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COOPER COLE (Toronto)
Describe your studio/place of work. What is important to you about your workspace?
I have a condo that I use as a live-work studio located steps from Queen Street West. There’s a large open space with a kitchen, living/dining area, and separate bedroom, office and washrooms. For my object making; my living room is where I research and analyze through my collected objects and texts (photographs, ephemera, books, videos, music, and articles). My dining and kitchen areas are utilized for making my collage and photomontage artwork, and my office space or mobile devices for tasks administrative, new media (audio/video/photo) and online research. Over the last 2 years, I decided to prioritize my health and wellness in my home, so I made more physical space, it felt like a psychological clearing (thank-you Mari Kondo!) This has really been an important shift for me to include contemplative time/space for yoga, stretching and guided and silent meditation, on the regular and with full intention to focus - so it’s become a space that contains all the tools/ritual elements I need to do my restorative mind/body/spirit work in my role as an artist.
How would you describe your practice?
My practice involves installations comprised of objects, collage, new media (photography, film/video), printed matter, artist-led teaching/facilitating, collaborative projects through organizing and curating, public programming and more recently, intimate gatherings for social practice projects not for public consumption. As a research-based practitioner, a lot of my work is initiated through self-directed learning; I really love interacting with physical matter whether it’s weekly field trips to libraries, museums, and archives to visually engage with primary source material, or spending a lot of time in second-hand bookshops (shout-out to Monkey's Paw!) or any place where I can salvage from discarded, unwanted or forgotten culture.
How has your practice evolved over time?
Around 1994, I started my career as a cultural labourer; actively working in nonprofit arts service organizations, for collectors/arts philanthropists, production assisting and the commercial gallery sector of the visual arts industry, but after the September 11th, 2001 disaster - I went through a significant transformation. I was urgently trying to ask myself what my role as an artist thinker/producer was, what was I actively contributing through that role and where do I see myself or reflections of myself in the ‘artworld’? I found my way towards artist-led public programming in small and large publicly-funded institutions eventually moving towards public school teaching by September 2004 after I started the short-lived project called TAAFI (Toronto Alternative Art Fair International), which basically went head to head with your predecessor Toronto International Art Fair, at that time, I concurrently founded and ran Come Up To My Room with Christina Zeidler, and that’s still running! I was highly drawn to how the reciprocity of public pedagogies allowed for folks to be in communion (community), which organically increases their self-awareness and resilience through simple connection - initially this felt like a social sculpture to me, it’s where I identify in my role as a teaching-artist-in residence, versus feeling quite isolated in a hegemonic art market, which never made space for what I was making at the time. It was in my studio classroom where the idea hatched for the collective collaboration, Bonerkill (2013-2017), an after-school girls club that became an intergenerational and intersectional feminist art collective, which then transformed into Sister Co-Resister. Sister Co-Resister is explicitly focused on intentional sharing through non-hierarchal peer-to-peer exchange; creating a deeper engagement that’s generative, relational and contemplative through the act of sharing not only experiences but also platforms with underrepresented women and non-binary voices; particularly queer, mad/disabled, Indigenous, Black and racialized artists and thinkers working and living on Turtle Island - can contemporary art lovers bear witness and hold space for radical acts of solidarity building? Here’s my emphatic consent - “YES!”
What works can we expect to see at Art Toronto 2019?
the heart is the origin of your worldview is a new iteration of a recent solo project One of These Things is Not Like the Other which debuted earlier this year at A Space Gallery during the 2019 Images Festival of Independent Film + Video in Toronto. It explores the politics of institutional archives, decolonial aesthetics, and self-preservation. This particular grouping that’ll be on view is from one of the two installations I presented at A Space, Dear Amrita: how can I forget history when I was just starting to remember? (2019-). It includes new and recent work by me, one work from my decolonial art collection by senior artist Sarindar Dhaliwal and one work by emerging artist Russna Kaur, an intergenerational dialogue between 3 Canadian female artists of Panjabi-Sikh origins. I started to actively collect art in order to support, validate and affirm my community of artists; it is a small act of thinking beyond a margin to center binary, because I strongly feel when you have been gifted with the ability to create, that is a privilege, something I’m willing to risk by sharing.
Keywords: institutional critique, memory, decolonial aesthetics, counter-hegemonic archiving, difference, collecting-as-medium
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I’m explicitly sharing this platform as a strategy and tactic to inject an counter-narrative that’s been largely ignored and erased in Canadian art history, by subverting it’s own subtle tropes and stereotypes. It’s high time we consider the multiplicities of the art histories that exist on this land because I’m not relying on art historians to fill the gaps, essentially it is the artists’ job to visually create art history! I’m responding with an openness you wouldn’t expect in a typical ‘solo’ project to keep the conversation going.
- Pamila Matharu for Sister Co-Resister