Montreal-based multi-media artist Naomi Cook says her work has grown out of an interest in “engravings, sound, and visual representations of data.” Her eclectic work represents a true integration of traditional techniques with modern thinking and concepts. Midi Sketches, a series in which Cook digitally scans her drawings and converts them to sound, is but one clear example of this fusion.
Her incorporation of multiple mediums into her projects is mirrored by the diversity of her subject matter. These range from interrogating the impact of architecture and surveillance on one another in her work, Spaces, to Troïka, “a project centered around the GPS coordinates of members of an online dating site.” Cook’s work employs and explores technology in unpredictable ways, giving us an unexpected perspective on its role in all of our lives.
BATS_2012-3-23_2015, 2015, .gif
Christian Petersen: When did you first understand that you were an artistically creative person?
Naomi Cook: I don’t think it was a realization for me. When I was probably seven or younger my brother taught me how to draw a tree. I never stopped drawing. In my twenties I realized that making art is the only thing I can do, or am good at, so you could say I realized that I better make this work.
CP: When did you first become aware of the internet as a tool for creative exploration and expression? What early experiences of the internet made the most impression on you?
NC: I was introduced to the inner workings of the internet early on. In grade three it was my job to run the school server. It was me and one other guy and we got in trouble for hacking into the chat service. Our teacher was furious but let us keep our role, because it was too late in the year and no one knew how things worked.
I think that gave me an insight behind the power of a such a large archive and that information can be accessible even when it seems obscured under the many layers that “protect” data. I was also made aware of the glaring problems around privacy at a ridiculously young age.
Dap, 2016, .gif
CP: When did you first use the internet to display your own creativity?
NC: Oh I dunno, when was my first website? Early 2000s… I sound like an early 2000 landing page… on the internet since 1995…
CP: Can you define the influence that the internet and technology have on your work?
NC: It is a huge source of my research and has been an important tool. Perhaps this has become a norm for all artists. Aren’t all artists—apologies for the use of this problematic term—“post internet” at this point? I mean how can we be post- anything? Anyway, the internet is still there and most people are on it more than six hours a day. I think because it has become such a norm, it’s inevitably part of our aesthetic. What I have been trying to do in all my work is look at the origins of technology, old and new, and consider how we can learn to navigate the ones we are using now.
Space IX Diptych, 2014, Ink on paper, 45.5 x 61 cm
CP: Your work often combines the traditional medium of drawing with modern technology either in subject or execution—what interests you about this combination?
NC: I think that drawing has a wonderful authority over the unreal, an ability to dictate anything on a two dimensional surface. There is a crossover here: technology is believed, maybe incorrectly, as a way to make anything possible. What I find fun is doing things machines can by hand. Even when using technology—programs I build, speakers I make, hand-drawn videos, and so on—it is the hand embodying the technological process.
CP: You describe yourself as a multi-media artist? Why did you first decide to use contrasting mediums in your work?
NC: I always try to find the right tool for the right job and that usually leads to a large learning curve. I enjoy learning.
CP: You studied Art and Philosophy at university. What continued influence has that combination had on your art?
NC: I have always tried to combine these disciplines in my practice: object making as thinking. I almost always start with a question. I suppose I am just trying to figure out how things work (or don’t!) and maybe that is the philosophical part. How does the world work anyways?
Love Hertz, 2015, .gif
CP: Why did you start experimenting with GIFs as an extension of your drawing?
NC: I have always done animations. I am interested in time, or time in unusual formats—the non-linear. GIFs are simply a delivery method for the above.
CP: Do you think the internet will ultimately prove to be positive for humanity?
NC: The internet is a tool. It depends on what we use it for. That said, there are some worrisome concentrations of power…
Dollar bill I, 2015, Ink on paper, 29.25 x 42 cm
BATS_2012-03-23 time lapse 1, 2015, Ink on paper, 28 x 21.5 cm
CP: You often explore/translate the concept of data in your work. What draws you to it as a subject?
NC: I am interested in observing the alienation that stems from the digitization of our interactions in the world, and I’ve discovered that many people around me feel overwhelmed by it. Thus my interest in systems of quantifying and defining the world through numbers. The internet provides good examples of this.
Data, just like language, can be opaque. What I have learned, especially from the work I did with High Frequency Trading and the Stock Market, is you can read data much like a story.
Form XXVI, 2014, Ink on paper, 66 x 86.5 cm
CP: You’ve often explored distorted and transforming human forms in your drawings, as in your Forms project. How would you describe that work?
NC: The Forms series speaks to the more meditative side of my practice. It is more for myself but is still very associated to the binary. There are always only two colors. One reading I appreciated is: they look like bodies being eat up by data.
If there is Smoke there is Fire (detail), 2016, HD video, 9:05 min
CP: Your piece Troïka is based on the Ashley Madison hack. What inspired you to want to make work about that?
NC: In the Troïka project I was questioning how the feminist perspective is influenced by hook-up culture and open relationships—if this has created more empowerment for women or not. We are trying to navigate relationships, often online, post sexual revolution. In rejecting traditional means of relationships old systems have been thrown out and we are navigating the new ones. Social media is an interesting platform for the performative nature of these questions.
Troïka, 2017, Fabric, 192 x 136 cm
CP: Why do you think digital art has become a natural home for feminist thinking?
NC: It is a natural home for all thinking. That said, it may have leveled at least a part of the playing field which has been in the ivory tower of male-dominated galleries, museums, etc. Women traditionally were the secretaries of technology. Now that technology is an accessible and useful means for expression, the power dynamic has shifted. Also, not only men can do math.
CP: Would you describe your work as political?
NC: … Of course!
CP: What else do you have coming up?
NC: I am in residency until the end of January. Then I will be working on building a mapping program for a session I will be doing with Studio XX in Montreal. I will be working with families to create a video to be exhibited using mapping as art.
We run an online magazine, so of course, we're interested in what's happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he selects a Web Artist of the Week.
(Image at top: BATS_2012-3-23_2015, 2015, .gif)