Art With Attitude

Jennifer McCoy
While some traditional artists use paint brushes, Jennifer McCoy works with modern technology to create installation art. McCoy, MFA program director in the art department at Brooklyn College, works with her husband, Kevin, on a variety of projects. Once, they took all the film frames from the 1970s "Starsky & Hutch" television series and put them into categories - every shot that showed a leather jacket, for example, or the color blue.

Their work has been shown worldwide, including at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Recently, from her Brooklyn studio, McCoy talked about the ideas behind her art, teaching at CUNY and the new emerging art scene.

What exactly is installation art?

Usually you define installation as something that's creating an environment for the viewer so they are aware of their own bodies in the space, and they are aware of everything in the space. I think installation can be a catch-all for things that aren't traditional, but I do think that for an installation artist, you are interested in controlling the experience of the viewer.

You were a film major in college. What drew you to installation art?

Working with the projected image seemed like a great way to put together the things I was interested in. Just being a filmmaker didn't quite seem enough. I wanted to work with art because it seemed like a very open space for creativity, and I like work that changes over time, so our projects could be performance or sound or film or video, or they can be sculptures that move or change.

Who takes on what role when you work with your husband?

In the more cinematic projects, we definitely take on different roles. For a while I'll be the producer, and the day of the shoot, he might be the director in a kind of film-industry way. For the sculptural projects, although I do a lot of the art direction and the physical model-making, and he does a lot of the technological systems, we really have to come together to make the final project. Sometimes other specialized assistants are also needed.

Do you ever get on each others' nerves?

The times that we can come into the studio together are pretty great. We used to be there all the time and drive each other crazy, but since we have a family now and two different jobs, it's actually kind of a special treat to finally get in there and talk to each other with nobody interrupting us.

Can you talk about one of the larger projects you worked on?

We did a video recently where we hired 50 actors to replace us. It was a PSC-CUNY grant that was funded. In that project, the question was, ‘What defines us?'

When you are in different situations, how do you change what you look like, what you wear and how you act?

We had actors take on our role as professors and our roles as artists. We had a screening of it in March in Houston.

What's your opinion on installation art versus traditional art?

All of it is moving in the same direction. The most important thing today is that you are working with the idea first and foremost and not necessarily any one technique. I think a painting can be conceptual as well as something that works with the tools of our times.

What's hot right now in the art scene?

I think what's really hot right now is artists who work with communities to make interesting projects happen. A lot of my grad students are not so interested in the gallery world. They are more interested in projects that involve people and local resources rather than just creating a simple object.

What do you like most about your students at Brooklyn College?

The diversity. If you ask a simple question like, ‘create an autobiographical sketch,' you always get such interesting responses. They work really hard. They don't just put a lot of work and effort into their work and school, but into their lives.

Did you recommend any specific exhibits for your students to visit this semester?

The Tim Burton exhibition at MoMA was definitely on the list because I'm teaching the stop-motion class. Eyebeam is also a really good resource for art and technology projects.I would also recommend the Marina Abromovic exhibition at the Guggenheim.

How has the art scene changed since you've been involved?

Art and technology have come a long way. It used to be this experimental, marginal zone of the art world.Now pretty much every artist uses video and technology in some way, certainly to promote and distribute their work if not make the work itself.