Mediations : Mark Cooley
Published on now defunct website Get Underground - 02.15.03
In another context, artist Conrad Atkinson once said that responsibility means simply “the ability to respond.” The practice of making aesthetic objects and interventions into daily life, for me, is a simultaneous resistance and recognition of my relationship with that which I oppose and wish to change. It is not "the world out there" that I wish to change but myself in relation to the world and the world in relation to myself. At its best, my work expresses this kind of ambivalence. At its worst, it collapses into a kind of reactionary nihilism where I suppose myself as outside pointing my finger in. Much of my work employs detournement, the act of using the images of dominant culture against themselves often with the intent of exposing ideology covertly passed on through those images. Although it is sometimes practiced as such, for me, detournement is not a visual style (neither is deconstruction). Detournement rather, is a practice that need not take on a specific look. For my practice, detournement is a way to make possible a different kind of interface with the attitudes of the Corporate State by hacking into and rearranging its images of itself. Often this involves making visible the extreme fissure between what is pictured as reality and what is not pictured as reality. There are many artists whose work is invested in this activity from public/installation artists Martha Rosler, Barbara Kruger, Hans Haacke to performance/net artists and Internet based systems such as the Yes Men, ®™ark. I should, before going further, define an often used and often misunderstood term: Ideology. I am defining ideology here as: values, habits and beliefs that are assumed to be natural. Ideology is not simply having or broadcasting beliefs in and of themselves. Rather, ideology is the naturalization of those beliefs through their representations. Ideology is practiced across the political party spectrum but is always in service of authoritarianism. It is easy to counter war slogans with antiwar slogans, "Just say no," with "Just think for yourself," Just do it," with "Just don't do it," Ad Infinitum. As communications technologies progress in terms of industry profits and privatization the more communication regresses in terms of public voice and debate. We are reduced to thinking that if we want our voices to be heard we must create a soundbyte, a universal statement covering all contexts and situations in one fail swoop: Ideology. In this way "anti"-movements often end up strengthening that which they are opposed to. Protesters are regularly depicted on television programs now only to be dismissed as self interested, misinformed and just plain silly. Perhaps, criticisms of the mainstream are, if they attract any attention, destined to become assimilated into the mainstream. As a recent Nike ad demonstrates in dramatic black and white, even criticisms of advertising techniques can be assimilated and themselves be used to sell products...Camera close-up on basketball star Charles Barkley's face "I am not a role model," cut to Mr. Barkley dribbling and body blocking the camera in intense simulated game play and cut back to Barkley's face, "I am not paid to be a role model," cut to rebound with voice over, "I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court," cut to Barkley's face "parents should be role models," cut to more hard-core one-man basketball action and then again to Barkley's face, "Just because I dunk a basketball...," cut to violent dunk and swing off the ring in slow motion and then back to Barkley's face, "...doesn't mean I should raise your kids," cut to black background with exploding text "Just Do IT," fade in Nike Logo.The process of assimilation be as it may, there is still much to take on and much to do for leftminded activist/artists. Nike is Not running commercials featuring Indonesian sweatshop workers sewing shoes in cages as brutal foremen walk down the isles yelling "Just Do It."As an artist, I had a fairly traditional education and so it has taken time to research and develop a method of art making that does not assume a universal, transcendent and autonomous framework. I wanted my art to be contextual, not to speak of "the human condition," but speak from a position of flawed understanding and carry with it the problems of my cultural baggage. In this way I try not to speak for others but only of my relation to others. Curiously, though anti-academic at first my search led me back into academics and graduate school where I was immersed in critical theory which offered a much needed break from the canon of Art History. This experience also introduced me to many artists who although celebrated as such, wanted not to be associated with the myth of the artist as genius/shaman or outsider doomed to continually resurrecting totalitarianism through making works representing absolute truths. Borrowing strategies from Conceptual, Neoconceptual and Public art forms of the 70's and 80's as well as strategies from cultural/political activist/artists of today, I am attempting to make an aesthetics that interrupts and renders inadequate the assumed transcendental experience of the traditionally ‘successful’ gallery exhibit while rendering visible the often authoritarian power represented through images in our culture. It is with these concerns that I first conceived of the gallery installation american dreams, (pictured at left) perhaps my most ambitious project to date. The installation, which was conceived as a traveling exhibition, is an on going recording, assessment and repackaging of objects and images from the U.S. media terrain. american dreams is at the same time an archeological survey and a department store display where participants may self reflectively play the role of consumers while uncovering unsettling relationships between ‘free market’ globalization and military domination. The installation becomes a space where dominant media images are recontextualized to make clear the totalitarian nature of their visual rhetoric. american dreams attempts to reveal ‘the dream’ as a nightmare so that we may desire to wake up.
An interest in the reproduction of images in popular culture and a desire to work critically with these images in the space of their distribution and consumption has lead me on a growing number of occasions to work as an artist outside of the gallery space. Much of my art activity located in nontraditional spaces has been through ArtOfficial Construction Media. An art collective founded in 1998, A©M is presently composed of two ‘full-time’ members, myself and artist Ryan Griffis. We are not a company in either the for- or not-for-profit sense of the term. A©M wishes instead to operate in between legitimate and illegitimate activity, art and politics, public and private space, and other such oppressive dichotomies. We are active in producing cultural products from graphics and posters to web sites to performances and other subtle interventions into the spectacle of life. We strongly endorse and practice non-specialization in all acts of life. Our focus on aesthetics is merely an attempt to keep an emphasis on the rhetorical role that visual language(s) (and its corresponding desires) play in cultural power struggles. A©M's products are displayed and distributed through the A©M web site @ www.artofficial-online.com - note: site now offline