There is something quite sordid about Brian Cooper’s sculptural installations. The tufted forms in sickly mustard yellows and dark browns seem to ooze over walls, drip down plinths, and pool on aging carpets. As heavy, spreading masses and playful renditions on the theme of corporeality, they are like tactile manifestations of the slow, creeping wave of nausea that comes when one has overstayed an afterparty. However, the installations are not so much commentaries on decadence as they are explorations of pleasure in baseness, visceral depictions of decadent sensation—that ambivalent state between enjoying excess and feeling its negative effects.
What’s so enjoyable about Cooper’s upholstered creations is that they are strangely gratifying while being vaguely repulsive. A viewer may experience a desire to lie upon the bulbous mass of Meltdown (2003) while very much wanting to avoid stepping in it. Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject comes to mind here, in which a subject viscerally rejects that which threatens the sense of symbolic order. This can be manifested in a disgust generated by the presence of vomit or clumps of hair; the disgust itself reasserts the symbolic order between self and other, but the object of the disgust maintains the power of a disruptive force. Cooper’s installations, suggesting a disco-era debauchery, don’t quite reach this point, but they iterate an abjection more closely tied to a sense of consumerist degradation—and are perhaps more poignant for the millennial population.
The artist’s choice of fabrics and materials harken back to a particular moment in American history, one that simultaneously solidified expectations for normative home life while promoting cocaine-fueled fantasies. A viewer encounters Cooper’s Meltdown (2003) as a wall erected in the middle of a hallway. The front of the wall is papered with an Art Deco–like white-and-gray floral pattern. Oozing over the top and down in great drips is a cushiony mass of sickly yellow, dotted with upholstery buttons that emphasize its plush irregularity. If a viewer were to skirt around this obstacle, one could see the bulk of the lumpy mess spreading down the wood-paneled back of the wall and pooling across the gallery floor. A thin layer of mustard-colored material lies underneath the upholstered form on the wall, like a slug’s slime trail. While the upholstery techniques and wall décor refer to domestic interiors, the oozing cushion suggests the dissolution of the very comforts these spaces are meant to offer.
The installations describe a failure of excess, a complicit inability to cope with the repercussions of having too much and being unable to stop. To now evoke the style of 1970s American homes is to recall an era on which much of the so-called millennials’ woes can be blamed: Was it not the poor economic choices made by that earlier generation that led to today’s insurmountable student debt, stagnant minimum wage, and chronic underemployment? When encountering a piece like Gratification Management (2004), it is hard not to see both the dorm-room drunk lying in a pile of his vomit as well as a generation of partiers who failed their descendants, fifty years ago. The abject relates to Cooper’s work not through Kristeva’s consumption but rather through base consumerism.
The domestic forms suggested by Cooper’s goopy blobs recall dissolved furniture, craft objects unable to perform their basic functions for human comfort or use. Cooper explores the limitations of physical form to render the works as meditations on corporeality and the link between satisfaction and care. These pieces do not offer a pessimistic criticism of the body and consumption; rather, they encourage more subtle boundaries to be drawn between self and other, between the economy and the individual, and between past, present, and future.
Brian Cooper was born and raised in San Francisco and currently lives with his wife, the artist Susan Logoreci, in Los Angeles. He earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from the University of Southern California. Cooper’s work has been exhibited at several galleries in Los Angeles, including Acuna Hansen, Circus Gallery, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Fellows of Contemporary Art, and the Long Beach Museum of Art. Cooper’s work has been included in several shows in New York, including Hysterical Friction: Works on Paper from JAUS LA, at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Brooklyn. His work was exhibited in i:23 at the Yokohama Triennale in 2014, curated by Kio Griffith in Tokyo and Yokohama; in Ducks, curated by Ryan Travis Christian at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery in Brooklyn; and in Archaic Revival, curated by Dani Tull at Zic Zerp Gallery in Rotterdam in 2013. He has also shown his work at Guerrero Gallery in San Francisco, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art, Green Gallery in Milwaukee, De Parel Gallery in Amsterdam, and the Torrance Museum of Art. A solo show of his work was at the University of California, Riverside.