(selected by Freddie Robins)
Duende A Time for Healing - Siguiriya Lamenting Place, 2006
Julie Cook's textile constructions provide emotional and physical therapy for the body in pain. These collections of wearable objects comfort and protect by providing enigmatic therapeutic solutions. Their titles describe their emotional or physical function, malady or compulsion - Therapeutic Appliances for the Injured (2002), Madness of the Bulls (2005), Duende A Time for Healing (2006), Palliative Dressings (2006). The collections are often accompanied by a small booklet designed to resemble a St John's Ambulance manual. These function as illustrated guides in which Cook prescribes instructions for dressing the body and the object's intended therapeutic effects.
Cook has worked as a nurse for twenty years and continues to work part time as a Night Sister. Retraining as an artist, she discovered that her creative life and nursing background were inextricably linked, each feeding the other. Drawn to found materials which have in the past supported, protected or comforted the body - pillowcases, wool blankets, goose down duvets, bolsters and crisp cotton sheets - Cook's sculptures are designed to function as 'panaceas for the human condition'. The shape and form of her 'therapeutic appliances' are influenced by historical artefacts and garments - such as Victorian 'strong clothing' with their sealed sleeves and ties used to restrain the body - sourced through the photographic archives of medicinal libraries, the British Red Cross, the Wellcome Trust and the Bethlam Hospital in Kent. Combining the sinister and the humorous with a 'cruel to be kind' ethic, the objects 'address our anaesthetised society, contaminated as it is by the continuing violence in our everyday lives'.1 Freddie Robins suggests, 'whilst some of the objects and their application to the body might make us smile or even laugh, others are deeply moving and speak to us of deep emotions that we have all felt at sometime in our lives'.2
For the relief of Melancholia, the therapeutic appliance should be used 'during periods of intense sadness, painful rejection or feelings of worthlessness: a. Pull up over the arm and shoulder. b. Secure ties at the neck or on the opposite axilla. c. To rest the downcast head use integral pad'. For heartache - Cardiomyalgia - the manual states, 'This is generally the result of direct injury to the chest in response to heart break. This appliance can greatly reduce chest pain and provide a sense of warmth and protection. Can also help to prevent recurrent episodes. a. Apply bodice directly to the affected area and tie at shoulder and sides. b. If symptoms persist seek medical advice'. In the series Duende A Time for Healing, 'Braceo Desgarro Grips' is an appliance to be worn 'during times of wild heartache due to treachery: fit the un-clenched fist into the pocket's internal grip system. Allows the expression of physical signs of pain and anger caused by betrayal, deceit or treason. 1. Place each hand into the individual lateral pockets. 2. Grasp firmly to allow a fist to form as the internal grip system is operated. 3. Fasten each at the waist for transportable anger management. If symptoms persist seek the urgent advice of a Flamencologist'.
Madness of the Bulls
In Madness of the Bulls (2005), Cook explores the emotional and physical world of bull fighting, with an emphasis on women fighters (matadora de toros). The appliances supply 'emotional and physical defence in times of advertsity'3. Her extensive research for this project took her to Nimes, not far from the Spanish border, with its ancient bullring and mores associated with the corrida. Other influences include Ernest Hemingway's 'The Dangerous Summer', Muriel Feiner's 'Women and the Bullring' and the film 'Talk to Her' by Pedro Almodovar.
Cook writes, 'In the three acts of the fight the matador performs a choreography of life and death wearing garments called a 'suit of lights' but their only real protection is through skill, courage and faith. In a public display of perilous extremes, some suggest there may also exist a psychological drive or compulsion called 'Madness of the Bulls'. In contemporary society the subjects of death, illness, pain and loss are difficult to talk about yet our lives are driven by knowledge of certain mortaility. These issues are brought into the arena's parade through the blood of the bullfight and its spectacle of celebrity, where the danger and risks are high but there are no safe places to hide. This series embodies an alternative 'suit of lights'. Described and documented photographically they become safety garments for our fragile lives'.5
Duende A Time for Healing (2006) explores the physical, emotional and spiritual elements of healing and the tension between confinement and release. The series is inspired by her research into the culture of Andalucia - 'a society which outwardly displays the expression of bodies in pain, collective trauma and internal turmoil'6 - and the deeply expressive music and dance of Flamenco. The resulting objects are presented not only as a static collection but also through photography and performance.
The Spanish term 'duende' is appropriated by Cook to express the creative force engendered through the act of performance which enables the transition from the realm of the imaginary to reality – where the appliances become animated, live. The notion of duende became a cornerstone of Federico Garcia Lorca's poetics, portrayed as a demonic earth spirit containing irrationality, earthiness and a heightened awareness of death. For Cook, Duende describes 'a moment in time, in our dark places where a mysterious power takes over and the self becomes forgotten. It is believed that through this creative force, realization, surrender and freedom can be found through the arts, emotions and the body'.7 The 'Duende' collection of appliances 'enables the expression of emotions, which embodies a movement beyond the personal. By facilitating their application to the body through performance, they become live. There is an exchange from the imaginary to reality, from passive to active, from confinement to liberty, and a time for healing'.8
Julie Cook (born London, 1961) graduated from Middlesex University in 2002 where she studied jewellery under Caroline Broadhead and Pierre Degen and it was here that she was encouraged to use alternative materials in relation to the body. Since graduating in 2002 Cook has exhibited both nationally and internationally.
Selected exhibitions include Magpie, Rochester Art Gallery, Kent; Pathogeographies, Gallery 400, Chicago, USA (2007); The Liminal Phase, Hornsey Studios, London; Florence Trust Annual Summer Exhibition, St Saviour's, London; Madness of the Bulls, Ex Cantieri Naali, Venice, Italy (solo); Madness of the Bulls, Westbourne Grove Church Art Space, London (solo) (2006); Therapeutic Appliances/Madness of the Bulls, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea (solo, curated by Ralph Turner); Art on the Borders of Art, BWA Design Gallery, Wroclaw, Poland (2005); Body Extensions, Mudac Gallery, Lausanne, Switzerland; Body Conscious, Crafts Council Shop at the V&A Museum, London; Claustraphobia, Surface Gallery, Nottingham (2004). The work 'Asentamiento Dress' from the series 'Duende A Time for Healing' entered the Crafts Council Collection in 2006. She lives and works in London.
1. Julie Cook - Therapeutic Appliances/Madness of the Bulls, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, 2005. Written by Ralph Turner.
2. Freddie Robins, Open Frequency nomination text.
3. Julie Cook, Madness of the Bulls, 2005.
6. Julie Cook and Lisa Isaacs, Duende A Time For Healing, 2006.