10 Minutes With Wendell Cooper
For my second “10-minutes with the DTW Studio Series Artists” interview, I spoke with Wendell Cooper. He shows his work-in-process “Disembodied” tonight (Friday) and tomorrow at 6pm. I’m most familiar with him as a member of Nicholas Leichter Dance, but he is also a certified practitioner of energy bodywork and Thai Yoga Massage and faculty at the Original Medicine Institute for the Healing Arts.
I was talking with Brian McCormick, who is doing your In-Process Talks, last week and he was very excited about your integration of your meditative practice into this work. How did you come to this? I began my study of meditation and energy bodywork as a teenager, working with minerals and crystals. My mother who is an alternative medicine practitioner and a medicine woman introduced me to her teachers, and together we studied and now teach various energy bodywork modalities. I continued studying with my meditation teachers while in school, and focused on sacred art and mysticism in the religious studies department. This research lived alongside my study in dance and work with media. Sometimes they felt like separate paths. So, for this residency, I was trying to bring all of these pieces together. When I teach a mediation seminar and we’re dealing with consciousness at a foundational level, there’s something about that depth that I would also experience when performing. But with audiences, it didn’t feel like we were sharing the same breadth and detail in our shared experience. I mean, when everyone in the room is following a guided meditation—where we’re generating a self-aware group level experience—we’re able to communicate around this shared inner experience. Audiences have a similar plan to share an experience, but I wanted to blend the electromagnetic setup for a mediation seminar and that of a multimedia performance. Maybe we can merge with more harmonics of our shared experience using a skill set of consciousness building processes and find ways to open our perception of the art object (the show).
You approached your residency from your stance as an interdisciplinary artist. What is the nature of your relationship with media? Well, my dad worked with computers and operating systems, so that probably had some effect on my brain. Otherwise, going way back, it probably all started with watching a lot of movies as a kid. And, my older brother was/is a skateboarder and DJ. With skateboarding, video making is just a part of that culture. When I transitioned from skateboarding to breaking, around 13 yrs old, I was consuming lots of breakdancing videos. I love the way those videos are shot—very improvised. Then at George Washington University, I worked with Maida Withers and she encouraged me to develop interdisciplinary work. She often questioned the relationship of the elements in space. I was already making a lot of music on the computer, so I shifted into video editing and started workshopping the combination of music, dance, video, and costume.
I love that you mention skateboarding and bboying culture and their very constant relationship to making music and video. Sometimes we can get so caught up in notions of art and technology being about sophisticated processes or new media theory and forget that there is a very active DIY aesthetic in other movement/media practices. This is the official DIY show. I collaborate a lot and haven’t done anything solo for a long time. So, I used this residency to workshop a way to make a solo show. I’ve made a book that was all collage and text, and the video and the sound and the costumes. It wasn’t just about finding a solo voice, but I’m workshopping a way to work solo in part for economic reasons. It’s a kind of business model so that when collaborative opportunities arise, then we can just mix it up and make it happen. Everyone I collaborate with brings their whole world with them. I’m creating a structure for myself to make work, and also work along side other artists and build synergistically. It’s modular. It’s holographic. It’s a multimedia format. I do a dance. I do a poem. I sing a song. Each section could expand with dancers or vocalists. I’ve workshopped the energy of each section and found the basic material. But, for example, the video could be mixed live. It’s fluid. There’s a fluidity. It’s a Complex Stability (which is also the name of my website), a term that drifted over from crystal and meditation study. Quartz crystals, for example, are highly organized physical structures with similarly resonant electromagnetic potentials– there is a resonance and dialogue between my body and their energy. During rehearsal and before a performance all of the ideas, movements and images begin to have their own relationships, a coherence happens. It becomes like a crystal with many points of reference. I’m trying to give people a way into that field—a modular, holographic performance that also happens to be an inter-dimensional journey.