text, the value of making, and a dwelling upon the nature of being – were given to me by those people.

It’s been a long time coming, this process of letting go of that original understanding and, as evidence of it, there’s an awful lot of bad work out there with my name on it. Letting go of that idea of artist also meant letting go of my idea of art. Where I once saw art as this object that was there – whole and self-contained – self-possessed with intrinsic value, I now understand it as a text, a narrative that depends on the reader. The work is an actor in a dialogue. It’s really rather boring if it’s just for me.
Now I’m open to how my life, the people and places I come from has informed my work. That history comes out in my approach to making; how I think about that making and in the things I’m interested in. Conversation, debate, storytelling and even old school Populism were so much a part of my youth and now that’s been reconfigured into my work.

5. Your aesthetics have this amazing sense of formal beauty? How did you develop that aesthetic sensibility?

Some of it is like chocolate ice cream, you choose what you like.

-- I want my work to have a certain appeal, so I tend to pick out the things that appeal to me and seem appropriate to the ideas being expressed. But it’s not as simple as that is it? It would be easy enough to write a book on aesthetics but the short of it is that my sensibility has shifted significantly since ’96. I find I use color more deliberately, more sparingly – I don’t feel the need to be as direct in my imagery either. When I stopped making my work to satisfy this imagined external art consumer, I started liking it a lot more. Also knowing and working with the artist Charles Tucker and becoming more familiar with the working process of Mel Chin has had a huge influence on the look of my work. It’s due in large part to their influence that I have arrived at a process that’s about questioning and strategizing within the work while trying to balance that with not second guessing my decisions too much. This conscious thinking has had, I think, a stabilizing effect on my work. For the most part I think it’s more sophisticated now

Top Ten List
It’s very difficult to limit this to ten…
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Uncle Lee
Charles Tucker
Mel Chin
Drive-By Truckers (& Johnny Cash & Doc Watson, etc.)
Hamilton, Alabama
Sylva, North Carolina
Richard Giles
Tom Mims & Kay Canipe
White Lightening (the movie with Burt Reynolds)

Text for Sound House Video

Slow It has passed
until almost gone
a residue only remains
and memories
grayer than dreams
image you to me

I breathe in
your smell
your thought
my grief

I breathe out

copyright 2003
lane cooper


Anonymous said...

That was really insightful!

Anna said...

Beautiful! And I am most definitely indebted. :)

Anonymous said...

You are truly inspiring <3

blackjack said...

Greetings. My seven year search is over. I found you. You didn't know you were lost, did you? I purchased and have enjoyed one of your early works. I'm sure you remember it. It's called "Praying for Mercy". We affectionately refer to it as what's waiting for you if you come home late. You didn't sign the painting for some reason and I lost the receipt. Naturally, while looking for something else, I found it. I'd be glad to email it to you in case you don't have a photo of it. Anyway, I've enjoyed it for many years and thank you for it. Dave Cade, Birmingham, Al