Monday, March 8, 2010

A Conversation with Tara Cooper

Tara Cooper is currently exhibiting "Off-Season" at LOOP Gallery until March 21, 2010. Our conversation was based on a preview of her work during installation.

Ingrid Mida: Based on what you wrote for your blog post, I almost expected to see a portrait of your very hip 95 year old grandmother. Is she on the video by any chance?

Tara Cooper:  My grandmother is featured on the video. Essentially, it is a 3-channel split screen, extremely close-up image of her with very little movement. I think of it as a time-based portrait.

Ingrid Mida:  Was your grandmother at the opening? If not, have you shown her any of these images? If so, what did she say?

Tara Cooper: My grandmother couldn’t make it for the opening, as she is still in Florida. She had some concerns over showing her “wrinkly face”, but she was also very excited to be the protagonist of the show. I think it really lifted her spirits, and gave us a chance to reconnect. Nothing beats being the star of the show!

Ingrid:  What is your first memory of your grandmother?

Tara:  My first memories of my grandmother are visiting her at her house/cottage on Lake Huron, near Point Clark, Ontario during the summers. I often spent two weeks or more with her at the lake. There were few children around—most of the properties in that area were owned by retired couples. As a result, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and by myself. My grandfather was still employed at the Bank of Commerce. Sometimes we would pick wild raspberries and make jam, but I also helped her in the garden (she definitely has a “green thumb”). She also taught me how to knit and sew. One of our projects involved making a teddy bear with moving appendages (a real classic “teddy”). Other memories include a set of brown ceramic dishes that were reserved for using down at the beach, and eating pan-fried yellow zucchini from the garden with lots of butter.

Ingrid: For some reason, I was surprised at the size of the drawings/paintings along the back wall. I sort of imagined them as much bigger than they were. What medium did you use? Ink with watercolour? Or perhaps acrylic on paper?

Tara: The drawings on the back wall are all water-based media with a combination of digital printing. Some of the drawings are printed digitally (using the 9800 Epson/same as the bungalows), and others are shown more directly with the medium on frosted mylar. The drawings that I wanted to change and alter were scanned and then re-worked using Photoshop. The ones on mylar include a mix of Caran d’Ache crayons, watercolour, graphite and gouache. 

Ingrid Mida: The photographs of the Florida houses have a sense of loneliness or isolation in them. I suppose I felt that because there is an absence of the human figure in them. Am I reading that correctly? Is that the feeling you intended to evoke?

Tara Cooper: Your reading of the bungalows is correct! I was interested in depicting the notion of “off-season” within the framework of these small cottages. Once printed large, I was surprised by the subtle differences between absent and abandoned. Although the occupants of the houses are not at home, the cottages are clearly well cared for and maintained. There is a kind of held suspension and/or waiting as the structures sit, closed-up and empty for the winter season. They are as you observed both lonely and isolated in time, but I think there is still an element of hope. Tidy and clean they simply need someone to re-inhabit them.

Ingrid Mida: Your art practice encompasses a broad range of media - drawing, photography, printmaking and video. How do you decide which medium to pursue at any given time? If you could pursue only one, which one is your preferred choice of expression?

Tara Cooper: In terms of deciding which medium to employ, I often work with several all at once. There is an element of collecting and gathering at the beginning of any project, where I take pictures, collect sound bytes, short video clips, draw and write. I tend to move back and forth between whatever I have collected, as I am both curious and motivated by translations—how one medium compared with another resolves a certain set of questions. For example: at first I tried to work on some drawings based on the photographs of the bungalows. The photographs however, were much more successful. The drawings quite simply could not compete. If I had to pick only one medium, I would most likely choose drawing. Not only is at a foundation, but I love how accessible and portable it is.

Ingrid Mida: What artist living or dead would you most like to have a conversation with?  What question would you ask them?

Tara Cooper: I would pick Sophie Calle. I’m curious about her process in terms of navigating and developing a project. I would also love to hear her comments regarding the position of women within contemporary art practices. She really did not receive any kind of international recognition and attention until quite recently.

Ingrid Mida: Is there an artwork/artist that makes you really angry?

Tara Cooper: There isn’t really any artist that makes me angry. Of course there are certain works that I don’t engage with, but I honestly believe we are all part of the same chain—any support at any level is productive in maintaining the overall vitality and longevity for the arts (from “Sunday painters” to the Venice Biennale). I’m more interested in finding affiliations and nurturing those.  

Ingrid Mida:  Which are the most common words you use to describe (1) work you like and (2) work you dislike?

Tara Cooper: I like humour and work that makes you think, which doesn't negate an interest in beauty. I would most likely substitute the word disappoint for dislike. I’m especially disappointed when I recognize a missed opportunity.

Ingrid Mida: Who is your best critic?

Tara Cooper: Without any hesitation, my best critic is my husband Terry (who also worked on the video with me). He is a fierce critic who keeps me accountable at every turn.

Ingrid Mida: What colour do you most frequently use?

Tara Cooper: I definitely tend towards a blues and greens. Purple is a tough colour for me.

Ingrid Mida: What frame of mind do you have to be in to produce art?

Tara Cooper: I find producing artwork is more about the steady accumulation of effort. There are times that I feel everything is approaching disaster and wonder about throwing in the towel, but I usually forge ahead as I often return the next day, only to discover what works. In an article from the New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell talks about 2 kinds of creative people. The first is affiliated with precocity—where genius comes at a young age, everything clicking at a particular moment in time (i.e. Orson Welles makes Citizen Kane at 25). He defines the second as “Late Bloomers”. The practices of the late bloomers are rooted in experimentation. Thus it is only with energy and time that a question is solved. Cezanne exemplifies this latter group—producing his most accomplished paintings at the end of his life. I’m hoping that I’m a late bloomer…  (here’s a link to the article)

Ingrid Mida : What book are you currently reading?

Tara Cooper: I am currently reading “The Case For Books: Past, Present and Future” by Robert Darnton (a fascinating read by the director of Harvard’s libraries about the history of books and the potential impact of digital technologies) and Alice Munro’s “My Best Stories”.

Ingrid Mida: If you were not an artist, what would you do?

Tara Cooper: If I wasn’t an artist or affiliated with any kind of art (including dance, music, design, film, fashion etc), which is almost impossible to imagine as it defines so much of my life, I think I would work in the health industry—perhaps as a midwife.

Ingrid Mida: What is your earliest memory as an artist? 

Tara Cooper: A funny story, which might not be my earliest memory, but definitely highlights my capacity and interest for visual culture as a child involves my mother and the mall. I should probably preface this with my suburban upbringing that consisted of almost no trips to any local galleries or arts events. Wanting to complete all of her errands efficiently, my mother would often drop me off at the card shop only to fetch me an hour or so later. I distinctly remember going through all of the greeting cards, critically looking at the images on the outside and the text inside, only to rate how successful they were and subsequently imagine who might buy the card and who might receive it. I’m still fascinated by the relationship between text and image and the idea of narrative. Every used greeting card without question is a residual marker of some narrative and for me the store was a kind of gallery at the mall.