Monica Cook’s exhibition Volley at Postmasters Gallery features a full cast of blemished bedazzled half-human, half-monkey sculptures, along with the stop-motion animation video and the photographs they star in. When I asked one viewer who was walking around the gallery looking perplexed what he thought his response was, “It’s pretty dark, I mean, this ain’t no Winnie the Pooh you know? Look at these things!”
The animation video is projected in the back room of the gallery separating itself from its stars. Its content is a connected series of narratives meandering at times softly and at time psychedelically through the gooey seduction, birth and death of the creatures. The soundtrack is proof of the emotive power of music in film, as it wraps these sappy, gushy and simultaneously disturbing and disguising images in unconditional love. It truly is “hard to watch and at the same time impossible to stop watching,” as the press release notes.
I didn’t experience the same tone as the viewer I spoke to and I wasn’t alone. Many viewers expressed tenderness and endearment toward the creatures. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to watch the video and then wander the gallery and study the characters, which are still and lifeless like taxidermy animals. This is partially what evokes the tender reaction toward them because we know they used to be alive and now they’re just silicon. It feels a little sad, like when ET in Steven Spielberg’s in his classic Hollywood sci-fi film from 1982 died.
Their body parts are made of many other materials ranging from human-like eyes to nylon stuffed or old phone cord limbs, sequined vaginas to perky plastic breasts (complete with pump attachments which you can try out for when the monkey breast feeds in the video). They simultaneously show the inside and the outside of the body, like if we all walked around with only half of our skin covering us and the other half exposing all of our muscles, bones and fluids.
The video is a limitless exploration and confusion of a story that takes place both inside a cave and inside the musculoskeletal, digestive, endocrine, lymphatic and reproductive systems. And the beastly beautified biological urges do highlight our own reptilian brain as it operates within us, regardless of how modern and evolved we are. In the absence of language, its impulses are instinctual, ritualistic and commanding.
One viewer commented that the piece is an incredibly realistic and relatable metaphor for the cycle of life. Birth is gross, ugly and painful. And so is death. And so is a lot of life in between. But what is lasting from these inexorably human experiences within our flawed bodies — is beautiful. All of Cook’s work consistently pushes in our face the fine lines between beautiful and ugly, where that line is, what we are drawn to versus repulsed by. Also inexorable within human nature is violence and although subtle and dressed in pink, violence is definitely present within this exhibition.
Believable is definitely what the show is. Similar to how George Lucas treated Star Wars and Check Jones created his 10 rules of the universe of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Cook structures her world both consistently and meticulously. And every good storyteller knows this is necessary in order to prevent any small gap or glitch that would transport us back into reality. I can enter Cook’s world and I remain there, captive.
I had seen Cook’s animation on the computer screen only, as well as her first animation deuce. The work inherently holds a voyeuristic aspect to it (also note that deuce on YouTube has received almost 300,000 hits and the comments are highly entertaining to read) but this is dissipated tremendously through in the cinematic projection, proof of how this presentation decision highlights different aspects of the multitudes of themes going on within Volley. One conversation I heard went something like “the penis nose guy was great! Was that the father character or was it the other guy with all the stuff oozing out of him?” which, though clearly not terribly in depth, exemplified the storytelling power in the objects and works.
At one point a viewer approached Cook and very fervently asked her “WHY did you make this???” It reminded me that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Some of the extreme reactions Volley generated at the opening, from glee to disgust, was precisely a demonstration of this.
Monica Cook’s exhibition Volley continues until February 11, 2012 at Postmasters Gallery (459 West 19th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).