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      • Mieke Marple Interview with Michelle Grabner
      • Farrah Karapetian Reframing Mirrors and Windows
      • Ruby Sky Stiler That’s What She Said
      • PART ONE: WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, 2008 5:00 PM

        Ruby Sky Stiler: I was thinking about that studio visit you had with that outrageously bad dealer, (well, I’m not sure he was a bad dealer) but it was a horrendous, typical visit where you hate yourself and everyone else afterwards. So I thought I would repose a question he asked, because I know it’s something you’ve thought about a lot, and I know it brings out a reaction in you that helps explain where your ideas come from…. So now the question: You use a lot of offbeat appropriation of pop cultural media in your work, usually from television or movies, etc. Since you use, or cite, this kind of subject matter then why don’t you use movies like Terminator and/or Rocky?

        Ian Cooper: Those are really classic! Actually, the example he used was Gladiator.

        RSS: I was brainstorming really hard, but you know that I don’t remember any movies. But wait, did he say Terminator also?

        IC: He only said Gladiator.

        RSS: That sounds like his own problem!

        IC: Which I thought was ironic, because he was Italian! Like, why wouldn’t you use a Roman based film?


        IC: I feel like that’s come up a lot in the past: Why do I use a certain source? And I think in some way…well, I did a lecture at NYU recently, and a student asked me: Would you ever use a film that’s current? And I think for the most part the films, television shows, and comics that I’ve been mining are all particular to my own upbringing. It’s as personal as I allow myself to get with my work without it becoming some looming, personal, overarching narrative structure. Right? I mean, this is stuff that’s shared by everybody… I don’t own fucking E.T. Anyone from our generation can embrace that as a moment in time. It was, or is, a mirror for us. So I think that I’m just trying to tap into those sources that were so formative in making me who I am. Obviously I’m really interested in childhood and adolescence, and all of those stories have a strong, moral coming-of-age lesson imbedded in them. I think I’m a bit more out of touch with new versions of that stuff now, but as I mentioned to you earlier, I think I’m gonna use a character from Laguna Beach, which is as current as it gets.

        RSS: In a lot of these films you have a character that you identify with, or re-imagine and take out of the original context. Can you talk about that?

        Ian Cooper, Untitled (Amityville Study), 2001 (video still)

        IC: You brought up a good point about searching for, or longing for, the right character.

        RSS: First describe who that character usually is.

        IC: Well, I would say there’s two different parts of my work: One aspect, in most of the sculptural work (if not all of it, until this new piece), is the absence of people or characteRSS: Always fragments of sets, or props, or whatever. More recently, the objects actually announce their own absence. The fact that they’re employed is because they’re missing something. I’ve always been interested in this “x marks the spot” phenomenon: Like a “You are here.”… A way of locating yourself, which in film is often through certain characters.

        RSS: You see that dynamic in the work that you were doing a while ago…those road sign “paintings” or the video you made by re-editing the original Amityville Horror and only saving shots of the exterior of the house. You’re creating this alternative to a main character in a way.

        Ian Cooper, Otherside, 2005

        IC: Definitely…or refocusing it. So I feel like there are those elements, and then a lot of the work from my show at Cue, in 2005, highlighted that “absence” I mentioned: The mirror missing the fingers, you know? The varsity sweater on the bucket with nothing inside…all this emptiness…the vacant coffin…and then Doctor Is Out being the most specific example of that.

        But this other focus you brought up really came to light when I made that video. Oh, I always forget that in an interview people don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about unless you say so! Sorry, okay, I made this video, in the spirit of the Amityville piece, where I shifted the spotlight, or focus, onto this one minor character from the film Urban Legend, which is a postmodern horror movie that came out in the wake of the Scream trilogy. The character is an archetypal Goth girl, a stereotype for that lifestyle genre. When I originally saw the movie, I was so excited to discover her cuz I was like, “Oh my God! Represent!”…just seeing someone of such a minor subculture, within a Hollywood framework, represented—

        RSS: Because you felt like you identified with her?

        IC: When I was younger, I definitely used to align myself idealistically, and visually, with that culture, and it was so funny to see that portrayed onscreen. Of course, it was played really flatly, two dimensionally, and not favorably. She’s really just fodder for killing. In such a horror film’s structure, you meet some minority and know she’s doomed. But I was so enthralled by this Goth girl’s presence onscreen that I decided to edit the entire movie out, save all the footage of her: Shifting the focus away from the actual “main character” to make this lesser one a star…my star.

        I titled the piece, I’ll Be Her, which also harkens back to this idea, or act, of picking apart a film or cartoon as a kid, with friends, and identifying yourself within the set of possibilities: perhaps becoming an ambassador of that character’s ideals.

