Diana Cooper at
    MOCA Cleveland

    The ten-year retrospective Beyond the Line at MOCA, Cleveland tracked the development of New York based
    artist Diana Cooper’s outsider-ish art since the late 1990’s. From the mostly two dimensional 1997 The Black One
    through 2000-2002’s Missed Once (essentially a moveable wall tethered to the gallery by a network of pipe
    cleaners), Cooper gradually spread into the third dimension from a platform of impenetrably fidgety ink and
    marker doodles.

    Most of MOCA’s exhibition space was devoted to several intensely disquiet gallery-environments. These recent
    room-size hybrid drawing-sculptures, grown from seeds sown by artists like Richard Tuttle and Agnes Martin, are
    post-minimalist jungles of computer-age office scraps. Cooper uses these to push a vision of modern systems up
    to, and then well past a visual breaking point, speaking of the collapse of a coherent sense of self in the face of
    overwhelming complexity. The 14’ by 21’ installation Orange Alert: UK seems almost to prophesy, mixing visual
    hyperbole with a contemporary political trope. The focal point of this work in progress, begun in London in 2003,
    is a starburst of film strip-like orange “lines”, radiating from a cruciform orange box. Referencing the US
    Department of Homeland Security’s terrorist alert code, Cooper’s virtual scream breaks above a mountainous
    terrain of jagged triangular orange-striped foam core. At intervals several of these jut out from the walls like
    hysterical blips on a graph of cultural dysfunction. Doomsday hasn’t been this laden with ambivalent sensuality
    since Chill Wills learned to love the bomb in Dr. Strangelove. The cartoon bubble explosions of Roy Lichtenstein
    also come to mind and such stylistic underpinnings from an early 1960’s aesthetic help to make much of Cooper’s
    work seem baited-breath-contemporary in our own anxiously nostalgic era.

    In general at Beyond the Line an indomitable, kudzu-like fecundity seemed to have taken possession of otherwise
    affectless, handy-craft oriented linear shapes, colors and ticky-tacky textures. Cooper worked for more than a
    month with MOCA staff and area art school interns to assemble the eight large-scale works on display. Among the
    materials Cooper employs are pipe cleaners, pom-poms, felt, acetate, neoprene, velcro and an array of different
    kinds of tape. Every element seems calculated to strike the eye as quotidian, informal, and waste-oriented -- one-
    use, makeshift stuff, normally recycled, shredded or thrown in the trash. Nevertheless Cooper lends it all an air of
    conceptual permanence, hooking things together with a convincing illogic. Velcro and acetate run up to the
    ceiling, careen around corners, or puddle at the bottom of a pillar, as in the monochromatic, Armageddon-like
    2006 Swarm, where homemade geometry rendered in corrugated plastic is under attack by phalanxes of black felt
    and velcro V-shapes.

    Even when exploring biological/medical metaphors Cooper’s work tends to be prefab in its improvisations, rather
    than organic or biomorphic – more the stick than the pop-sickle. Emerger, for example, replete with valentine-red
    tessellations and medical chart-like passages, is a fantasy of vascular and organ function, depicting flow and
    stoppage, pressure and a pervasive sense of anxiety. At several points the work is penetrated by neatly
    carpentered square holes, offering passage to further activity on the on the other side.

    The exhibit culminated on the round floor-space of the Seltzer Rotunda, where the autobiographical All Our
    Wandering lay as if in state. This newly invented retrospective instrument, a sort of time machine, takes its place
    among Cooper’s other quasi-inventions and dream-like functional non-sequiturs. Commissioned by MOCA, the
    telescope or bellows-like construction is made from a series of diminishing open wood boxes, decorated inside
    with an intricate digitally photographed retrospective of Cooper’s drawings, all rendered in a tracery of red printer’
    s ink. On top of the infinity of former doodles the artist has scrawled a fresh generation of hand-drawn marks. The
    structural solidity of the wooden boxes and their febrile, reproducible interiors suggest that Cooper’s prolific
    ephemera are beginning to build their own cultural reef.

    [Art Papers (Atlanta) Jan-Feb 2008]
Diana Cooper, "Swarm", MOCA Cleveland