Edmund Cook, Hoard Equivalents at Galería Bacelos
Text by Lorena Muñoz-Alonso
How we express ourselves and communicate with each other and the technologies we can conjure up to do so are questions at the heart of Edmund Cook’s oeuvre.
Inspired by the fields of archeology, ethnology and haptics, his work seeks to unpack how thoughts and stories can be recorded on and stored in objects—in imprints, grooves and codes that can be read—and how cultures and people are shaped by these techniques.
Cook is an artist who’s definitely interested in the profound communicative shift brought about by the digital era, but he understands it as just another chapter in the technological continuum that runs alongside the history of civilization. Here, time and history is transversal, rather than vertical.
This artist’s explorations—like sci-fi docu-fictions—imagine a parallel world in which successful communication is not dominated by computer interfaces. In his constructs, we never know whether we are taking a look at a pre-or post-internet world, and it doesn’t really matter.
The origin of the works gathered in the exhibition Hoard Equivalents at Galería Bacelos can be traced to an encounter of the artist with the Cuerdale Hoard at the British Museum. The hoard is one of the largest Viking treasures ever found, gathering over 8,600 items—including raw metal, silver coins, English and Carolingian jewellery, hacksilver and ingots—from a wide variety of geographical locations.
Intrigued by the heterogeneous shapes of the objects and their method of display, Cook became fascinated by the ingots, as physical symbols of abstract currency that could be passed between and understood by different peoples.
In the video work that lends its title to the exhibition, Hoard Equivalents (2017), two individuals are about to start a session in a computer server room, during which they will exchange words and a series of cargo cult ingots through a screen.
The teal color of the screen alludes both to the illusion of relaxation and to the hue of Windows 95, when the skeumorphic desktop of a personal computer was introduced to us as the way to organise our lives. The cut-outs in the screen, with their earthy terracotta edges, are also based on fragments of other objects from the Cuerdale Hoard.
Is this a sort of group therapy implemented by the company where these two characters work to provide employees with the necessary tools to reconnect with their sensible, non-screen-based selves? Is it the new ‘mindfulness’ for our digitally saturated, intensely networked population?
The second work in the exhibition is the sculpture Therapeutic Ingots (Noun, Verb) (2017) which presents the objects seen in the video across two shelves in the shape of the waveform made when saying the title of the show out loud (Hoard Equivalents).
Two screen prints, Leaky Constituent I (Paranoid) and Leaky Constituent II (Pragmatic) (2017) are stretched onto canvases shaped like organs, computer parts, or electoral boundaries. The imagery on each represents the contrasting attitudes of the two characters in the video. The resistance dyeing technique used to colour the fabrics is a nod to the hippy generation, who went from dropping acid in communes in San Francisco to pioneering networked technologies in Silicon Valley. Although they might seem antithetical, both approaches entail a similarly flawed utopic ideal of boundless exchange.
Lastly, a small photo collage gathers images collected while researching and making the video, as well as tests and offcuts from the studio. It is an homage of sorts to several artists important to Cook who have elevated research notebooks to an art form, particularly Paul Thek and Pedro Costa. As Cook says: “The lived, material, incidental world always bleeds into and infringes upon what is understood to be the clinically controlled ‘work’. Hiding it is not always the most worthwhile endeavour.”