Dust To Dust: For Ozymandias

SOIL CITY
Dust To Dust: For Ozymandias

Commissioned by St. Louis Science Center. for “Grow“, a new pavilion and permanent agriculture exhibition at SLSC.

Design: Mark Cooley
Fabricated with local salvaged cedar by Scott Wunder @ Wunderwoods, St. Louis.

Nature is the most gifted sculptor.  But perhaps the core of nature’s art is not found in its forms, but rather in the beauty of its processes.  Among Nature’s basic processes is the nutrient cycle, a bland term that conceals the profound poetic reality of what it describes – the creation of life from death through the living medium we commonly call “dirt”. This process takes on a special relevance in a contradictory society, which devotes more landfill space to compostable organic materials than it does to all other sources of “waste” – all while struggling with a nationwide soil depletion crisis. Treating organic materials, from newspapers to food scraps, as “waste” to be thrown in landfills rather than composted and returned to the earth, linearizes nature’s ingenious nutrient cycle, thereby threatening its miraculous built-in system for reproducing itself seemingly infinitely, and in infinite diversity, from finite materials and conditions.

This vermiculture system provides a framework for nurturing and viewing a fundamental and necessary work of nature, the creation of living dirt – the medium through which death becomes life. This vermiculture system was designed to consume the organic material byproducts of the St. Louis Science Center. Shredded office paper, landscape clippings, and food scraps generated at on the grounds are composted and, through a symbiotic relationship of earthworms, bacteria, and fungi, are converted into rich compost to be used as fertilizer for SLSC’s grounds. Potential waste converted into living dirt is the completion of a work of Nature’s art with the help of humans who wish to aid and visualize this beautiful process.

For thousands of years, artists have been celebrated for their ability to transform raw materials into precious works, and in the process make visible what is often unseen, forgotten, or ignored. This work follows this traditional formula, but engages the goals and materials relevant to the current age – an age when our collective future depends on the redefinition of our relationship to the world by working with nature rather than against it. 

Links
http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/saint-louis-science-centers-new-grow-exhibit-invites-visitors-step-farmers-shoes#stream/0

http://www.ksdk.com/entertainment/television/show-me-st-louis/experience-life-farm-saint-louis-science-center-grow/259471088

http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2015/11/23/saint-louis-science-center-announces-new-agriculture-exhibit/

GROW pavilion completed at St. Louis Science Center

http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2015/11/23/saint-louis-science-center-announces-new-agriculture-exhibit/

http://www.feastmagazine.com/the-feed/st_louis_news/article_2a88c7fc-3705-11e6-9226-8375c4c9a184.html

 

wanted

wanted. a video installation by beth hall & mark cooley
originally created for “my america” exhibition, a response to the election of Donald Trump, Washington DC. 2017

eWaste

eWaste
2014

By itself, a brand attached to a product is worth nothing. If brands matter, it is because it is us – faithful consumers – who are branded. This is the job of marketers, who employ artists and designers, statisticians and even psychologists in the ongoing competition to gain the biggest chunk of the public’s “mindshare”. We may have been conditioned to think by years of advertising featuring sleekly designed hi-tech gadgets occupying large expanses of glossy white paper that new technologies are essentially clean technologies. However, there are a myriad of toxic chemicals found in electronics, chemicals that damage the health of workers, communities and the environment at an ever-increasing speed and severity as we try to satisfy our endless desire for the newest gadgets and the accelerating demands of consumer capitalism.

From the mines of the war torn and poverty stricken Democratic Republic of the Congo where destitute children dig coltan for use in consumer electronics, to a “clean room” of a semiconductor factory in the United States where workers suffer from exposure to neurotoxins (even while they wear clothing to protect the technology they make from contamination from human hair and skin), to sweatshops in China where workers assemble iPhones by hand behind locked gates, armed guards and razor wire, to India where the machines that have reached the end their all too brief lifespans are sent to be disassembled by children unaware of the deadly toxins they handle daily, the tremendous cost to human health and well-being could never be included in the price tag of even our most expensive hi-tech gadgets.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that waste from discarded electronics is growing two to three times the rate of any other source of waste. Only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, and even if 100% were recycled it would only account for a small amount of the total waste produced before products ever reach consumers. When we consider that at least 70 barrels of waste are created upstream during resource extraction and production processes for every single barrel of consumer waste produced, we can begin to see the limitations of consumer recycling and the need to create alternatives to consumer-driven capitalist economics.

We live in a time when many people are so alienated from the natural world that the concept of “nature deficit disorder” has entered our vocabulary to describe the potential mental and physical health effects from much of our society’s profound alienation from the natural world. Simultaneously, we have desperately used our technology to create simulations – extraordinary lies about the natural world – which light up our screens with the opposing and equally disturbing images of pristine “natural” settings untouched by human hands or post-apocalyptic wastelands in which humans are still somehow able to survive despite the collapse of the earth’s life support systems. We have made it possible, through our technologies, to immerse ourselves in the image of the world we want to see. However, until we get out there and act in the real world, these visions will remain only shadows on the wall while the world outside continues to decline and taking us ignorantly with it.

