Where the ocean meets the skull
Imagine a bucket full of set concrete with a cable running from the bucket to an electrical socket in a wall. It’s just an ordinary plastic bucket, lying on its side, like something you might see at a construction site. But the cable suggests that there is power going to the bucket and that it should be doing something, perhaps something mechanical. According to Cooper, the artist who constructed this object, which forms part of an installation of recent work at Dwight Hackett Projects, there is something going on inside this bucket.
Outwardly, it appears to be doing nothing, but inside is light shining from a bulb set into the concrete. Specifically, it is an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb, the kind designed to burn for a long, long time. You cannot see it, but it is there. Now imagine that the process of creating this piece, whose short title is Womb (2010) — the long version, like many of Cooper’s titles, would take up too much room to print — involved submerging the bulb, while lit, in the wet concrete, thereby extinguishing the light to all outward appearances.
“I’m preoccupied with the concept of death and the notion that we’re here and we’re not here,” Cooper said in a recent interview. One way to approach the work on view in Cooper’s show is that it is symbolic. “In my obsession with death, in my obsession with the limited amount of time we have and what we do with that, eventually you come to life. This piece is about life. The light is in there.”
This body of work, which includes drawings as well as sculptures, is thematically related. The sculptures hint at hidden worlds, impenetrable to the eye but not to the imagination; and the drawings make these worlds visible through imagery that suggests horizon lines as dividers and all the things that rest above and below them, out in the open, or gleaned in the dimness of subsurface worlds. One such drawing, titled (in part) All the Power You Will Ever Have (2010), shows the wispy tentacle of a wormy, snakelike life form breaking through a subsurface world into the light of day. What lies above ground in this drawing is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. As a symbol for the human psyche, All the Power You Will Ever Have implies that much more is happening subconsciously than we can know with certainty.
Cooper recently returned to New Mexico from Miami, Florida, where he grew up and lived with the horizon line in a very real way — looking out over the water of the Atlantic from the beach. “It seemed like you actually lived on the edge of the world,” he said. “You could see the world; you could see