SUNDAY, Galeria Estacao, Sao Paulo, Nov 9 - Dec 14, 2019
SUNDAY - Raphael Fonseca
In a 2017 interview , Dan Coopey spoke with curator Fernanda Brenner about his recent work and underlined the importance of time in its production and his thinking: “I get very impatient to see my work in ten years, because I am very conscious about how the wicker I use will age and how its color will deepen over time” Coopey explained. In this text, I like to reflect on this idea further, looking at the artist's work specifically from the perspective of materiality and of its relationship to time.
This interest is present in the artist’s use of varying materials and display methods in his works from the early 2010s. A series of wall-based sculptures from 2013 feature ancient coins, resting in frames against scans of their surfaces – with varying textured patterns – which have subsequently been digitally manipulated. There is a connection here between a commercially valuable antique object and the ways in which photographic technology can not only document but also create fictions. The passing of time disturbs our reading of an object. Likewise, in 2014 the artist engraved and framed a series of copper plates which underwent a gradual oxidisation. The pattern imprinted by the artist on the metal mingled with murky spots of oxidation, abstract forms in which there is no separation between figure and background. We need not wait a millenia to notice the action of time in these works; this seems to be the prime condition for its existence – from the strangeness of an archaeological object to the association between matter and chemical reaction, from the functional material of coins to the minimalistic flat metal panels.
Since 2015, Coopey has been working with basketry and through his experimentation with this traditional technology, new lessons about time are both learned by the artist and shared with the public. At his exhibition Lalahalaha at Belmacz in London his woven objects were supported by wooden pegs, hung at varying heights across one wall, each of these ‘baskets’ painted with a watercolor wash in varying palette. The sculptures differ from the traditional utilitarian character of ancestral weaving practice however in that, fully enclosed, they are not woven for the purpose of transporting goods or produce. Encased inside each of these containers was a hidden object nonetheless – a provocation to the usual use of the baskets? To discover them it would have been necessary to destroy the structure woven by Coopey. As we avoid the work’s desecration, we read the identification of its contents in the accompanying materials list and are forced to take the artist's word. Shown side-by-side and irregularly shaped, Coopey’s ‘baskets’ have crevices and curves that are both abstract and contain nods towards the human body. In the absence of an explicit message from the artist, our gaze rests on the way the colors spread across its surface and present us with something akin to a rainbow’s ghost.
Dry, the artist’s solo exhibition in 2017 at Kubikgallery, Porto, featured six baskets shown side by side in a more symmetrical way. The application of paint is set aside and our gaze rests on the natural tones of the particular wicker chosen by the artist. This observation exercise is essential: depending on how the wefts are constructed in the basketry, the presence of color differs in contrast to the white of the gallery wall. Thus, a feature central to Coopey's work is noted: one object will never be the same as another. Even though these six works come in a cylindrical shape, each of the forms differ and bring specific subtleties to the public. This strikes me as an important aspect of the relationship between the artist, craftsmanship and time: every doing is a doing, every object is an object on its own and every interweaving of material is a unique experience. When Coopey gives time to time, his body opens to the chance inherent in braiding - which could not be mistaken for utilitarian basketry, as the artist's research evolves into attention-grabbing designs and textures.
In the same year, at Pivô, in São Paulo, the artist continues and expands this research for his solo Interiors. Here the baskets are bunched together, attached by thread directly to the wall and giving space for a more informal set up. Different materials are mixed in the same piece; rattan is accompanied by organic and industrial materials found in different regions of Brazil. Alongside these objects, another work already indicated another line of enquiry: several plastic containers are simply stacked. The industrial character of plastic contrasts not only with the material of the baskets, but also the color – this artificial palette somehow blends with the natural beige and earth tones of the baskets.
