Get to Know: Kevin Cooley and Phillip Andrew Lewis

Kevin Cooley and Phillip Andrew Lewis - The Long Division

Interviewed by: Ash Duhrkoop

We asked Kevin Cooley and Phillip Andrew Lewis, collaborators on The Long Division, a few questions about the project, their collaboration, and their thoughts on multi-media. Read on for more!

Art-in-Buildings: Can you tell us about what interested you in the lobby of 55 Fifth Avenue and any challenges or advantages posed by the architecture of the curved wall?

Cooley and Lewis: A curved wall is often a challenging space to hang or install existing work. This sort of architectural feature often dominates the experience of a space and is way less neutral than a straight wall. Lucky for us, we were looking for a curved space. That form more closely replicates the curvature of the sky around the Earth and provides an experience of being surrounded. While our roof installed cameras capture a 180° view looking both north and south simultaneously, together they follow or trace an arched space. The curve really seems to be a natural way to represent this view and is one of the things that attracted us to the 55 Fifth Avenue site. Fifth Avenue is also a central dividing line within Manhattan as a zero point where addresses increase with delineations of East or West. Typically it is difficult if not impossible to see both north and south while rooted in the cityscape. With that in mind The Long Division is able to present a constantly changing view of the city which is unique to time and location.

Art-in-Buildings: You met each other while Artists-in-Residence at the Bemis Center, and began collaborating. Talking about his own collaboration with Merce Cunningham, John Cage characterized it as "less like an object, and more like the weather," because in an object, the boundaries are clear, but with the weather, boundaries cannot really be defined. Can you tell us about your approach to collaboration? What is the process like for both of you?

Cooley and Lewis: Our collaboration is unique in that we don't live in the same time zone, making it more of a long-distance practice which of course presents its own challenges, but overall it works very well. When preparing for an exhibition we divide the work into clearly defined tasks, and we heavily rely on internet video chat and cloud-based collaborative editing/writing during studio time. We trust one another and trust the process that all of the moving parts will work together once we arrive at the venue to install. While the physical distance and differing time zones is what it is, we do tend to thrive on the chaos that creates. It is definitely an intense way to work, and we are looking to apply to more residency programs that will allow us to be in the same physical space without the pressure of having an impending exhibition.

Art-in-Buildings: The Long Division creates an impossible panoramic view from the Empire State Building to the Freedom Tower, yet, as indicated by the title, it clarifies this immense space by framing specific points. Is there an intentional tension here between disorientation, on the part of the viewer, and clarification, in the reduction to eight smaller units represented by the screens?

Cooley and Lewis: We have thought about this quite a lot. Why not digitally stitch the camera data into a larger projection or series of seamless projections, much like a planetarium? In some ways that would be even more ridiculous to present a seamless view of what is already there. Perhaps it is too close to the real experience of looking up at the sky. Using separate views and monitors allows us to selectively choose what the focus is, and through those choices present a mediated version, which we hope is more interesting or at least different from what you can see outside on your own. You don't normally stare intently at planes flying overhead, but when you see them on a screen you can't help but be fascinated. It is a strange phenomenon. There is something intrinsic to the screen that forces us to look, and perhaps by mistake can cause even the most mundane things to seem super interesting. We are very much interested in ideas around broken views as well. While the frame or frames do provide a packaged, more easily digestible experience of the cityscape, the sideways orientation of the screens challenges the viewer to connect the larger scene. Since the piece is working to provide a different form of navigation, we felt like the screens' orientation should be more closely tied to people's everyday experience. At this point we all seem to be tuned to the vertical screen of phones as a primary navigational control. While we were installing, it was interesting watching people come in off the street or exit from the elevator, through the liminal space of the lobby, clutching and gazing into their phones. It appeared a seamless transition as they went from the phone screen to looking up and into these wall mounted ones. It definitely made us a bit more self-conscious of this shared behavior.

Art-in-Buildings: The work is both ephemeral and durational, and provides the view of something mediated by a screen but that is not recorded. This makes the medium of The Long Division hard to determine. Is medium something you define, and if so, in what terms?

Cooley and Lewis: We have an interdisciplinary approach to making art, and the medium has always been less important to us than the concept behind the work, and the experience of seeing the work in person. Yet, the art world seems to be obsessed with discussing /defining / collecting / canonizing work through its medium. Either way, it is tricky for us. We also have been working on developing a web version of the project. In the end, ephemeral and durational are definitely descriptions which fit this project.

Art-in-Buildings: What's next for the both of you?

Cooley and Lewis: Something really, really big, but we can't talk about it just yet.

Can't visit 55 Fifth Avenue? Check out the live feed from The Long Division on the project's website