Los Angeles—whether in critical theory or an SNL skit—is tightly bound to car culture. So much so that it borders on trope. But Skyward, a new installation by artist Kevin Cooley, finds new ways to talk about both the city and the automobile.
Skyward is a film about LA and about cars, but we never really see either. Instead, Cooley has created a single "impossibly long" tracking shot of the sky, which seems as though it’s been shot by someone laying in the back of a convertible. "I decided to use the experience of driving as an allegory for the city itself, which seemed to be the most natural way to talk about Los Angeles," he says. Because the camera is so steady, the whole thing looks like some monumental feat of rendering, but Cooley shoots every piece of video himself, cutting moments together to form a single continuous piece of footage.
The film premiered last week in Williamsburg, where it was projected on a massive screen installed on the ceiling of a massive industrial hall called the Boiler. Under its 40-foot-ceilings, visitors laid on throw pillows and rugs inside of the ad hoc gallery space. Jet trails and palm tree fronds flit around the frame as Cooley’s camera moves from downtown to the hills of Palos Verdes, with cameos by blimps, bees, and the crowns of landmark buildings. "I have long been fascinated with the city as a place of extremes, its vast network of infrastructure, and it’s complex relationship to nature," Cooley says. "I wanted to make a singular piece that encapsulated all of this in way that was simple on the surface but also incredibly complex, like L.A. itself."
It’s worth noting that when we last wrote about Cooley, it was to talk about the frozen landscapes of his series, Take Refuge. He was living in Brooklyn when he began that project, but he relocated to Los Angeles recently—a move that he says was precipitated by filming Skyward several years back.
Though technically speaking the two couldn’t be more different, there’s something about Skyward’s glowing square of sky that reminds me of a James Turrell skyspace. You could say it’s a very LA take on Turrell’s conceptual foundations—Light & Space, seen through a Hollywood lens. Still, argues curator Shana Nys Dambrot, “there’s no trickery, just layered truths.” Ah.