Book of Dangerous Ideas

Book of Dangerous Ideas
2013

A university faculty exhibition is used as an opportunity to provoke and collect a sample of creative witing from GMU students in response to the following text:

“Earlier this year, American University released a two-year study uncovering the infamous Koch brother’s little black checkbook. The study validates the far-reaching influence that America’s richest, most powerful men have on the public, via non-profit institutes, foundations, and higher education. The study, conducted by AU’s Investigative Reporting workshop, shows the broad, widening reach of right-wing libertarian ideologues Charles and David Koch, and the $134 million dollars that has been used to influence politics and policy through the right-wing echo chamber. The largest of the Koch’s University donations went to George Mason University, which collected $16 million between 2007 – 2011 with Mason’s Institute of Humane Studies and Mercatus Center bringing in 14 million between them.  

The Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) website states its mission as, “taking bold new steps to combat the dangerous ideas that threaten our freedom, our prosperity…” With Koch funded ideologues with PhDs talking about everything from eliminating environmental protections, social safety net programs and public schools, it’s startling to think of what “dangerous ideas” they might be talking about. 

In the spirit of protecting our freedom at a public university to express ‘dangerous ideas’ please anonymously write your best ones in this book.”

Matter/Antimatter: A Time Based Work

Matter/Antimatter: A Time Based Work
2013

Materials: plastics, red worms, shredded documents and coffee grounds.

A constructed ecosystem which facilitates the transformation of office waste (shredded office paper and coffee grounds) into living dirt. The resulting high grade fertilizer is then used to enrich the soil of a tabletop garden designed as a living salad bar for employees. 

Documentation from installation at George Mason University School of Art Gallery and faculty staff lounge terrace. 

Safe

Safe
video installation by beth hall, mark cooley & celia cooley | 2012 

Maternalisms exhibition catalog by Natalie Loveless

The popular imagination is heavily invested in a deeply romanticized conception of the maternal. The laborious, messy and complex beauty of living with children is lost in countless sanitized and idealized images of a superficial, strictly gendered, privatized and heavily branded maternity. Popular culture gives a pre-packaged answer to the complex questions of parenting in a quickly changing world. For some, parenting is narrowed to a list of milestone purchases – graduating kids through a series of child development books, baby seats, bicycles, cell-phones, computers, cars, and so on into adulthood. Those who prefer a critical and active approach to parenting soon discover that information and disinformation abounds, and critically engaged parenting can quickly lead to significant research skills. Though the labor of caring for children is generally maligned in popular culture, if given attention, the daily rituals of child care-giving reveal a beauty based on a system of values radically different to those conjured by the media’s constant appeals to our well cultivated sense of alienation, self-interest and irrational fears.

“As philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers puts it, “an idea always exists as engaged in a matter, that is as ‘mattering.'”9
Inhabiting the space between detailed local care practices and the social frame- works enmeshed with them, beth Hall and Mark cooley’s Safe explores how ideas are engaged in matter and matters engaged in ideas. Safe juxtaposes the overwhelming medical data, advice, and rules that face parents in the information age with specific actions that invoke the maternal everyday: hand washing, hair brushing, flossing, etc… As accompaniment to these texts and images, a fetal heartbeat repeats and multiplies in the background, creating a soundscape of the periodic monitoring that punctuates modern pregnancy and stands as evidence that all is right and safe in the womb. At the same time, this soundscape insists on the anxiety of information, an anxiety that obstructs any ability to even entertain the fiction of unmediated experience, freighted as we are by the immensity of information and disinformation characteristic of contemporary motherhood.”
– Natalie Loveless – New Maternalisms exhibition publication.

EcoCultures

EcoCultures Website

EcoCultures is an exhibition bringing together current cultural 
productions at the intersections of the arts, sciences and the 
practice of everyday life to explore the interdependence of our 
social and biological systems.

Mason Hall Atrium Gallery | George Mason University, Fairfax VA
September 22 – October 6, 2011

Public Reception – September 22, 6:30 – 8:00pm

Curated by Mark Cooley

Featuring the work of:  
Amy Balkin

The Futurefarmers

The Yes Men

Beatriz da Costa

Temporary Travel Office

 

Beehive Design Collective

Jens Jarisch & Sharon Davis

Kim Stringfellow

Matthew Friday & Jeff Lovett

Sarah Kanouse & Shiloh Krupar

 

Ps4

 Ps4
2008 – 2011

“Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms.” – Oona King, former member of the British Parliament.

