Performance and installation artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley creates "emotionally driven narrative spaces" and modern mythic stories in three-dimensional form for viewers to enter into, experience, and explore. Her work is informed by fantasy and folklore, nature, history, politics, the mystery of abandoned places and found objects, and the secret lives of insects, birds, and animals (especially deer). She is an interstitial artist who weaves visual art, performance art and music together as she endeavors "to engage viewers on multi-sensory levels that alter their experience of time and place."
Her intent, she says, is to "invent haunted dream worlds that echo political and cultural phenomena of past and present. Video, sound and site-specific lighting create an atmosphere of dis-reality. Rescued materials are transformed into props and garments which reveal incomplete evidence of pasts. Emerging from post-industrial waste, pollution and decay, these installation places give refuge to new habitations of marginal hybrid species. Mythical androgen creatures stem from cracks and crevices as drawings and performance characters. Their bodies are often scarred, bandaged and modified through plastic surgeries and transfigurations that abandon notions of gender and identity. By performing improvisationally and collaboratively within these installations, I myself become a Utopian gutter creature."
The photograph at the top of this page is from Ryder Cooley's "Serenades for a Dead Deer," performed in Troy, New York in 2006. The next image is "Serenade for Factory Factories and Mills," North Adams, Massachusetts, 2006. To the right is "Apparitions, Serenade for Tabor," in which a mysterious veiled figure in a feathered gown performs at various sites in the town of Tabor, Czech Republic, 2004. Just below is "The Riverbird Serenade" (North Adams, Massachusetts, 2005), which the artist describes as follows:
"A chair is suspended from a bridge. Musical serenades are performed in the chair 10 ft. above a river with cars driving overhead and birds flying around. Performance and chair are viewed through the gallery windows. Concurrently, an indoor installation consists of four chairs suspended in individual window wells. One empty window invites a view of the chair outside. Beneath each chair is a nest of rocks collected from the river. During non-performance hours, serenades can be watched on video and the performance gown hangs alongside the video monitor."
The last two images come from Ryder Cooley's performance piece "To End All War," created in 2005 to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The artist explains:
"The central character, Vigil Deer, is an antlered doe. She is clothed in red, the color of martyrdom and blood as a reminder of the suffering caused by war. The iconography of this project stemmed from a series of deer encounters during the rutting and hunting season, and the subsequent discovery of a hermaphroditic deer species, known as the Velvet Horns, who live peacefully in alternative communities."
Ryder Cooley received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in sculpture in 1993, spent several years as an active member of the San Francisco arts community, and then earned an MA in Combined Media at SUNY, Albany. Her work (which also includes drawings, paintings, and murals) has been exhibited widely, from California and New York to the Czech Republic, Morocco, and Indonesia. She has participated in community arts workshops in El Salvador, is a recipient of a Belle Foundation Grant, and her work was included in the 2006 Hot and Cold catalogue acquisition at MOMA in New York. To learn more about Ryder Cooley's multi-faceted art, please visit her website, which is fascinating, inspiring, and magical. (With thanks to Ulla and Midori for the link.)