Currently his exhibition Gas Men can be seen from March 19 – April 30, 2015, in Galerie Françoise Heitsch, in Munich, Germany. On March 27 he participated in an artist conversation with Osei Bonsu during a Supporters of Iniva (SI) – Open Forum Event, in London, Great Britain. And in August-September 2015 he will be an artist in residence in Miami, USA, as part of the Cannonball’s Residency Program. Christopher Cozier is everywhere, not limiting himself to one point in place and time. That’s why we re-share this article by Rob Perrée, written for SAX 9.
In February 2014 Christopher Cozier (Port of Spain, 1959) had his first gallery exhibition in the Y Art & Framing Gallery in Port of Spain, the city where he was born and where he lives. I can imagine that with a career of thirty years behind you, you don’t immediately start cheering for such a happening. It is after all, about time. But that was not the reason why he had mixed feelings about it, why had the need to talk about it apologetically. It became even more difficult when the exhibition turned out to be not just a public success, but also a financial success. It made him uncomfortable. Money is necessary and is usually of great help, but for his work process and for the presentation of his work, money is never a deciding factor. That premise seemed disturbed, outside of himself. “Maybe this exhibition marks a change in attitude towards contemporary art here. Then at least it might have been good for that purpose.”, was his ultimate and (temporary) final justification.
The unease however, was not wiped out by it.
Cozier showed drawings (“drawing is my handwriting”), screen prints, editions and works in which various techniques are combined. They were works full of references, texts and images ran into one another, sometimes the texts were the image and the images were reminiscent of scenes from a comic strip. Sometimes they seemed like notes on a white sheet of paper or sketches waiting to be further worked out. In the cases where there was any color involved, it was sporadic or pale. A number of works could have easily stood alone, others stood with each other because they were positioned according to time or because together they wanted to tell a story. By paying attention to the details you can discover a lot of humor in such a story.
Cozier would have preferred to see the exhibition as a kind of display of work material, of derivative works, of remnants or of works in the making. As such he failed to take into account an important aspect of his talent: not only does he work from a solid content with various references, but he also has a good feel for strong images. He once started as a graphic designer, and he has never completely lost that graphic signature. That signature naturally knows, that it has to be striking. And when in addition to this, the works are hung neatly framed and set up in a white box, that element is strengthened even further.
I can imagine that he might have ambivalent feelings about that.
Christopher Cozier is next to a man of image, a man of words, of texts, of content, of original ideas which are, at least in his head, always linked with other ideas. For him, a story or a thought is never isolated or something that happens only once. There are other stories from present time, but also from the past, that go along with it. Serious but also funny. Profound, but also commonplace and from the streets. He is an encyclopedic artist.
He collects data and events, he makes notes about moods, about the things that he sees, about the thoughts that present themselves to him at a certain moment. “It’s the sometimes mundane, sometimes crazy everyday of an individual living in Port of Spain.”
In his long-running project ‘Tropical Night’ – he has been working on it since 2006 – he gives them shape. A-4’s, small ‘paintings’ (or should I call them drawings?), often brownish or reddish, each telling their own story. He hangs them unframed, next to or below one another. Depending on the space available to him, such a collective work can consist of between a hundred and three hundred parts. The composition can also alternate.
As a result, one component can be a scene in multiple stories. In fact ‘Tropical Night’ is a blueprint of the brain, the impression device and the emotions of the artist. Because they resist being recorded, refuse to hide behind one meaning or one explanation, ‘Tropical Night’ can be nothing other than an ongoing project. With it he presents a form of contemporary, visual history writing.
That urge to portray a contemporary history stems from his annoyance with the way in which history, namely colonial history, is usually dealt with. It contains many gaps. On many occasions things are omitted and painful historical facts especially, are glossed over or ‘white-washed’. Reality is violated. For political reasons. For opportunist personal reasons. That will not happen to him. He always takes notes of many things, so that he has access to a rich supply in order to give shape to his thoughts, to substantiate his ideas, to feed his creativity and provide his work with a solid legitimacy.
Christopher Cozier has a special relationship with Suriname. In 2010 he assisted the organization of Paramaribo SPAN – an exchange project between Rotterdam and Suriname –primarily by inspiring and guiding the Surinamese artists in such a way that they dared to stray from their usual paths. Surprising and sometimes unprecedented installations were the result. A year later he was part of the organizing team that worked on the major retrospective exhibition of the work of Marcel Pinas. Since then he has written several essays about Surinamese art(ists) and talks are underway about a new exhibition project in 2015.
Christopher Cozier is not only an exceptional artist, but he is also an original and strong willed critic and curator.
TEXT Rob Perrée, Amsterdam, March 2014
PHOTOS Courtesy Christopher Cozier
Rob Perrée is art historian and works as freelance writer, art critic and curator, specialized in contemporary (Afro-) American art, African art, Surinamese art and art using new media. His work has appeared in countless catalogues, books, magazines and newspapers. He is editor of Sranan Art Xposed, editor in chief of Africanah.org and a member of the editing team of Pf Photo Magazine. His website: http://robperree.com.
More information about Christopher Cozier and his art projects:
Uncomfortable: The Art of Christopher Cozier, a video about Christopher Cozier by Richard Fung, 2005
Draconian Switch no. 11, about Paramaribo SPAN, 2010
Wrestling with the Image: Caribbean Interventions, 2011
David Krut Projects, 2013
In Development, 2013 (essay by Nicholas Laughlin)
Gas Men, 2014