The word model has multiple meanings. Sometimes used to imply an ideal or exemplary figure, it more commonly denotes a person who is employed to promote or display commercial products (like clothing or cosmetics), or to serve as a visual object for people making works of art. But it can also suggest a prototype: an outline to follow, a projection into the future. These kinds of model scenarios can act as a testing-ground, a site for experimentation, where different possibilities are tried out, and new forms of agency or persona are rehearsed and performed. How might people ‘occupy’ this space? And not just inhabit it, but mobilise it to their own ends? In Kate Cooper’s Unknown Species in Full Resolution, a trio of young women go through a series of pre-programmed moves and poses, against a manufactured, simulated backdrop embellished by swirling ribbons of CGI liquid. (An ad-industry staple, in which the product promoted is represented – fetishised and distilled – in its ‘purest’, most visually appealing form, this particular product-shot might also be a gesture to the delirious surplus of the ‘flows’ of capital). Although the images invoke the iconography of advertising, especially cosmetics commercials, Cooper probes their surface sheen, to reveal a different kind of personal make-up; an ideological imprint in which the influences of technology and capital are clearly visible. In so doing, she highlights the changing nature of our relationship to our bodies today: one that centres on a process of perpetual image-creation, with all the corresponding effort that goes with it to maintain a public-facing self-image. In this instance, simply being alive – eating, drinking, sleeping, dancing; let alone actively harnessing these activities to produce images as remunerated labour – could be construed as a form of work. As the laconic voiceover to Cooper’s film asserts, ‘Beauty is a mode of production’ and ‘your own economy [is] embedded in your DNA’.
Commissioned for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’. A collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella. In association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow and by University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries. Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.