What do you do?
I’m an 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?
Well, 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]
What inspires your work?
Most of 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.
My 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.
Yeah, I 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.)
This is 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.”
This 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.
Not only 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 watching, etc?
I listen 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.
For more of Ian’s work visit http://www.forthestate.com/artists/ian-cooper