For over a decade, war has ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fueled, in part, by an intense demand for natural resources, the war has claimed over 5 million lives. Coltan (Columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore from which the element tantalum is extracted, is one of the DRC’s most sought after resources. Tantalum is widely used in common electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and video game consoles.

Ps4 is an interactive video mash-up that juxtaposes documentary video footage with live video gameplay. Though initially conceptualized in response to reports of Sony’s large stake in the DRC’s bloody coltan trade during the production of its Playstation 2, Ps4’s playlist has since expanded to look at a variety of issues. On a general level, Ps4 explores the potentially alienating effects of gaming by derailing the seamless gameplay experience and offering a problematic and politicized view of so-called “immersive” leisure activities.

Documentary footage,”Congo’s Bloody Coltan”  Produced by, and used with permission from, thePulitzer Center.

Publications

PS4. Issue 6: Fetish. Katalog
PS4. Media Fields Journal

American Dreams: A Work in Progress

American Dreams: A Work in Progress
2000 – 2011

American Dreams is an interactive installation making use of common retail packaging and display aesthetics where gallery participants may self-reflectively play the role of consumers while uncovering unsettling relationships between free market globalization and military domination. The installation represents an ongoing meditation on the abuse of power and prevailing mythologies and ideologies of US culture.

 

Review – Ryan Griffis, “American Dreams”, review, New Art Examiner, Vol. 29, No. 4, Dec.-Jan. 2000

 

Color Fields: 21st Century Man, Heroic & Sublime

 

Color Fields: 21st Century Man, Heroic & Sublime | 2011

Series. Oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″ each

“We are reasserting man’s natural desire for the exalted, for a concern with our relationship to the absolute emotions…The image we produce is the self evident one of revelation, real and concrete, that can be understood by anyone who will look at it without the nostalgic glasses of history.”

“The Sublime is Now,” Barnett Newman, 1948 

“Landor conceived and designed two projects for The Procter & Gamble Company in which color has been particularly successful; Febreze® Air Effects and Secret® Sparkle™. Both projects leverage a principle called senesthesia, which concerns the multisensor psychological messages color can communicate, a phenomenon I first became familiar with at CMG Workshop discussions. The colors for Febreze Air Effects were selected to evoke the sense of light, subtle and airy fragrances. The colors for Secret Sparkle were selected to evoke the flavors that reinforce the tasty versioning names. We’ve found that the more globally the senses are evoked, the more likely it is that the consumer will become engaged and ultimately purchase the product. In 2005, Febreze won Best Brand Design from P&G. Secret Sparkle expanded the market base of the Secret brand by growing the Secret entry-level market. In these two cases, color sells through exciting the senses!”

“The Profit of Color! Color experts from the Color Marketing Group share their success stories,” The Color Marketing Group (CMG) ‘Color Sells, and the Right Colors Sell Better.’ 
http://www.colormarketing.org

The Supreme Court held in the 1995 case of Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., 115 S.Ct. 1300 (1995) that the green-gold color of a dry cleaning press pad can function as a trademark. The court’s landmark decision certified that color itself, apart from any particular graphic representation, may be patented and therefore legally owned as private property. In the years following the 1995 Supreme Court decision corporations have raced to trademark their brand colors resulting in a series of color trademark infringement cases. Color Fields is a series of oil paintings depicting several currently patented colors of the spectrum. Colors include Barbie pink, UPS brown, Coca Cola red, Target red, The Home Depot orange, T-Mobile magenta and Tiffany blue.

When Barnet Newman’s painting Vir Heroicus Sublimis debuted in 1951 Newman invited viewers to stand only inches away from the canvas because it is precisely at this range that the enormous painting engulfs the viewer’s field of vision thereby eclipsing the surrounding world. And yet, However engrossing, intoxicating and pleasantly debilitating an uninterrupted color field might be for an artist or an especially enthusiastic museum visitor, the fact remains that falling headlong into a sea of Red, will likely get you promptly removed from the premises by security guards. Perhaps Newman’s innovation of “zips” serves as a safety device – a visual system of restraints – in the event just such a transcendental moment befalls an unsuspecting art lover within the hallowed halls of MOMA. Leave it to the “zips” to snap us back to the thingness of the thing we’re looking at – a painting on a wall in a museum on 11 West 53 Street.

However remote from the world of marketing and capitalism Newman and many other modernist painters and institutions might have thought the experience of their art would be, the lofty goal of transporting the viewer into sublimity through a total immersion in the product (painting) seems very much at home in the current field of branding and color marketing. Perhaps we only fail to see this common purpose because paintings are considered Fine Art (with all of its lofty pseudo-spiritual goals) while advertising is seen as commerce. Anyone who makes this silly distinction should take a look at what a Barnett Newman sells for these days. It is quite apropos in this context that artists can only hope to find success in the contemporary art world after developing a consistent visual style, a trademark if you will, thereby confirming one’s place in the art commodity market.