Where the ocean meets the skull

Pasatiempo - - For the New Mexican - Michael Abatemarco For The New Mex­i­can

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

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