        Ian Cooper, I’ll Be Her, 2001 (video stills)

        RSS: I think that’s a really interesting title that speaks to a conversation that we had once about this dynamic: You being an artist who’s also male, and straight, and that sort of strange position somewhere between truly identifying with a female character and portraying her in a way that the viewer might see as sexualizing. I think that the easy fallback plan is to imagine that because you are a straight, grown man, that you’re using this vulnerable female icon as a fantasy. But I think that the title is so poignantly speaking to a kind of distinction. Where as, if it was not titled that, it might really change the tone of the piece.

        IC: Because it would be much more voyeuristic, or fetishistic. The title helps clarify that it’s all about this act of positioning or locating oneself somewhere…in any narrative…

        RSS: It’s interesting to talk about these two different ways that you’ve been working: This “space” that you create as the main character: Doctor Is In?

        IC: Out!

        RSS: Right, Doctor Is Out…so perfect! All of these sets, or armatures of spaces: this “filling in” of a void space as the main character. That, versus this weird, actual character that you are attracted to, or that you’re always looking for: some specific voice through which to articulate these other ideas. With I’ll Be Her, and with this upcoming piece with the Laguna Beach character, I think the meaning of the work changes dramatically as you yourself mature, and as you get further and further away from going through the same “life” stuff as these chosen characters, or voices…as you’ve moved away from being an adolescent artist. The work becomes so much more complicated, and less like straight role play.

        Ian Cooper, Doctor Is Out, 2006

        IC: it’s curious to see how that aspect of what I do is going to manifest itself as I get older. I think I told you about this comment that Lisi Raskin made, which was so funny: We were talking about ideas, and she was like, ”My only fear is that one day all the things that are so cute and charming about you are going to start to become really creepy.”


        RSS: For me it’s only in reference to these pieces…

        IC: Well, Thank God!

        RSS: (Laughter)…well, it could broaden, I don’t know! I think at this point, that creepiness becomes an interesting aspect of the work: When you make an artwork that forces people to decide whether they want to participate, or if they should…deciding if the stance is “appropriate.” That ambiguous place is really engaging.

        IC: I would never want people to read my work as predatory, voyeuristic, or controlling…coming from a point of view that’s—

        RSS: Judgmental?

        IC: Exactly, yeah.

        RSS: No, I really see, in these works, that you adopt a sort of alter ego…and yeah, well, I think that…and I’ll say it again, I feel like you really have developed a sort of alter ego.

        IC: Right…

        RS & IC: (Laughter)

        IC: I’m looking for that particular voice, or an affirmation of that voice I have in this media I’m mining. I think one thing that has really changed since being a very young artist is that I’ve really opened myself up to the possibilities of where that voice can come from. When I was younger I would only really seek them out in certain avenues.… This brings up a whole larger issue I have now with certain artists who I feel really just glorify a particular subculture. Is that work? Or is it just a fucking advertisement for some lifestyle…or some factor of coolness? For instance, how could you take a film like, let’s say, There Will Be Blood, which is arguably already an artwork, and use that as your appropriated material? To me, that’s a crutch, because you’re taking something that is already sanctioned as artistic, genius, dark, etc. and say, “I’ll take that!” You’re taking a whole shit-load.… And I feel, sadly, that’s what I was perceived as doing because I was using horror movies, which have all this cool, cult bullshit tethered to them. Even though I was after something quite different than what I think a lot of artists are after when they mine that genre. For instance, I had no interest in gore, blood, or death…well, I guess, yes, death. Ok, scratch that from the record, but—

        RSS: It actually wasn’t aggressive.

        IC: Right, it was more about loneliness and longing. But I feel like I’ve opened myself up to the idea that this voice can be found anywhere, and, hence, I found it in this unlikely place, which is the second season of the show Laguna Beach.

        RSS: Oops, I just realized that I’ve been sitting here, literally fondling this microphone…


        RSS: …like it was the aforementioned nipple!

        (More laughter)

        RSS: Um, yeah, very different source. So who is she?

        IC: So the character that I found myself being interested in is this girl named Alex H. Her last name is Hooser, but they refer to her as Alex H in order to distinguish her from the various other Alex’s on the show, which I also thought was very funny because here I am, trying to look for this specific diamond in the rough, and she is so much in the rough that she doesn’t even have her own name!

        RSS: Alex 2?

        Lauren Alexandria Hooser a.k.a. “Alex H” from MTV’s Laguna Beach: Season 2.

