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In Conversation with Animator and Illustrator Sal Cooper

"Really, I think you have to laugh, otherwise you will cry. Humour can offer an accessible entry point to the consideration of all sorts of strange and mysterious and very serious things."

Tonight, Abbotsford Convent in-residence artist Sal Cooper will launch her newest work, ‘What I Am Not Going To Tell You’ at The Atrium at Federation Square. Exhibiting until 26 March, the work features a series of drawings referencing pivotal moments in places Cooper has lived. We chat with her about her latest work, her process and the role of humour in art.

Tell us about your latest work, ‘What I Am Not Going To Tell You’, exhibiting in Federation Square’s The Atrium today until 26 March. While somewhat abstract, it sounds quite autobiographical?

These drawings are all completely autobiographical. Certain experiences are for me encoded in the landscape around me, and I am interested to see if any, or all, of the emotional intention is evident in the final works. In addition to this I am experimenting with a technique that is analogous to literary translation: I have executed all the drawings in the reverse of my usual drawing process by using white chalk on black chalkboard. The exhibited works are actually prints of the negative of these “reverse” drawings. This process is designed to reduce the drawings to their essential elements and free them, to some degree, from my own idiom.

The Atrium is a busy place with plenty of foot traffic. Is it unnerving having such a personal work in such a casual and open space?

What I am exhibiting is exclusively works on paper, which is unusually singular for me, and while I am accustomed to having audiences for my screen-based work this is a bit different. It is kind of risky, but I don’t yet know if it is unnerving. Ask me when it opens!

Have the illustrations been made with The Atrium or a similar space in mind?

No, they weren’t made with any location in mind at all.

Do you hope to stop people in their tracks?

I would love to stop people in their tracks and will be happy if I do, although I think it’s fair to say these drawings are quite muted and not very rowdy.

You work across animation, illustration and video – disciplines that lend themselves to each other. Did one come first, or have you always worked across different media?

I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil, so that is always first. The drawing developed into animation and filmmaking, and that diversified into video. I like to keep working constantly across different media, particularly where I can blur the distinctions between them.

When creating video work, how important is narrative to the creative process? Or is the aesthetic more important to you?

Often both of these things are of similar value to me, and if I am successful in a work it is because they are balanced. But I am also very keen to embrace and express the abstract, especially when I am working with music.

There are a number of illustrators who are tenants at the Convent but less film-makers. What is it about the space you find ideal for your multi-disciplinary works, including video?

Filmmaking is in its essence a very collaborative enterprise, so I suppose the model of small studio spaces doesn’t lend itself so much to that kind of practice. As an animator, though, I can work from a limited space. What’s good for me about the Convent in general is the people who are in it.

Some of your videos on face value are playful, like ‘Art vs Sport‘ and ‘Venice is Full of Ratsbut have a deeper meaning. How do you use humour to relay a message?

Yes comedy is a sort of default position for me. Really, I think you have to laugh, otherwise you will cry. Humour can offer an accessible entry point to the consideration of all sorts of strange and mysterious and very serious things.

Do you think humour is undervalued in the art world?

I think the art world is saturated in humour, although it is often unintentional. But yes, I think it can be seen to diminish the earnest intention of work.

What other projects are you working on this year?

I have a project called Fugue For Shadows that I am working on with the composer Kate Neal. This is a collaborative work that will be a performance piece for musicians and screen-based content. It is a substantial experimental work, so I will have my head down for the next while.