Artists Tony Cokes
Venue Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, London
Images Photographer Andy Stagg. Courtesy the artist, Greene Naftali, New York, US and Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles, US.
Cokes’ works bring together colour theory, sound, music, and texts quoting a polyphony of voices such as Louis Althusser, Malcolm X, David Bowie, Public Enemy and Donald Trump. His works often use evocative tracks of popular music grafted onto fragments of theoretical and other texts to create intensely affective video essays. Meeting political and social commentary with cultural theory and a critique of capitalism, Cokes’ works viscerally confront the social condition, as well as the specific prejudices and threats suffered by Black subjects.
Recent works include subject matter that includes minimal techno, the Bush administration’s use of colour to engender a perpetual culture of fear, and music used to torture detainees during the so-called “war on terror”.
Two new works will be produced for the exhibition, one of which is specific to the context of Goldsmiths CCA and takes as its subject the content and cadence of Kodwo Eshun’s Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture, which took place at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2018. Mark Fisher was a writer and academic based at Goldsmiths whose work explored the pervasive logic of capitalism as inflected through culture, including music, literature, film, television and visual art.
Since the 1980s, Cokes has developed a precise visual style marked by animated text, found images, and solid-colour slides. Cokes fosters what he has called “representational regimes of image and sound” drawn from the media, particularly news and Hollywood cinema. His videos combine cultural fragments, reframing the images and ideas that are designed to construct our habits and identities. By extracting source texts from their original contexts and layering elements that often clash, Cokes examines media’s operations and the ways in which it manifests power.
In the past 30 years, Cokes has produced videos and exhibited in a variety of institutions around the world, from museums and alternative spaces to major film festivals. While maintaining his artistic practice, Cokes has worked in the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University since 1993, first as a visiting lecturer and, since 2007, as Professor.
The exhibition will be accompanied by the first publication devoted to Cokes’ practice, published by Goldsmiths Press, the university press housed at Goldsmiths, and distributed internationally by MIT Press. Tony Cokes: If UR Listening 2 This It’s 2 Late: Vol.1-3 provides four critical pathways into Cokes’ decades-long practice, with essays contributed by notable academics, and an in-conversation with artist Kerry Tribe.
This exhibition is co-organised by the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University (30 January – 12 April 2020), and ARGOS centre for audiovisual arts, Brussels (18 April – 26 July 2020).Sarah McCrory, Director of Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art said: “In the midst of a time of such political precarity, it feels timely to show the work of Tony Cokes, from across three decades of production. This exhibition not only traverses key moments in social history through his unique method of re/presenting found texts and music, but also questions, how much has society really changed? His exhibition coincides with Goldsmiths CCA’s first anniversary and we’re proud to mark this moment with vital work that interrogates issues of race-relations, war, pop culture, nationalism and politics.”