Photo: Harold David
Dr Lisa Cooper is a Sydney-based artist who works in video, paint, sculpture and flowers, whose works have included custom-sized crowns for the Sydney Theatre Company, video projects on Cockatoo Island and a jewellery range called ‘The Butcher’s Daughter’. She holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Fine Art from the College of Fine Arts at UNSW. Dr Cooper spoke to arts interview about diversity in her work and the challenges faced by artists working in different mediums.
Interview by Elinor King
Can you tell us about yourself and your experience?
I am equally motivated by the conceptual and philosophical concerns of art and the material and perceptible aspects of art making. In my practice I work with video, paint, sculpture and flowers. My most recent ancestors have worked in trade; a boner, a butcher, a milkman, a seamstress… I have worked with a charcutier [a type of butcher that generally specialises in pork], bakers and florists. I consider my work in sculpture and by extension my work with flowers to be a powerful link to my father’s work as a butcher and to my great-great grandfather’s work (he was once the quickest boner in NSW – the most adept at ‘sculpting’ a carcass). Through much undulation and application the strands of my quotidian life (floristry) and my work as an artist have seemed to converge in my third decade of life and my instinct is that this is right.
You have worked in a diverse range of mediums in your art practice. What draws you to working in a particular media, for example gold?
The mediums that I work in are mostly intuited as well as being dictated by the statement or intention of the work. As in painting where one chooses a colour to make a mark, I am both seduced by the material itself and compelled by the intention of the work. Bodies of work in repetitious medium such as my work in gold do however border on obsession. Obsession and repetition are the same for me as concentration, which in the context of art has the quality of a prayer.
Obviously I am drawn to materials for their inherent symbology and associations, for example the grand poetic metaphor of flowers and the myriad significance of individual blooms.
What are the challenges that you face when working with different types of mediums?
Though the mediums may seem disparate and are of course materially distinct, they kind of harmonise the logic of a body of work as well as my practice as a whole. There is a strong thread of concerns and intentions that links the interdisciplinary output of my practice.
You currently work a lot with flowers. How did this come about, and what are you currently working on?
I have always found the scope of flowers to be extraordinary as they may be ‘divinely’ beautiful and so evidence some kind of unearthly or sublime inception, and yet they are thoroughly of the earth. At the pivotal moments of life we give flowers as a gift, I think a comfort, for their elegant description of the phenomenon of life and the certainty of death – a powerful Memento Mori.I am currently working on ‘Memento Mori tattoos’ in paint and video. I am also running a flower business called DOCTOR COOPER, for bunches of flowers, installations, and flowers in all and every context.
Do you think that it is important for an artist to be diverse in the ways in which they express themselves?
I think it’s important for an artist to be whoever they are. What make you distinct are your instincts and proclivities.
Do you believe that being flexible can hinder your artistic practice?
I think that both flexibility and inflexibility well placed are fundamental to artistic practice. In the very act of making art there is a type of elasticity that occurs whereby one is kind of drawn away and then pulled back to the original and central concern of the work. From the nexus of a project, through research and experimentation comes a labyrinth of new concerns and points of departure. In order to sufficiently develop an idea from inception to completion (or as close as one can get to it) the quality of flexibility or fluidity is essential. Within my own practice an inflexible kind of obsessive theme such as abstract and material ‘gold’ will lead me toward seemingly unlinked production.