In the same interview with Brenner, the artist comments how links have been drawn between his own work and contemporary art production by Brazilian artists (Coopey is British, living in São Paulo and London). Why is this association made? We could, it seems to me, easily link his research to the work of artists such as Sonia Gomes, Alexandre da Cunha, Felipe Barbosa, Mano Penalva, Marcone Moreira and Marepe; artists who, each in their own way, play with composing and decomposing industrial or craft forms. What is striking about Coopey's practice however is that his work makes no explicit reference to Brazilian culture or history – either in his titling or by how the sculpture is formally presented. Evidently the artist is interested in researching Brazilian art and the materials found in the country, but the end product refuses the discourse of an identity belonging to Brazil and, also, denies an exoticisation of the country the artist is a foreigner to. It’s a position the artist is not immune to lightly satirizing. The last of the towering plastic bowls in Interiors has a tag that reads “Made in Brazil”.
These brief reflections on Dan Coopey's journey seem to me important to establish connections with the project that the artist presents at Galeria Estação which features three new series of works by the artist. The first one gives continuity to his work with basketry. The other two he appropriates found objects, namely pencils and matchbooks.
When these new baskets are mounted in space, two elements draw attention. The organic, closed forms of previously produced objects give way to a more undefined character: loose threads hang down from each object. Returning to the relationship between time and doing, it is as if the artist invites the audience to complete the otherwise tightly woven works. We can also assume these works no longer have secrets hidden within them; they are what they are, strands partially woven as a structure and partially presented as matter. Their structures are not rigid, but lightly malleable, constructed in materials as diverse as sisal, paper, banana fiber, and plastic cord. Their size, colors, and curves move within the bounds of matter. As we enter the gallery space, we notice this silent dance of forms. This aspect is corroborated by the second contrasting element to his previous assemblies: the exit from the wall to the center. Hoisted from a spool of rope, these objects hang in the air and will likely move given a slight breeze.
The other two series continue the artist's use of industrial objects. After scouring several secondhand markets in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Coopey acquired bundles of pencils and matchbooks produced during the 1930s and 1940s in Brazil. What unites these objects is that, as well as their obvious utilitarian use, they all served as commercial merchandise displaying vintage logos and advertising for a range of products and services.
Coopey has layered and stitched the pencils one on top of the other, wall hung they sit in dialogue with the baskets in the center of the gallery. At first glance one might dwell on the chromaticity of the pencils, on closer inspection however, the different slogans evoke a vast variety of narratives and mental imagery. Casa Aliança bancária, Transportadora Mayer, Bar Restaurante e Sorveteria Rodoviário., Armazém Elite. These brands, one above the other, lead us to a time when typography was the main means of advertising a product or establishment. One of the works shows a series of pencils from Passoquinha Paulista. Just below is a phrase that could have been extracted from a contemporary meme: "Always envied never equaled.”
Having the budget to invest in marketing at this time in history was something to envy among business owners. It is perverse that the object used to advertise was the pencil; an essential tool for writing and drawing, not only to be disseminated among workers, but also present in the educational environment. From a young age, therefore, a child could be surrounded by messages alluding to consumption – something distant, but certainly recalled within today’s saturation of digital images, multiple tabs and feeds on our little computers, that make us hyper-stimulated,
Something similar can be said about the works made of matchbooks but these narratives move beyond brand names. Coopey opens up these objects and places them side by side making a collage of the advertising images. Holiday greetings and promotions, a profusion of typography and images of human bodies all sit side by side, slightly overlapping. Against the wall, matches of various colors form a kind of incomplete color circle. These new works by the artist make a comment on the history of São Paulo itself and its central position in the history of capitalism and the industrialization of Brazil.
Time is central to Coopey's production. This is not only because of his interest in the ancestral making of basketry, but also in the way the artist discreetly weaves out objects and images of different temporalities. One eye explores the organic fragility and ephemerality of his materials, while the other manipulates objects that desired eternal life and can already be seen as ruins.
Between them, we see Coopey’s central preoccupation, a question of permanence.