Open Frequency 2010: Anne-Marie Copestake selected by Dominic Paterson

Open Frequency 2010: Anne-Marie Copestake selected by Dominic Paterson Anne-Marie Copestake, Early morning breeze, first days of civil unrest. Litho print on newsprint, paint, ink. Approximately 29cm x 40cm x 1cm

Writer and critic Dominic Paterson profiles Glasgow artist Anne-Marie Copestake for Open Frequency.

As an entry point into Anne-Marie Copestake's intriguing practice, 'Shy', included in her 2010 exhibition Bronze (Glasgow International 2010), might serve as well as any work. Made up of materials including metal, wood, fabric, glass, paint, paper, fragments of written text and a pair of ceramic drumsticks, 'Shy' is quietly enigmatic and exquisitely made, evocative of everyday life and yet somehow also otherworldly.

These are common qualities in Copestake's work, but there are further reasons to take this particular piece as exemplary. Firstly, Bronze was a two-person show with Fred Pederson - a fact which points up Copestake's prolific record of collaboration. The drumsticks bring to mind Copestake's work as a musician, and indeed her drumming was prominent in a performance which took place as part of the exhibition. 'Shy', itself a combination of disparate elements, was very much part of a larger installation of work, one element in a complex whole which related to its unusual setting - a former jeweller's office, with its display racks and safes still present - in subtle and intriguing ways. Finally, in their simultaneous evocation of fragility and rhythm, the ceramic drumsticks in 'Shy' also encapsulate the combination of playfulness and delicate sensitivity which can be found across this artist's practice.

Copestake initially studied sculpture and a sense of the tangible presence of things, and of the interrelations between them, can still be felt in her work. Now, however, it often takes the form of text pieces, printed works on paper, or film installations. Print editions such as 'Joy Boy' (2008), and what Copestake terms her 'newspapers' (collages of heterogeneous images and text on newsprint, sometimes double-sided), evoke the matter of modern existence with an almost ethereal lightness.

The paper hoods which feature in pieces including 'Joy Boy' and 'Walked and walked and walked, space time love' (2008) convey a sense of bodily materiality, but do so in a way that also suggests the opacity of inner experience, the hidden or perhaps incommunicable dimensions of subjectivity.

The potentials and fallibilities of human communication, the unavoidable necessity and the unavoidable difficulty of negotiating language, gesture, space, and relationships are implicit themes in Copestake's films. What is perhaps most impressive is the skill with which this subject matter is conveyed formally. The particularity of Copestake's way of installing work is central to her practice; often projecting digital films onto multiple planes or textured surfaces such as loosely hung sheets of sugar paper or rough pieces of wood, Copestake not only lends a tactile physicality to her images, but also disrupts and breaks them up.

In the installation of 'Her bodily connection to earth through work' (2010), the projection fell on two sheets of paper, whilst a pole bent between wall and floor and placed between projector and screen reminded the viewer that the image was traversing the room, claiming the space - as, it seemed, was the woman who was its subject.

In 'Touch bump overlap, unable to separate landing on two planes' (2010) and 'Violence of Order' (2008) the low level at which the works were installed and the nature of the surfaces used as screens heightened the sense of an image being fleetingly materialised.

Crucially, seeing the films presented in this way makes one aware that a kind of contact is being made between the film and the screen. It is almost as if in this encounter a new layer is produced, an immeasurably small space in which image and support intermingle. This effect resonates with Derrida's provocative discussion of touch and contact as themes in philosophy. "What is contact if it always intervenes between x and x?", Derrida asks. "A hidden, sealed, concealed, signed, squeezed, compressed and repressed interruption? Or the continual interruption of interruption ... the death of between?" In Copestake's work this equivocation between continuity and disruption is given poetic form. 

Copestake has also made ostensibly documentary film works. 'Trigger Tonic', a project she initiated in 1999, is a 'rolling archive' of filmed interviews with artists and musicians visiting Glasgow, and constitutes a fitting record of the city's artist-run, collaborative DIY culture.

In one especially striking instalment, Copestake filmed an exchange between Cathy Wilkes and Ellen Cantor. The conversation itself is absorbing: intense, emotive and lucid reflections on artistic practice emerging from tentative, somewhat awkward beginnings, in the mundane space of Cantor's hotel room.

The sense of intimate dialogue is so strong that when the camera moves from one participant to the other, the viewer might be taken aback by the awareness that Copestake too is present. The filmmaker is particularly attuned to the gap between the two participants, the space they have to cross to share ideas and feelings. Here as elsewhere, Copestake seems to grasp space and contact as intersubjective as well as physical phenomena.

Copestake is a member of the band Muscles of Joy, along with artists and musicians Katy Dove, Leigh Ferguson, Sophie Macpherson, Victoria Morton, Jenny O'Boyle, Ariki Porteous, and Charlotte Prodger. Copestake's sensitivity to spacing and rhythm are vital elements in the band’s sound, evident in her vocal contributions as well as her drumming. Her spoken word interjections in songs such as Field Protest and Interchangeable Letter Set are especially striking, with a confident, controlled style playing off against intense lyrical imagery.

Language is another vital element in Copestake's practice. In bookworks and in prints she often uses fragments of narrative which read like fables of contemporary emotional predicaments. The title of her 1998 bookwork 'Take Hold Tightly, Let Go Lightly' could suggest one useful way to sum up this multi-faceted practice.

Copestake's work consistently oscillates between tactile and emotional forcefulness, and a delicate sensitivity to letting things be. Impulses towards pulling closer (to others, to the stuff of the world) and holding oneself apart, impulses towards intimacy and distance, seem continually at play, generating beautiful work that is always engaging but never easy to pin down.

[1].  Jacques Derrida, On Touching – Jean Luc-Nancy, trans. Christine Irizarry, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, p. 2

Dominic Paterson, August 2010

Artist's biography

Anne-Marie Copestake studied MA Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art (1995-1997) and at the Stadelschule, Frankfurt-am-Main in 2000. She currently lives in Glasgow.

Copestake is a member of the band Muscles of Joy, and Poster Club, a group of seven Glasgow-based artists who work collaboratively - Ciara Phillips, Laura Aldridge, Nicolas Party, Michael Stumpf, Kendall Koppe, Tom O'Sullivan.

About Dominic Paterson

Dominic Paterson lives and works in Glasgow, and has taught at the University of Strathclyde and the Glasgow School of Art as well as at the University of Glasgow. In 2010 he curated a series of 'Primer' events for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, including film screenings and artist talks by Gerard Byrne and Jimmie Durham.

His recent publications include texts on Kate Davis and Faith Wilding's CCA Glasgow exhibition The Long Loch, on Claire Barclay, and on Martin Soto Climent.

Dominic's PhD thesis focused on the writings of Michel Foucault, and critical theory, photography, and contemporary art practice are his main areas of research.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.