VMPA Senior Thesis

Mariah Cooper


My work for the past 20 years has used revealing aspects of history, which have a profound impact on our contemporary culture today. In the current climate where many believe history has no relevance, I find myself continually returning to those aspects that are often hidden or misrepresented in the “official” recordings for posterity. In my varied and diverse approaches to making art; installations; public, curatorial and web projects, the context of the work has an impact on the work’s relationship to the viewer.

My work ranges from the context of the street to museums, movie theaters, to presentations of sound through parking meters. Often focusing on the trappings of power and the rituals needed for it’s effect, or evoking the traditional distancing of the supplicant by those in power, giving voice to those who are often unheard, or revealing the power of language through history. The work takes on various forms intended to draw in the viewer as co-author and witness, create new and unpredictable cycles of thoughts and associations, providing an experimental chance to challenge one’s perceptions, perspectives and assumptions.

My current project, “Prisoner of Love” is a multi media installation with a projection of a 41 minute Director movie on a glow in the dark screen made by the artist. There are bus benches for comfortable seating, and a sound track with multiple interviews, music and sound. When the images are projected on a glow in the dark screen, it charges the screen so that when the image changes, it leaves a trace of the image before it, often affecting the image which comes next – in a way that history does the same.

“Prisoner of Love” is a multi layered story about the my great aunt and uncle, who were married illegally in 1934, in Tijuana, Mexico. She was Caucasian (Danish American), he Japanese American. They were included in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although my grandfather grew up with a Japanese American as his best friend, when his sister married, she was shunned by her brothers and sisters. When the local newspaper found out about their marriage a few years later, it hit the front pages of the local newspaper. This project is a complex layering of stories, revealing the contradictions inherent in the lives of this once close knit family, and their subsequent “recovery” from extreme bouts of racism.

Art remains as a strong contender of how we share our thoughts and ideas. Throughout history, art has survived the tidal wave of information, and remains an unpredictable source of imagination. It has the possibilities of changing one’s thoughts, opening new ideas, and borrowing through received ideas so common to our educational system. I have no grand illusions that art will create a revolution in the traditional sense, but have witnessed the powerful changes it can make in an individual. Just one new idea can change a persons’ perception. The world may not change in an instant by art, but it’s slow and insipid spread into the active part of our brains lives to tell the tale. It may leave the studio and make it’s way around the world, and yet come back to the studio where anything can happen.

The use of materials in my work is calculated. I am often looking for avenues of the unexpected. An ironic twist to images or things you might expect. Or their combinations. Provoking a participant to new and perhaps unexplored territories.