New York

Kevin Cooley, Skyward, 2012, video, color, sound, 9 minutes 45 seconds. Installation view.

Kevin Cooley, Skyward, 2012, video, color, sound, 9 minutes 45 seconds. Installation view.

Kevin Cooley

Kevin Cooley, Skyward, 2012, video, color, sound, 9 minutes 45 seconds. Installation view.

Kevin Cooley’s video Skyward, 2012, has a simple premise: It shows the perspective of a camera mounted to the roof of a car and pointed at a bright, unclouded sky. On a near-ten-minute loop, the video takes us under streetlights, palm trees, and the tops of buildings, ornamented in a beaux-arts style that could mean we’re in Los Angeles. A bee hovers in the frame; birds flash past. The work’s installation, too, is straightforward: The video is projected on a large screen mounted on the ceiling, and viewers watch it while lying on pillows strewn over Astroturf. Together, these elements create enjoyable feelings of weightlessness, of being a child sprawled in the back of a station wagon (when such things were permitted), watching the passing skyscape out the rear window while someone else drives.

But reverie is not entirely the point. Cooley’s intention seems to be, rather, a kind of dis- or reorientation; he invites us to consider our relationship to the screen anew. It is interesting to move about while viewing, to determine whether certain positions feel more “correct”—whether having the sky scroll by from left to right, like a sentence, is the proper order of things, or from top to bottom, like movie credits. Perhaps some less-familiar diagonal trajectory would do.

In this state of disorientation, absolutely mundane occurrences (birds flying, buildings spooling by, a flag unfurling, the slow filling of the sky with clouds) take on newfound significance, and oddities (pink balloons that bump up into the frame and are released, one by one, to sail away and pixelate against the bright blue; a bee that hovers over the camera; the sun turning its transparent body to amber; a blimp seemingly blown sideways by the wind) are nearly heart-stopping. Every object seen and recorded by the camera comes to seem defined by the direction in which it moves: toward us or away from us? With the forward movement of the car or in opposition? Along axes or defying them? The sky, as seen from the earth, becomes something abstract, a realm of pure directionality.

At the very end of the video, the camera does a slow vertiginous spin, suddenly dipping down to show us distant verdant hills with houses, then the rippled ocean, before ascending through airy boundaries delineating water and atmosphere. This sublime moment emphasizes our weightlessness—we have seamlessly gone from earthbound, in a car, to somewhere midair—and establishes that almost nothing in the video’s scenario can be taken for granted. This is not a slice of life, the happenstance result of turning on a camera and going for a drive; it is a video that calls attention to its own constructedness, not least with the overpasses that chop up the screen like the frames of a film.

Emily Hall