Every era has the predictions for the future that it deserves. The palliative solutions that it manages to put together in response to its eschatological anxieties are always forged in its own image. Just a few years ago the predictions of our age were grounded in forward looking trends, prosumer rather than the end of the time. Since then, though, the surface veneer of this illusion has cracked as it runs up against climate catastrophe, confronting humanity with its inexorable finiteness.
“In Mirror Runs Mouth”, Cooper Jacoby’s third exhibition with the gallery and first in Arles, the artist reflects on the paradigm of forecasting while connecting with the historical precedents of this compulsion. As you enter the exhibition, a functioning full size public streetlight hovers at the end of the space, its glass lighting covers replaced by distended and warped translucent silicone surfaces. Backlit by shifting projections, their surfaces are cast intestines, referential to the divinatory practice of the haruspex, who looked for signs of things to come in the viscera of sacrificed animals.
On the walls are four panels from the series How Do I Survive? (2022), featuring common universal thermostats mounted onto panels covered in thermochromic pigment. The viewer’s gaze is drawn automatically to the rudimentary screens of these devices, which alternately shows the ambient temperature or fragments of texts. The latter are generated randomly by an artificial intelligence program into which the artist has input various science-fictional texts by Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin and Joy Williams.
Ventriloquizing with an erudition that is as precise as it is uncanny, these small boxes flash up aphorisms that move between a morbid post-apocalypticism, pragmatic survival strategies and sharp outbursts of desire. Their moods and priorities seem to fluctuate, or perhaps simply shift according to those of the viewer at any given moment. Echoing the material changes of the aluminium panels which are coated in thermochromic pigment reacting to temperature, whose color, form and tone shift over time, from the moiré of a dysfunctional LCD screen to the foreboding color of deep black in the event of extreme temperatures.
In the center of the space, two public benches painted with the same coating offer both a seat and memorial inscription, the trace of a passage in the form of the thermal imprint left by visitors. For Cooper Jacoby, this thermal approach joins the visceral one by way of the reference system at the heart of the exhibition, namely the theory of the four humours of Hippocratic medicine. The health of the soul and the body resides, according to this theory, in the balance of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile and the qualities that accompany them: hot, cold, dry and humid. Each humour is further associated with a psychological temperament and a metabolic profile: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic.
Amidst industrially manufactured devices that subtly regulate the social body – lamps, benches and thermostats from the early 2000s traditionally without qualities – Cooper Jacoby in turn orchestrates the return of buried affects in an attempt to recover a form of interrelation with others and with the environment. Beyond the current predictive affective economy fuelled by astrology, smartphone apps and data-hungry online psychological tests, the growing recourse to categorisation of people according to types, schemas and other humours and the spontaneous forms of identification that arise from this point to a quest for connection and commonality. To predict is, after all, to link things together. And in this, it is a means of offsetting the atomization of bonds between individuals and the cosmos.
If a recent theoretical turn reflects the search for planetary intelligence – Steven Shaviro’s Extreme Fabulations (2021) or James Bridle’s Ways of Being (2022) – Cooper Jacoby maintains human societies at the forefront of his explorations. The milieu that he studies, the one which influences us and onto which we project our schemas in return, does not discard the social for the cosmos, no more than it disposes of the technological for the non-human. Simply, he expands it to better account for its contemporary parameters: hot, cold, dry, and humid as well as medial, artificial and unbalanced.
at High Art, Arles
until August 27, 2022