New York-based artist Joey Cocciardi stages interventions in nature, creating site-specific, striking sculptures only at moments of extreme exhaustion. Cocciardi’s studio practice informs and complements the structures he abandons in nature and the relics of his performative work; the result is a tense investigation of both his and the viewer’s orientation and self-awareness. I spoke with Joey this June in New York to discuss his practice and the ongoing body of work, “Point of Disorientation.”
Holly Stanton: Your “Point of Disorientation” series exists for the viewer as documentation of your personal and physical engagement with the wilderness. Can you explain your process when creating this body of work?
Joey Cocciardi: In the ongoing “Point of Disorientation” series, I set out on expeditions into “the wilderness,” my body fitted with a steel rectilinear box. I carry a stapler, a camera and a large piece of reflective, synthetic lamé spandex — the color is determined by the terrain. I push myself to the end of a path until I have become exhausted and disoriented. At this point I lower the structure to the ground and pull the surrounding detritus – branches, leaves, etc. – into the box, replacing my body, until it overflows with the collected materials, at which point I aggressively stretch the lamé over the structure. I leave, return to my point of departure and retrace my steps where I confront it again, documenting the object as I rediscover it. The object now appears to want to break free of its set geometry; the shape being determined by what appears to be natural material inside, which creates complex reflections of the natural world onto its surface. The object is ultimately abandoned, and all that remains from this process is the photo-documentation.
“Marker Removed (1, 2, 3)” & “Point of Disorientation,” 2012
HS: In addition to consistently documenting your expeditions, you also collect objects on the way back, specifically trail markers that would have informed visitors of their whereabouts.
JC: I have been removing trail markers not to piss off the parks department, but for their status as assisted readymades. The act of removal suggests a potential for disorientation of others. Back in the studio they are chromed and coated with holomatic-spectral pigment, and the resulting surface remains true to the weathered and natural materiality of the readymade object. Removed from their functionality, they now reflect and position the viewer in an alternative space.
HS: Your work is characterized by two distinct practices that reflect the spatial environments in which the objects or images are created: the “wilderness” and the studio. Do the products of both modes of creation easily coalesce in the gallery space?
JC: Outside the studio, I walk with an aim to become disoriented and catalog these moments through documentation and collection. This is how the digital prints and removed trial markers come about. However, in the studio, I am looking for the moment in the work when materials are at the brink of doing something seemingly unnatural, strange and unfamiliar. I need to keep the practices separate. It lets me play different roles and move between them really quickly. Outside the physical studio the process is experience. In the studio it is the making of objects and paintings. My goal is for the resulting works to coalesce.
"NASA (Blanket)," 2012. Beeswax, Iron Oxide, NASA Emergency Blanket, Canvas.
"Landscape Containment," 2011. Chrome and Beeswax on Burlap.
HS: There certainly exists a tension between the intensity of your experience and the resulting two-dimensional documentation. Is it important for there to be degrees of obscurity that separate the viewer from your work?
JC: I think that the obscurity in the work asks the viewer to question what they are looking at and therefore have a more personal experience with the work. In the digital prints the process is so removed, the viewer is asked to build a narrative for oneself. In my own practice, I tend to trick my self into being surprised while making the work. chance is a large part of the process. You can’t really plan for the transitional moments that I am trying to capture.
HS: This series certainly brings to mind the work of seminal land artists Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy, incorporating the romance and abandonment of Bas Jan Ader. Do you actively engage with history and myth when mapping new adventures?
JC: My work stems from an investigation of the unknown through a traditional language of landscape painting. The conventions of painters such as Caspar David Friedrich and the Hudson River School to narrate manifest destiny through depictions of the sublime, have structured much of my past work: a human trodden foreground, a figure looking into the beyond, the distant landscape – unknown and transcendent. I love the idea of the painter as the romantic but have always been critical of how didactic this work can be. The land artists or walking artists of the 1970′s have been really influential in making work about experiencing and relating to the physical landscape. Though I don’t think I could ever make a piece as brilliant as disappearing in a boat.
"Trail Marker," 2012. Holomatic Spectral-Chrome, Wood.
“Point of Disorientation (Documentation),” Digital Print, 2012
"Point of Disorientation (Documentation)," 2011. Digital Print.
All images courtesy the artist.