Complex “real world” by Sam Cooke

“I am just one in seven billion.”

Sam Cooke’s work was first shown to me through artist Carly Mark. Carly is someone I trust immensely, so when she said, “You have to see this! You have to talk to him!” I knew she was right. After first seeing Untitled 1. and hearing “I am just one in seven billion,” as an opener, I was hooked. I became obsessed. Sam Cooke’s mind is brilliant. The world he creates, the imagery he presents is nothing like you have ever seen before. The way he thinks, how he feels and how intense everything is for him, got him to a point he had a mental breakdown. But with that much talent and with creating the world as he created, there was no other way around it. When I saw the video for the first time, all I could think was how amazing he must be, how smart he must be, and how it must be hard for him to have to deal with normality and such averageness of a normal day. I speak to a lot of artists, but even though Sam didn’t want to meet in person, even though this is a virtual exchange of words, I can’t reckon when was the last time I was so astounded by someone. Sam Cooke is different! Don’t ask me how and why, he just is. His work is intense, exhilarating and he is someone everyone must know about!


Sam, did you parents intentionally named you that way so that you could have the same name as the singer Sam Cooke?

I’m named after my grandfather Salvatoré, who changed his name to Sam when he emigrated from Italy to the United States. He worked in a steel mill in Pittsburgh for most of his life. Now he gardens and watches boxing on TV.

My parents knew of the singer. They played me his music as a kid. I like the gospel songs he recorded early in his career. The cover of his Billie Holiday tribute album looks like the poster from my last show.

Did you ever study art?

Yeah, I did my BFA at SUNY Purchase, and I’m finishing my MFA at Columbia University. I also attended the Bruce High-Quality Foundation University (a free, artist-run school) when it existed in the East Village.

When someone asks you what do you do, what do you say back?

I’m an artist, or I’m unemployed, or I’m an artist because I’m unemployable.

How did you come up with the world you show throughout your work?

It’s a reflection of my experience of reality. My work is a representation of how I see the world.

Is that the world you want to live in? 


Tell me more about your work process and how do you know which idea is worth making a reality?

I produce physical works in tandem with a video. The video functions as the text and conceptual backbone for a series. It provides associative reference points that guide the production of paintings, sculptures, and installation.

The early stages of my process involve translating virtual ideas I develop through video and animation into physical material and objects. A body of work takes shape when this translation reverses when the material conditions of the physical work begin to inform the video. I like the division of virtual and material production to collapse under a closed system of association. It allows for things to unfold autonomously. The work develops a consciousness that makes its own decisions.

The ideas that end up becoming artworks are the ones that feel alive before they exist.

The words that come out from your lead in Untitled 1. “I am just one in seven billion.” etc. are those your writings/your thoughts and did you voice it?

The voice-over was edited from an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) recording. ASMR is a recent self-help trend based on audio recordings of soft-spoken affirmations, crinkling paper, dripping faucets, hair brushing, the sound of saliva shifting around mouths and throats, and so on. All audio is recorded at extremely close proximity to the subject to produce a heightened level of clarity that is meant to relax the listener by creating an illusory space of intimacy. I do not find the recordings relaxing. They sound uncanny and sinister and perverse.

The spoken text in the video was collaged from a longer ASMR recording of an actor reciting affirmative self-help platitudes. Most of the sentences were created in the edit by cutting and rearranging fragments of the recording. I began thinking of the actor’s voice as my own during the editing process.

I frequently recite the video’s monologue in my head. It’s like a song.

Untitled 2. who is s(he)?

My sister and I represented as a single cartoon body. The figure is based on the animated characters from the Bratz Babyz franchise.

Have you ever seen your dad cry?


Do you think your work is valuable? 


Are you answering this questions honestly? 


Sam, what is freedom to you? 

The ability to forget myself.

When was the last time you got into trouble and why?

I assaulted an orderly in a psych ward where I was briefly hospitalized after a mental breakdown. I was transferred to the forensic unit of the ward for a few days, and then to criminal court in handcuffs and ankle restraints. The charges were eventually dropped.

I have some unpaid parking tickets.

I’m in trouble with most people I know. Generally, I am in trouble. I’m troubled.

Is there more excitement in danger or there is more excitement in fear?

The danger is exciting, fear is tedious. This is my favorite question so far.

 Have you ever envied anybody in your life? 

I envy you. I envy your position as the interviewer.

How are you feeling right now?

Delirious and restless but otherwise pretty good.

What are you working on next?

Paintings, one sculpture, and a new video.

Interview: Katja Horvat

Photos: Courtesy of the artist

08.08.2017 | Kategorien Interviews, Kunst, Künstler | Tags , , , ,