Jess Riva Cooper’s “Viral Series” of Ceramic Busts

by Anna CareyPosted on

The female busts in Jess Riva Cooper’s “Viral Series” recall sculpture from Classical antiquity. The glazed white ceramic is cold and smooth like marble, and the features are perfectly contoured like the depictions of Greek or Roman goddesses. Cooper, however, twists the ideal into a new archetype of beauty. On faces that might otherwise seem lifeless, the Toronto-based artist has painted overgrown flora. Life in the form of ivy, flowers, and insects literally creep out of their noses and ears.

It is the interaction between nature’s chaos and abandoned objects that interests Cooper. She explores deteriorating communities and looks at what happens in their abandoned lots. Whether hit by the financial crisis or in environmental disarray, these places leave houses and objects at nature’s mercy. Without intervention, nature takes over and overwhelms the objects, like it does to these busts. The busts, once pure and perfect, are hardly recognizable. They become tattooed with nature across their faces. Their heads grow leaves instead of hair. These creatures seem to want to scream out in pain — or perhaps pleasure — in the midst of transformation.

Cooper finds beauty in the untamed, non-human state. Her art is intimately tied with the Dybbuk spirit of Yiddish folklore, which she directly references in some of her other sculptural work. Dybbuk comes from the Hebrew word for “glue” or “to adhere” and is thought to take over a person’s soul once they have died. The Dybbuk fuses with the body to form a unit, not unlike the vegetation growing to become a part of the ceramic busts. Often used to represent life, nature instead becomes a parable for an alternative state — one where life and death meet.

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