New Growth Series 1-4

An amazing work and statement by Toronto-based artist Jess Riva Cooper.

New Growth Series 1-4

"In my art practice, I integrate color, drawing and clay to create installation-based artwork. I study the foundation myths of the Golem and Dybbuk spirits in Yiddish folklore and reinterpret these traditional stories through a female lens. I also investigate fallen economic and environmental climates in regions such as Detroit, Michigan, where houses have become feral, disappearing behind ivy, trees and Kudzu vines that were planted generations ago. In my sculptures, the world sprouts plant matter. Color and form burst forth from quiet gardens and bring chaos to ordered spaces. Nature reclaims its place by creeping over structures. Wild floral growth subverts past states, creating the preternatural from this transformation."

"The story of the golem, a creature created to do a person’s bidding without question, allows me to investigate themes of embodiment and moral agency, as discussed by Sue Campbell, in her collection of essays Embodiment and Agency. Donna Haraway suggests in ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ that a cyborg is a creature of both fiction and lived social reality, a hybrid of machine and organism. The golem can be traced through nineteenth century literary interpretations such as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and modern interpretations such as Haraways' cyborg."

"A Dybbuk or mischievous spirit is also known in Hasidic tradition by other names such as the Hebrew word hizoniyim (outsiders). The story ‘The Dybbuk’ by S. Ansky is an example of a magical realism folktale dealing with ideas of Jewish demons and spirits."

"As Rachel Elior states in her book Dybbuks and Jewish Women, the Dybbuk could also be a mechanism used by women or other marginalized persons to escape from the demands of an all encompassing patriarchal social order. I see a direct parallel between my interest in insidious plant life and a malevolent Dybbuk spirit, which takes over the human body. In both situations a loss of control is suffered as the parasitic entity subsumes the host. In my current studio practice, I explore the related idea of demonizing the non-human other as it is exemplified in the Hebrew term for Dybbuks, hizoniyim, outsiders."

"My work draws on the historical representation of the figure in art. By introducing anthropomorphic forms into my installation environments, I am able to depict the extremes of embodied human experience. Sculpting the figure, this most familiar of forms, allows me to illustrate the physical and emotional vulnerability of the individual in day-to-day existence."

Jess Riva Cooper is an artist-educator based in Toronto, Ontario. Cooper received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, a diploma from the Ceramics Department at Sheridan Institute and a Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design. Mining her experience as a Canadian Jew of eastern European descent, Cooper explores the foundation myths of the Golem and Dybbuk spirits in Yiddish folklore and creates sculptural installations that reinterpret these traditional stories through a female lens.

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