Briefly describe the work you do.
My practice is interdisciplinary with an emphasis on installation with objects and video
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in Canada with parents that managed remote fishing lodges in the northern interior of British Columbia. Living in such isolated conditions afforded me a lot of freedom as a kid. Encountering a bear or falling through the ice on the lake was more of a concern than say kidnapping or being hit by a car. I later attended high school and college in Washington State where I continued to nurture a deep relationship with the outdoors – hiking, skiing, camping, etc. after getting my BFA I moved to Brooklyn at age twenty four and remember asking myself “How did I end up here?” It was a long way from where I came from. Seven years later I moved to Richmond, Virginia, to earn my MFA, then moved to Nashville, Tennessee. After spending over ten years in the south I realized how much I missed all things winter. I think that’s part of what ignited my interest in the Arctic – it was like going from one extreme to another. All this moving around has definitely seeped into the work I do. Most of my research revolves around place and identity.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
While I definitely spend time in the studio “toiling away,” it almost always follows a period of extended research. Lately that has meant expeditions to remote Arctic locations to investigate and explore topics place and identity as a function of socio/political transformation related to receding ice sheets. Earlier work was also about place and identity but in relation to past experiences based on memory – this was a lot easier and cheaper. Lately I have been planning elaborate (and expensive) expeditions to hard-to-reach places. I think this satisfies two different personalities within me – the kid that misses the freedom of exploring the woods and the artist who is interested in conceptually deconstructing the evolution of identity.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I began making art I thought my audience was confined within the walls of the gallery. The goal was to make work and exhibit in a gallery, that’s it. I still want to exhibit the work I make, that’s how a dialogue is created. However, I think moving to New York demystified a lot of the process and helped clarify the reasons for making and showing art. As a sculptor it was a lot more difficult to get galleries to sign on. I once had a dealer ask me what sort of work I made and then proceeded with “Sculpture… that’s the hardest shit to sell”. That’s when my focus changed. I think my practice has also changed. I have learned how to sustain myself without relying on my work for income and compromising what I wanted to say with my work. This has freed my mind tremendously and has ironically led to some unorthodox opportunities. I think the role of the artist has changed in a lot of ways since I began making art. I always say that to do my work I need to be able to act – at least minimally – as anthropologist, sociologist, geographer, psychologist, scientist, fund raiser, lawyer and marketer. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had and I’ve had some doozies over the years.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I am more productive in the morning, before my mind gets too cluttered with daily responsibilities. And though I try to keep a regular schedule it usually falls apart. I’ve also worked through the night when necessary, which has a completely different dynamic. The night has an air of quiet solitude and I appreciate the way things sound at night – muffled and peaceful. I now have a three-year-old son and that adds a whole new layer of scheduling. In some ways this makes me even more focused when I am in the studio.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work seems to get larger, more ambitious and complicated as the years pass. I don’t know if this is due to increasing confidence, the desire to challenge myself or if it’s just a natural progression. I do tend to get bored with things quickly, which is probably why I never make the same thing twice. Once the problem is solved there’s no point in repeating it.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I have my favorite artists who somehow excel at everything they do. But I wouldn’t say that I am influenced or inspired by any one person or icon. I really appreciate artists who have managed to build practices that evolve dynamically. These are the artists that remain relevant over decades.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’ve always been fascinated with early explorers who would travel for years, risking everything they had, including their lives, to be the first to see something. I like the idea of seeking places on the absolute fringe and finding out what is there. So if I had to blend adventure and enlightenment I would say perhaps an independent journalist/documentarian.
As a frustrated architect, explorer, and aspiring social examiner, Derek Coté received his MFA in sculpture and extended media at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has exhibited nationally and internationally including exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Tacoma Art Museum, Art Museum of the University of Memphis, Houston Center for Photography, Exit Art, AC Institute and Roebling Hall in New York City, Marmara University in Istanbul, Marc DePuechredon Gallery in Basel and Kunsthaus Rhenania in Cologne. Coté has received a professional artist fellowship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, research and support grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Pollock Krasner Foundation, the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation and the Foundation for Contemporary Art. Additionally Coté and has been a resident artist at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, The Arctic Circle expedition and the Anchorage Museum’s Polar Lab.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.