What do you do?
artist, and I’m also on the sculpture faculty at NYU. I’ve been teaching there
for 8 years now, which feels like fucking eternity. I started teaching when I was 26 years old.
What is the most rewarding part of being a teacher?
one rewarding aspect of teaching is that I get to perpetually live vicariously
as a post-teenager, on some level…obviously, I’m an adult – as sad as that is
for various reasons – but I still get to feel especially young when I’m in that
environment. My seniors – who have been living in this city for only 4 years,
yet are leagues savvier than I recall being – I connect with them in a way
that’s borderline embarrassing. Give me another 5 years and I predict it’s
gonna be a bad look, I’m afraid. [laughing]
inspires your work?
my work involves a careful mining of pop culture, or I should say, I derive the
vehicle for my content out of pop cultural relics that I divine from the dregs
of television and film. That said,
I make sculpture, and a lot of what I make is relatively traditional in its
innate “objectness.” I don’t make, like, elaborate video installations or stage
performances, I make things…things that are for the most part static sculpture.
adolescence was galvanized by consuming so, so many coming-of-age movies and
television programs. I would study those child actors, and I would think, “Oh, that’s how I’m supposed to be a kid” and
then try to attempt becoming that archetype. I think films like Richard Donner’s The Goonies – or any of those adventure-based movies like Flight of the Navigator etc – that shit
was so informative, yet perplexing. I watched E.T. and was like, “Oh, I should be riding bikes with a rag-tag
bunch of friends while harboring an alien…” yet I grew up in Manhattan, so a
lot of those fantasies were not translatable. In that sense, coming-of-age was
a betrayal. There was no grass in SoHo. There was no hanging out with in a tree
house testing out bricolaged inventions. There was no chimney for Santa to come
down, you had to hope he had access to the key to your deadbolt…oh yeah, and
also I am an only child. Does that clear this all up?
So that’s part of why you imitated what you saw in movies,
because you didn’t really experience it yourself.
wanted nothing more than to become one of those characters. It seemed so exotic!
[talking about picture in slide 3]
(Note: a hand cut and folded screen print version
of this work, titled "Do/You (Flat)" is a part of the permanent
collection of The Whitney Museum Of American Art.)
a giant sculpture that I’ve been working on tirelessly for too many years. It’s
mostly made out of backpack nylon.
Everything is from scratch – from patterns I dreamed up and fashioned. I
spend a lot of time thinking about the architecture of television sets and how
they parallel our experiences in the “real world,” as well as how they are
these spaces – sitcom sets, especially – that are so intimately familiar
because, in essence, you “visit” them by watching, but they are places that can’t
actually exist for us, despite being able to navigate them in your mind. In the
80’s sketch comedy show, You Can’t Do
That On Television, there was one set that featured a row of gym lockers that
was used as a site gag for child actors to pop out of and tell jokes. One character would hide in a locker
and then, on cue, open the door like some kinder-sarcophagus and call out for a
colleague to emerge from their respective door so that they could tell a bad
joke to each other. I had been ruminating on the inherent embarrassment of adolescent
anarchistic gestures and mark-making – breaking things and spray painting etc –
and how it’s such a petty form of rebellion: unconstructive and unsustainable,
and since the title of the show is so juvenile in its meta-ness – You Can’t Do That On Television, despite
it’s happening on television –
employs this imperative adult voice that almost demands to be violated. So, I
took the row of lockers and I fake cut them in half and rearranged them in such
a way that the pseudo-graffiti phrase, You
Can’t Do That On Television, is ruptured, and the scolding “you can’t do”
becomes a rebellious questioning, “do / you.”
rebellious tearing and rearranging married really well with my interest in the
architectural space of a school locker as a stand-in or surrogate for a child’s
bedroom within a home and speaks a lot about vulnerability. In the original
skit, the kids were hyperbolizing the fantasy that the locker is such a safe
haven that you could actually retreat inside of it…say something embarrassing
and then disappear.
do I like the perverse pleasure of channeling such a stupid adolescent gesture
as ripping something up so that it doesn’t declare what it’s meant to but
something contradictory instead, but I like making such a gesture appear so
fastidious and precise that it effectively drains away all of that implied
urgent dissatisfaction, that rebellion… none of that anarchy. I spent years
sewing each of those locker parts, embroidering each of those graffiti
elements, making it so methodically emphatic – something I’ve taken so completely
seriously – that it could never be read as a knee-jerk impulse. Instead, its
not like “I’m gonna challenge or destroy that,” its like, “I’m going to
carefully, painstakingly challenge or destroy that so that it makes the gesture
even more indelible and hopefully more poignant.
What are you listening to
to music constantly, all day long in my studio. It sets me on edge when things
are too quiet and I can hear the refrigerator compressor go on and off. The
genre of music that I’m most excited about right now can be suitably described
as “gloomy disco.” The record label Italians
Do It Better is perpetuating a lot of this, thank god. The Chromatics, Farah, Desire…I’m in love! A Brooklyn band that
I’ve been particularly obsessed with for the past few weeks is called Lesphinxx. I learned about them through
my friend, Graham Anderson who is hands-down my favorite painter working in the
New York art world. He is also someone who has historically turned me on to
other incredible, yet marginal bands like Scottland’s Yummy Fur. Anyway, Graham befriended the lead singer of Lesphinxx by frequenting her day job – a
random pizzeria in Bushwick. I would describe their sound as gothy nostalgic
club music, but that would be selling it short. It’s too good to explain. It
makes you want to be alone…in a really revelatory way. I’ve found myself
listening to it every morning…which is incidentally the weirdest time to listen
to gothy club music.
more of Ian’s work visit http://www.forthestate.com/artists/ian-cooper