        IC: Yeah, or maybe 3, even… So, I was in Laguna Beach, literally, the town, and then I had to fly back to JFK on a red eye, and get right on a train to Connecticut to do an installation in Hartford at The Wadsworth. So I had just been eating crab, or whatever, in Laguna hours earlier, and then I found myself in rainy Connecticut doing this miserable, nerve-racking install. At night there was nothing to do, so I found myself back in the hotel room alone, watching this show, which was funny because Rachel (Foullon)’s cousins went to that high school. Actually, her cousin Maddy is in that first season class. So I watched an MTV marathon of the show and was instantly hooked. I think it was partially just having come from California, and feeling so connected there, and kind of longing for it and feeling far away from somewhere, and at once nowhere in this hotel room. My sensors were up, and I was particularly receptive to…anything…possibilities—

        RSS: Finding something? Some kindred spirit?

        IC: Sure, and that set the stage for my interest in the show. Really, all that happened that fateful night was that I fell in love with the idea…my holistic… something…view of the kids on that show, and for reasons that I can’t for the fucking life of me put my finger on.

        RSS: Well, except for that you just described that you were in a state where you were looking for something to feel connected to, which I think is a good description for finding inspiration. You were looking for something that would feed that certain energy that helps bring an artwork into the world.

        IC: I can honestly say that that moment, or that night in the Holiday Inn room I felt like a media medium. It was like a séance, or something, I was just ready…open…ready to be connected, and part of it was just feeding off of my penchant for loneliness, which, many would argue, is kind of a joke because I’m such a social person…

        RSS: Side note is that I think it’s really curious and compelling that you are always looking for and identifying with characters that are outsiders, or observers, when, in real life, you’re such a participant.

        IC: Right. I was saying “right” so much as you were talking because you were applying such good description to how those characters actually are. Yeah, there’s definitely some weird complex about my conflation with these characters.

        RSS: It’s just another way of looking at how, in a literal way, through these works, you’ve created all of these alter egos that have some sort of a voice. It might not be a real “voice,” but it’s just a different version of who you are, that doesn’t come to light very often in your actual life — probably because what we do as a self-defense mechanism is create this identity that can operate in the world smoothly, while being secretive about, and deflecting, those weirder qualities that we each suspect we actually do have.

        IC: So they can become stand-ins, or surrogates…ambassadors…

        RSS: Yeah, and for me, I always feel like comedy is a good way of deflecting things…like intimacy, or something like that. And through this point of view I’ve developed, I see these “entities” as your way of participating first-hand in the artwork…

        IC: Definitely…well, I’ll just explain who the character is so we can have this image. So, eventually I rent the DVDs and I watch the complete first and second seasons of the show—

        RSS: Now when you were renting the DVDs had it developed to a place where you were beginning to engage with the material as an artwork?

        IC: No, still confused and obsessed.

        Alex H (highlighted) poses on the fringe with her Season 2 cast-mates

        Alex H (highlighted) in a Season 2 publicity still, cementing her “role” as Cavallari’s wing-girl.

        RSS: So just tricking out on it.

        IC: Yeah, and not understanding why…just heavily projecting on it, fantasies: Fantasies about growing up in California, which I didn’t do. Living a different lifestyle — the funny thing is that “civilians” always talk about how bratty, rich, and spoiled the “characters” all are, and yet they don’t really strike me as more bratty or spoiled than any other fucking kid that I’ve ever met in my fucking life. They’re kids, and unfortunately, or fortunately, they just have more resources at their disposal. I knew kids growing up here in New York who were piss poor and kids who were stupid rich, but when you’re young you tend to navigate that stuff all the same—you’re just hell-bent on having fun and connecting with your friends. I think it’s adults that watch this show and are projecting their lust for commodity. Thinking like, “Oh, God, they can just buy a jaguar!” Comments like that. I’m not really interested in that aspect at all. I’m focused only on the actual kids, or the “characters.”

        An important thing to mention here is that the show is a “reality” show, or filed under “reality,” which we know to mean that on some level, these characters aren’t characters; they are “real” people. Humans. That is of such great interest to me because of my obsession with the blurring of fiction and reality, and I’m even more drawn to the show because it’s shot almost like fiction, not like those game show-style reality shows where you have the blunt awareness that this is…Flava Flav trying to win a fucking bride or whatever the fuck. Laguna Beach is actually shot like they’re characters, but they’re “real.” I think that the way MTV handles that is a huge contributing factor to the overall success of the show.

        So, this one girl that I found is the narrator-main character, Kristin Cavallari’s best friend. At certain point I started “realizing”…or making up, and I honestly don’t know which — which may seem insane — am I being aware, and accurate, or projecting? Anyway, at a certain point I realized that Alex seemed to be the most conscious of what was happening: which is that she was living her teenage years on television, and this is something no one on the show ever admits to, ever.

