In Conversation with Monica Cook (Little Red Riding Hood)
New York City is very much canvas to the world. People from all over wander onto these streets each and every one has a story to tell. Monica Cook is much the same. Originally from Dalton, Georgia Monica has lived in New York for the past ten years. Serendipitously I met Monica on corner of Union Square and 14th Street. She stood out among street peddlers. I approached her offered compliment. In a cinematic vision she would have been an American brunette Catherine Duneuve walking the streets in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.
I walked into Monica Cook’s show Volley at Post Master’s Gallery not knowing what to expect. I was totally blown away. I think what got me was the general appeal of the show, the fact that it went beyond the borders of fine art. Sincerely speaking, it served as a pronouncement on our history as human species. This made Volley a visceral experience reaching far beyond what traditionally makes art a money market.
Kofi Forson: Anyone would appreciate this show Monica, don’t you think… although I personally can understand why people would be intimidated. But in a way these are much like fossils and artifacts. We see it with dinosaurs. People love dinosaurs Monica.
Monica Cook: I see them as very sweet and tender, but many people are creeped out by them. I like that they remind you of dinosaurs.
Forson: What artists influenced you growing up?
Cook: There are too many to list. I am more influenced by life and objects I find.
Forson: You spoke to me earlier about flea market shopping. I told the story about Morocco. How do you prepare to go flea market shopping? Do you just walk in there and wait to be surprised?
Cook: Yes, I think that is what I like most about flea markets. You never know what you will find. Usually I go with an idea of something that I am looking for but come out with something even better. One object can spark a whole new direction.
Forson: Are there any paintings in history that mean something in particular to you?
Cook: There is one painting by Theodore Gericault, Raft of Medusa, when I saw it in person, it literally took my breath.
Forson: The Medusa. Hmm. Why am I not surprised? (Laughter) Your paintings were your first works of art I took notice of. They have this gothic nature, a sense of surrealism, people in the paintings look sexually possessed or criminally mad.
Where does dialogue in your paintings stem from. Is it your childhood? I remember being afraid of what was in my closet and under my bed. (Laughter)
Cook: I am not sure where it comes from, maybe just curiosity of the unknown. Trying to approach things very naively to see them anew and understand them a little better?
Forson: Were you ever attracted to shock and horror in movies or books. Guys like Tim Burton, Cronenberg and Lynch are quite interesting.
Cook: Yes, they have all been a big influence on my work.
Forson: There’s a strong sense of imagination in your work.
Cook: Yes. It is where I spend a lot of my time.
Forson: How do you manifest from this imaginary world.
Cook: I enjoy being alone a little too much. It works for me. I am just creating characters outside of myself. Maybe that is why I never feel alone. I am surrounded by them. When I am manifesting from this world, I try to just follow its lead, start with an idea or object and react to it, then it will tell me where to go.
Forson: Does Little Red Riding Hood or Emile Bronte’s Frankenstein mean anything to you?
Cook: Definitely! I think you nailed it.
Forson: I think you are Little Red Riding Hood. (Laughter)
Cook: Ha! Half the time I feel more like Frankenstein.
Forson: Frankenstein in a Valentino Red Riding Hood gown.
Forson: Your perceptions of beauty. Principally I feel most artists approach beauty from the inside out. Naturally you have incredible features, your eyes, your lips. Interesting how your inner world treats beauty as macabre. Perhaps what Monk would say is ugly beauty.
How do you define the self portrait? In history we have been compelled to see the self portrait as profile. How would you envision your self portrait?
Cook: I am most attracted to an unusual beauty, which a lot of the time is an ugly beauty. It is much more interesting to me. Most art is self portrait in a sense. I have painted myself so many times, mostly out of convenience. I am always there and will put up with my wild fancies for photo-shoots. But I rarely have ever set out to do the basic self portrait.
Forson: Would you say newborns and corpses are the only two portraits that matter in life? What then happens in between that? Is that what life is? What happens in basketball when the ball is thrown up in the air and when the final whistle blows? Do you believe in evolving? Volley was about evolution after-all.
Cook: I guess it is no surprise from looking at my work that two of my greatest fascinations are birth and death. I recently had the opportunity to participate in 3 human dissections. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I would love to watch a human delivery as well. I think it is all life as in a reminder of the two extremes. I believe we are constantly evolving. Volley definitely talks about evolution, and that we are perfectly imperfect.
Forson: So are you haunted by life more or is it death that fascinates you. I believe life is dark and we manifest the light.
Cook: I am more haunted, or maybe enchanted by life. I think life has a lot of light but I agree that we also have to manifest it.
Forson: We live in somewhat of an apocalyptic world or more or less mind-state. I have survived the AIDS epidemic and I remember New York after 9/11. How do you view death now in the way we live and survive?
Cook: I have a hard time understanding how I view death period. I guess that is why I am so fascinated by it. I find it noble how we persist despite the unknown. That is one of the beauties of life, and one of the reasons I love living in NY, I feel a real connection with the people here, that we are somehow all in it together.
Forson: The idea of death can be seen in this post 9/11 economic apocalypse. You come from Dalton, Georgia. How has your time here in New York evolved into who you are? Do you feel we are all in this struggle together? Or is there something that separates those of us who are torn and others who seem euphoric?
Cook: New York has opened my mind in so many ways. It has expanded my vision on what is possible and made me expect more from myself. Somehow I dream bigger than I may have thought possible elsewhere. I feel more of connection to people in either extreme. One of the things I love most about NY is that there is such a diverse community. We are forced to live together. On the subway you have people from all walks of life sitting together. There is a connection with humanity that is undeniable and not experienced in most places.
Forson: So with Volley you were addressing the role of evolution and humanity where the human self revolves around the notion of where we come from who we were and where we are going. We have been tested by technology past decade or so. How do you see the role as human questioned? In the video you see somewhat of a typical human community where shelter and birth is evident. Are we the same? Who are we? Where are we going?
Cook: The role of human is questioned in the video by our connection to these beasts, a reminder that we are animal, with primordial drives and passions. This is where the discomfort arises. We are unfinished, raw, even ugly, but in this also where so much beauty lies. I am not sure where we are going, we are constantly evolving but our base humanity is also constant.
Forson: Humanity yes however your paintings suppose nature of self as orgiastic. Is this the constant struggle between human and animal? How is it rendered? As artists we can paint pictures or make movies. How do humans those outside of art solve the equation of human versus animal?
Cook: For most people world wide internet is their canvas, a place to dive into their imagination, live out fantasies.
Forson: Where do you go from here?
Cook: I am beginning my next animation, building horses.
Forson: Has the animation become your point of focus?
Cook: For now, yes. I am just following its lead.
Forson: I would imagine so. I almost cried watching the Volley video. Hope we get to do this again soon.
Cook: Thank you Kofi. I hope so too.
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Kofi Forson is a writer, photographer and director living in NYC.
His current blog is BLACK COCTEAU, a mixture of philosophy and art on modern culture.