Opening 16 February - 4 March 2012
TV Space: Dan Coopey interviewed by Tom Morton
TM: Hi Dan. The animations you are presenting in your exhibition ‘Laura_UpsideDown’ were originally made as backdrops for figure skating performances on the ITV primetime show ‘Dancing on Ice’. Can you say a little bit about what drew you to them, and what it means to put them centre stage?
DC: The show was in part inspired by the provisional nature of the Institute of Jamais Vu's gallery space, with the TV studio set in some way analogous to the nature of exhibition making here, and more broadly. The animations originally acted as support structures and a framework for a performance, but continue to exist beyond the short airtime / lifespan of that event as a sort of digital detritus. My resurrection of them from their dormancy comes from an interest in both their original context as part of home entertainment, and their potential as a 'higher' form of visual culture – they are frequently beautiful / sophisticated pieces of work when considered in their own terms.
While working on a previous exhibition I approached David Newton, the creator of these animations to help me create a digital effect for a video I was working on. As he helped me in his studio, I kept catching glimpses of the animations he was working on for ‘Dancing on Ice’. Since then I have been thinking about the disjuncture between how I viewed them in the context of his studio during the week, and how viewers in their homes were experiencing them that Friday night through the medium of television.
In the industry these animations are referred to as ‘moving wallpaper’, and designed not to upstage the performers, and where I was able to view these in their purest form, the home viewer sees a diluted, servile, version.
TM: What’s striking about the animations is how weirdly inappropriate they feel to the tone of ‘Dancing on Ice’. One of them that I know you’re considering putting in the show features a sea of smiley faces: more ‘Dancing on E’ than anything else…
DC: In part I think the divergence comes from the narrowness of the original brief given to David by the show’s producers, which often consists of just a song title, and from there he will have to create an animation that he thinks might suit that song in the context of the show. The resulting imagery is personal to his imagination and his own reference points.
I work part time as a florist. Often, a customer will say to me something along the lines of “Can you make me a bouquet for a trendy, minimal sort of girl?” and from there I am expected to build an image in my head of this person, and using the various colours and forms of the flowers available, create the perfect arrangement to suit this unknown personality. I have been thinking lots about how something so abstract as colour and shape might relate to so specific a situation. Of course the same bunch of flowers could be given to all number of people, as could these animations relate to all manor of songs and performances, or if transposed into the gallery context, draw an entirely new set of allusions. It is this very process of allowing the viewers of my work to see these animations decontextualised with the freedom to make a host of new visual associations that interests me.
TM: If the animations were, as you say, intended as ‘moving wallpaper’, might something similar be said of the flatscreen TV stands which you have used to make the sculptures in the show? These kind of home furnishings are often designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, to look almost as though they weren’t there at all. It’s an interesting thought: making sculpture out of objects that seem to dream of their own dematerialization.
DC: Exactly. No matter what my manipulation of these objects, the inherent elusiveness of the materials remains. What’s interesting about the furnishings in the context of this show however is that their mirroring of the viewers, the videos and the play of light in the space begins to take on the character of the TV stage sets for variety and game shows, drawing attention to the illusionary nature of those particular spaces and their provisional character. Relating back to the videos’ role as wallpaper, this particular furniture is very much peripheral to the image on the TV screen, as the animations are al to the performance played out on screen. So the eyes of the viewers at home are drawn through a whole host of visual material that isn’t supposed to register on the same level. There is a designed visual hierarchy in operation.
TM: Can you tell me a little bit about the title of your show, Laura_UpsideDown? It reads like a name given to a digital file.
DC: It is indeed the name of one of the digital files, which might be included in the show. It’s the first name of the celebrity performer followed by the title of the track performed to. Conjoining words and using underscores seem the standard format for saving files, functioning as a minimal trigger, an abbreviation of something much bigger.
TM: It’s a very evocative, even pictorial title.
DC: Yes, to someone not familiar with the contents of the file, it might conjure a very literal image of a woman named Laura hanging upside down. It’s ridiculous, but draws us back to what we discussed earlier about loose associations, and in this case there is a power struggle between the visual and the linguistic – again a question of hierarchy – something I’m particularly interested in and explored in my show ‘Position 1’ at the Agency in 2009. The smiley faces for example are iconic shorthand for the vast idea of ‘ human happiness’.
TM: You’ve mentioned to me in the past that Dara Birnbaum’s work has been an important influence to this exhibition.