        She has these moments, and they are very, very subtle, almost imperceptible probably to most viewers — In fact, I’m sure there will be someone who is familiar with the show that reads this and thinks I’m crazy — regardless, there are these moments where I find that she is hyper-self-aware, and operating very “meta” on camera. My favorite quote, which I will cite here, to be immortalized again, in print, is this: At one point she is lying on the beach with her friend, who is a more principal character than her — Oh, and I should note that Alex is not even in the opening credit sequence—

        RSS: She is peripheral.

        Alex H (left) with Laguna Beach star Kristin Cavallari (right), subtly stewing in a meta-existential daze.

        IC: Yes, yet, she is in every episode a whole hell of a lot. More than half the characters featured in the credits! Somehow that cemented my connection to her even more. She’s marginalized. Okay, so, she’s on the beach with Jessica who’s the focus of the season because she’s having this doofus affair with a loser guy. She and Kristen are always yakking to Alex about all these boy problem or issues, and Alex is just a sounding board. Alex finds a chance to say, “How come I never have a boyfriend?” which is this weird moment where she basically addresses, or questions, the “plot.” Now, when you’re on your own, you can ruminate on things like that, but when you’re on television, you’re basically speaking to the plot, and it’s like a call to the writers, to the “writers” not being there, and to the writers being…”life”…and she goes on to say, “What’s that expression? Don’t hate the game, hate the player…well, I hate the fucking game” She doesn’t actually curse, but whatever. Still, it is this chilling moment where she knowingly reveals her role in the “game.” The game being her life: her existence as a marginalized, out of the spotlight “character,” and by character, I mean “herself!” It’s not something she’s playing, but something she’s living! And she has the wherewithal to announce to the camera, in a sense, I hate this structure.

        RSS: The system…

        IC: Yeah, and of what? High school, hierarchy, life, the circumstances of not being a “main character”…and that’s when I had this moment, this epiphany, where I basically fell in love, conceptually, and knew I needed to use her, or work with her in a piece.

        RSS: In terms of building an artwork, because this is a good time to talk about this since it’s not an artwork that’s happened yet, it’s basically an idea: How do you use that to facilitate a physical object?

        IC: Well, it feels strange because it’s the first time I’m actually working this way.

        RSS: So, let me ask you this: How much, or little, do you care about having a thesis in your work? Do you feel clear what the meaning of the work will be from the start, or do you learn as you go along? How do you bring an artwork into the world that you feel embodies all of these things you’ve spoken about? And the second part of that question is: Do you care about whether your point of view about the artwork is delivered?

        IC: I definitely care about how the work is read, although the specifics of my revelation about this character is just my starting point, its back-story. It’s not necessary to know.

        RSS: So is it about the excitement of knowing that you’re exploring this subject, and it’s like this secret you have with this “character” — even though most art viewers won’t necessarily catch the reference — or is it the excitement of telling us, the audience, about it?

        IC: Wow, that’s a great question. For the most part, the excitement is the motivating force — and then what’s born out of the excitement of that investigation is a new thing.

        RSS: Do you feel a conviction that all of this exploration will somehow be in the work, in some way — maybe not a literal way, but it will be a part of it?

        IC: It’s in there, for me, and it’s hard for me to be objective. I can’t really say for sure, but I do think that people who engage with my work have a sense that there is a fervor to it…like it’s humming. There’s something about it that’s decidedly not casual, and I think the deliberateness of my actions, in the way I make things — my attention to detail — hopefully starts to speak to this level of…obsession, God…for hopeless lack of a better word.

        Ian Cooper (b.1978) was born and raised in New York City. Cooper’s third solo project, a collaborative video installation with artist, Anna Craycroft, titled Fiction Friction, is currently on view at Sandroni.Rey, Los Angeles. His first solo exhibition was at the New York-based non-profit, Cue Art Foundation in the spring of 2005, with a follow up solo project room show at Sandroni.Rey in September of that same year. Cooper is on the sculpture faculty at New York University, and currently lives and works in Red Hook, Brooklyn with his fiancé, artist Rachel Foullon.

        Ruby Sky Stiler (b.1979) was raised both on the island of Monhegan, Maine, as well as in Taos, New Mexico. She received an MFA from Yale University in 2006. Recent group exhibitions include Fresh Kills, curated by David Kennedy Cutler at Dumbo Arts Center, Brooklyn, NY, 2008; and News From USA: Ian Cooper, Frankie Martin, & Ruby Sky Stiler at Annarumma 404, Naples, Italy, 2008. A forthcoming, two person exhibition with artist Sayre Gomez opens later this summer at Sandroni.Rey in Los Angeles.

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      • Spencer Finch New Zealand Light
      • Dana Frankfort John Walker: Text in/and Painting
      • The Editors Whitney Biennial 2008
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