Dennis Cooper talks The Weaklings

If you look just south of this blog post then you’ll see the information of an imminent London exhibition called The Weaklings, curated by novelist Dennis Cooper. Scroll down the page to check out the gallery information or click here.

The Weaklings sees Cooper in a role that he has taken on regularly and inspiringly countless times in the past – that of helping to uncover, expose and champion new artists whose work has yet to be seen by a larger audience.

Alongside writing some of the most devastating, beautiful and vital literature of the last few decades, Dennis Cooper has constantly been an aid and supporter of new experimental artists and their work. From personal experience, having been lucky enough to hear this support and advice at various points over the last few years, I can vouch how much Cooper’s words of encouragement can mean to a young artist: a fucking lot.

What he started with Little Caesar magazine in the late 1970s (in which he published work by then unknown and new writers like Tim Dlugos, Amy Gerstler and Eileen Myles), Cooper continued with the events that he organized as director of programming at the Beyond Baroque series in California in the early 1980s. Since then he has released new novels by the likes of Travis Jeppessen, Mark Gluth and Lonely Christopher via his Little House on the Bowery imprint and on his blog he sign posts those hungry for new culture – noise bands, avant-garde filmmakers, you name it – nearly every day of the week.

The vast community of artists (from virtually every practice you can think of) that has swelled at Cooper’s site since it began in May 2005, is one many fascinating elements that makes DC’s the unique online art space that it is. In January 2007 Dennis pulled together some of the writers from this dynamic and fluid community to form the Userlands anthology. Now, with The Weaklings, Cooper is shining a light on the visual artists who frequent his blog.

I had a quick talk with Dennis via Skype before he makes the trip from his home in Paris over to London to oversee the exhibition.

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The Weaklings is the first art show that you’ve curated in quite a while … How did it come about? You talked on the blog about having a “secret project” a few times …

Yeah I think it’s the first since 2004, gosh, yeah, since 2004 or 2005. Marc Hulson actually suggested it. For a really long time I’d been talking about how I’d like to do a visual art equivalent of Userlands, and at some point Marc said “well you could do it at Five Years if you wanted to”. I think maybe a year or so went by and he said “well there’s this slot if you want to take it and do it …”.

So then I had to go and think of the visual artists on the blog, and write to people. And when I had the opportunity I said to people “show me your stuff” and I got to pick the work, but in some cases they were still making the work. So in some ways until I actually get in the gallery on Wednesday and lay everything on the floor I don’t actually know what the show is going to be like. It’ll be fun to figure out a way to make everything work together.

I was going to ask if you’d noticed any particular themes that run through the work?

No, I’ve haven’t really thought of it, I’ve just been concentrating on picking the coolest thing from each person. The only thing I did do was try to make it so it wasn’t all photography, or it wasn’t all drawings. I was mostly just trying to balance it all out. The cool thing is that there is some sculpture for the floor by Alex Rose, and there’s something on computer and there’s video and as far as I know there’ll be two performances at the opening.

When you’ve curated something, what do you see your role as? On opening night, for example?

I dunno … Maybe I’ll introduce the performers if they need it. Other than that I’ll mostly just stand round in an incredibly stressed out state and have inadequately short conversations with billion people. I hate openings, because it’s always so rushed and there’s always a load of people and people I haven’t seen in forever and you don’t have anytime to talk to people properly. I’ll probably drink some wine and try to relax. Other than that, the work is on the wall.

I went to see Scott Treleaven at an opening for a group show that he was in last year and I remember thinking how weird it must have been for him to have to speak to so many people. If you’re involved with a show, the opening comes with this weird social pressure attached to it or something …

Yeah, well my thing would be to find someone and go outside and smoke cigarettes and talk for two hours, but at openings you can’t do that. I mean, the blog is perfect because I can take the time to talk to every single person individually, but with openings you end up feeling rushed. But it will be totally fun.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to it a lot. How’s everything else in life right now?

It’s really busy. Giselle and I are probably going to be co-curating this huge festival at the Centre Pompidou in February, which is really awesome but it’s a massive amount of work to figure out because we’re negotiating with them and proposing, but it could be incredible. We’re organizing this whole thing, so there’s music nights, and we might have Them (a recently revived theatre collaboration with Ishmael Houston-Jones and Chris Cochrane) performed and this huge installation and an art show and lectures, so it’s really great but it’s stressful because we have to get it all together … and so between all that and early book stuff (promotion for Cooper’s forthcoming novel The Marbled Swarm) it’s pretty crazy, plus we’re trying to work on this other theatre piece. It’s all great but I’m a bit stressed out (laughs).

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