DC: I would say that’s it not so much an influence, but I have felt that the correlation between the way in which I have sourced the animations for this show and the way Birnbaum was sourcing footage in the seventies and eighties for works like ‘Kiss the Girls: Make Them Cry’ and ‘Technology Transformation: Wonder Woman’ is worth addressing. Of course, the inquiries of privileged access and the status of film as a ready-made that Dara Birnbaum was making in her repurposing of TV footage prior to home VCR technology bears little relation to the easy access we have now with the Internet and Youtube, iPlayer or Netflix. But it is important to appreciate that the videos on display in this show were removed from their TV context. I took them from a digital dormancy, not from broadcast television itself. It’s only through the formality of my presentation that the viewer might link them back to the glitz of prime time game shows. One further differentiation is that Birnbaum sought to arrest TV time, whilst I am interested in seeking out a spatial quality of television and it’s support structures.
TM: It’s interesting that you’re looking closely at TV at a time when many people consider it to be a dying medium. Can you speak about this?
DC: I think TV may well be a dying medium in the sense of traditional network broadcasting, but it will always exist in some form or another, be it online, or as is often the case now as something participatory you might attend in person, like the X-Factor tours you get following the series’ conclusion each year. I vaguely recall reading that Simon Cowell wanted to buy up a huge space in Las Vegas, so that X-Factor would become a sort of holiday destination, like Celine Dion’s five-year, five nights a week residence at one of the theatres out there.
But on a serious note, it’s important to me that the work is not read as a critique of television. I guess I am less interested in television per se, and more in the nature of the screen, which far from dying out is becoming more and more prevalent and invasive with the advent of iPad’s, Kindles, outdoor screen advertising etc.
TM: TV’s spatial life?
DC: Yes. This show is almost a reversal of my work Hidden Sums (2008), which sought to burst the image out of the frame, whereas here, the animations have already escaped the frame through their projection in the live event, re-entering the frame of the flatscreen in the exhibition, only to be dispersed again through their interaction within the sculptural installation they occupy. One characteristic of the screen is that it is rarely static, much like the appearance of mirror, glass and chrome. The show aims to be a process of arresting and releasing the image, framing and reframing it, as it constantly flits its way through the materials designed to encase it.
Laura_UpsideDown deals with medium-specific hierarchies, and more generally the relationships ingrained in the organisation and presentation of visual culture. It continues London-based artist Dan Coopey’s preoccupation with the effect of material framing on the perception of a medium. Within the exhibition environment, with work that spans three ready-made animation works to wall and floor-based sculpture, Coopey attempts to invert the relations built between various facets of dominant subject matter and its vagaries of presentation.
The three animations were originally made by David Newton, a graphic designer who provides environmental animation for primetime television programmes (including Dancing on Ice, Strictly Come Dancing and Eurovision). Coopey resurrects these files from their archival dormancy, refiguring them as independent monitor-based videos, presented not as supportive projections of ‘moving wallpaper’ but as entities in themselves. In doing so Coopey quotes the inquiries of privileged access and the status of film as a ready-made that Dara Birnbaum did before him in her repurposing of TV footage prior to home VCR technology. Where Birnbaum attempted to ‘arrest’ TV-time however, Coopey seeks to apprehend a spatial quality of television, through the removal and restaging of a constituent part of the live broadcast performance. Likewise he seeks a contrast both with the distinct edit process in Birnbaum’s early works and of the original temporality of his source animation: their shelf life dictated by the performance they provided visual support to. The animations, detritus of live broadcasting, are looped, a suggestion towards their continual existence beyond the short-lived public transmission: a nod to the continual documentation and ‘retromania’ of the post-VCR, Internet moment.
The exhibition draws a visual analogy between the videos – and their original status as supporting apparatus of the medium of television – and the support apparatus of the television as material, technological, object. The sculptures, in their multifarious forms, parade the constituent parts of three television stands – with their cloaking chrome and glass materiality – heralding this domestic support act of the broadcast machine as the dominant subject the viewer’s gaze. Boogidi, totemic in form, hints at the kitsch and glitz of the videos’ source through the developed sense of drama intrinsic to its height and reflective qualities. The triptych panels of Penumbra coerce the viewer into a small theatre of performance as the body reacts to the media, again reiterating – yet reversing – the relationship inherent in the original circumstances of the animation.
The exhibition seeks to tease a physical topography out of the media of the flatscreen, burlesquing an expansion of technology’s representation product into the physical world.
With special thanks to David Newton, Potion Pictures Ltd
Dan Coopey's solo exhibitions have included Position 1 at The Agency, London and Doodad at the Hayward Gallery Concrete space, curated by Tom Morton. Group shows include Emergency 5 at Aspex, Portsmouth; Glaze, curated by George Henry Longly at Bischoff/Weis, London and Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris; Field Broadcast for the Wysing Arts Centre; Meteor at New Court Gallery curated by Oliver Basciano and Urchin Eater at Yinka Shonibare's Guest Projects. In 2011 he was commission by Up Projects and Arts Council England to produce a touring public installation work.
THE INSTITUTE OF JAMAIS VU
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