Interview with Jennifer & Kevin McCoy
Cory Arcangel

Artistic collaborators Jennifer and Kevin McCoy have earned international renown for works that mix film fandom and geek chic, exploring the strange realities of a hi-tech, mass media society and bringing fantastic worlds to life. This interview was conducted by Melissa Dubbin via email in fall 2006.

Photo: Matt Gunther

Melissa Dubbin: When did you begin creating media based artwork? What forms were you working with in the beginning, and how have they expanded, or become more focused?

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy: We have always worked with media, even before we thought in terms of artwork. Our earliest frames of creative reference were experimental music and film—in high school and college. When we met in Paris in 1989 we were each in the process of realizing that media could be a broadly integrated practice not limited to narrower categories of film or music. This is when media became an art practice for us. Even though single-channel video was a big reference for us early on, we still had a fairly multifaceted approach to media: doing performances, making music, taking pictures, creating installations. The challenge for us was to tackle issues of form—what form do the ideas take within a specific media framework? This is a basic art problem and one that media work can really struggle with given that it is so diverse and flexible. When we look back on our work that is something that we see now—the development of form, structure and materials in relation to the ideas expressed through media.

MD: Your work spans the spectrum of performance, video, net art, media installations and sculptures. What determines the migration between these forms and do you gravitate toward particular ones for specific concepts?

J&KM: In general, we ask which media form is the best fit for a given idea. But there are also more practical issues. We had been doing a lot of live, performance based works, but we eventually started looking for less ephemeral forms. The same is true for interactive works—we began to see their limitations. On the other hand, the work with miniatures and live cameras has really interested us over the past couple of years. We see them (and some earlier software based video installations) as performative objects that probably extend from the early work. We keep thinking of more and more things to try with them. So our interests and antipathies guide our choice of form as much as conceptual concerns.

MD: You seem interested in modes of seeing and the construction of narrative, with the potential for reconfiguring stories. Can you talk about this, and some of your influences?

J&KM: We are interested in contemporary forms of meaning, what counts as meaningful now, how meaning is put together, what’s being said, and who is saying it. Narrative plays a central role in this process, especially cinematic narrative. Certainly we talk about Godard a lot and about experimental work like Stan Brakhage’s and early Structuralist work. But that is just one side of the coin. The other side is a functional, procedural logic that is ever-present in the world today. Early conceptual art tapped into this without a technological basis. Now this is the world of protocols, algorithms, databases and so on. How these two threads intertwine describes the world in a fundamental way now, and this is what interests us. So it is not the computer per se that is interesting to consider, but rather what kind of cultural logic is at work that gives rise to the computer—or globalization for that matter.

MD: In the autobiographical work Our Second Date [1] (2004) the viewer is exposed to the role media has played in the development of your relationship. How this has continued since the second date?

J&KM: Continuing from the previous question, a major thread in our work has been the subjective response to media and, more specifically, our response to media. Our Second Date is an example of this. We made a series of specifically autobiographical works for a lot of reasons. We have been fascinated with the way that different realities with different time signatures co-exist be-teen the worlds viewed through media and actual lived experience. The cross-cutting evident in Our Second Date becomes an alternative method of dealing with this superimposition of one narrative (the slow one of real life) with the other (the edited, concentrated, cinematic form).

MD: Your recent solo show “Directed Dreaming” [2] at Postmasters Gallery in New York (2006) contained elements of sculpture and cinema. Can you talk about the works in the show?

J&KM: The main piece is the show was called Dream Sequence [3] (2006). The sculpture is a collection of our personal dream images. These were images that had been piling up for a long while and we were interested in seeing them sculpturally. We also had been thinking about superimposition as a physical process and how that could be created live. The result of this was to come up with a technique from early cinema (the two-way mirror) by which we could layer an image of one model (a figure of one of us in a bed sleeping) with moving images of the shifting dreamscapes. One amazing by-product of using miniatures is that you can move the whole film set rather than moving the camera. This allows for incredible visual jumps. For example, instead of using any kind of special effect, we are able to create transformations by sculpting the set itself. The piece uses two stacked turning circular models onto which images of our sleeping figures are super-imposed. Two cameras frame these scenes then send the images to two side-by-side projections. Each feed is its own self-contained world, yet always juxtaposed to, and thus recontextualized by, the other feed.

MD: Your work has been acquired by museums and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA (in New York). When you create the work, how much do you consider the technology you are choosing in relation to its longevity and maintenance by the collector?

J&KM: Our instinct is to make the work as self-contained as possible and to de-emphasize the appearance of the technology. There are several reasons for this. One is to try to direct attention away from a functionalist, “gee-whiz” reading of the work, a hazard if people are approaching it as a new media work. Of course, its not our goal to make work that needs constant repair, but on the other hand, every project seems to require new, untested innovations and we often don’t know until after several exhibitions where the weak spots are.

MD: Can you talk a little bit about the development of Soft Rains [4] (2003), specifically in regard to support you received from FACT, Creative Capital, and Eyebeam? How does support from institutions like this relate to your process?

J&KM: That kind of support and cooperation acts as a large safety net for experimentation. The size of the galleries at FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology, Liverpool, UK) [5] necessitated a large-scale work and added a certain pressure, but the financial support allowed us to ramp up, hire assistants when needed, and really execute the ideas at a scale large enough and finished enough for us to evaluate the form. More importantly, groups like Creative Capital [6] and Eyebeam [7] (in New York) give the work a community and a support base and give you hope that if you can pull the work out, it will have both a general audience and a specific one invested in the work’s success.

MD: Lastly, there is the issue of negotiating all the variables regarding the installation of your work in museums and collections. If you are unable to install your work personally, do you provide schematics and detailed instructions specifying the dimensions of projections, restricting light and sound sources adjacent to your installations, and minimum space requirements?

J&KM: It’s just as you outlined. It’s best if we can install the work personally in that you cannot document or, anticipate every eventuality, but listing the kinds of things you mention above is helpful. We also try to provide specifications of the parts used so that they can be replaced if needed. It’s also interesting, particularly with the early work, to try to locate the conceptual heart of the projects. Then, if, in 20 years, a completely new innovation in technology takes hold, it is clear to the institution or collection what aspect of the work might be okay to upgrade (like a better monitor) and what might go too far and compromise the idea of the work.



2. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, "Directed Dreaming," March-April 2006, Postmasters Gallery.


4. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, “Soft Rains,” May-June 2004, Postmasters Gallery.

5. FACT is the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology. Based in Liverpool, England, the organization commissions and presents works by digital media artists.

6. Creative Capital is a grant-giving nonprofit organization, which gives support to innovative artists in multiple disciplines. The organization is based in New York.

7. Eyebeam is a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides facilities and support to artists and technologists.