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Artist Talk: Cathy Cook

Artist, filmmaker, educator and eco-activist, Cathy Cook, paid a virtual visit to Lawrence on Wednesday, Jan. 27 for the university’s first art talk of 2021, during which she shared her experience with her latest “Cranes in Motion” project, among other films. 

Cook is currently an associate professor of visual arts at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), a city which she shared is full of inspiring artistic diversity. However, she is originally from here in Wisconsin, and much of her research and art surrounding cranes pays homage to this origin; several components of the “Cranes in Motion” project have been displayed in art and natural science exhibitions across Wisconsin. Cook also mentioned being inspired by other poets and artists in synthesis with her mixed-media approach, notably Georgia O’Keeffe, also originally from Wisconsin. 

The crane project began with grants Cook received in 2012 and 2014 for research into Sandhill and Whooping Cranes migration patterns leading into the subsequent development of a multi-media collection of artistic work. The intention she shared behind the project was to raise awareness and appreciation of the natural history and beauty surrounding crane activity. There are several components of Cook’s work with cranes resulting from three years of research, including photographs, animation, videos and film as well as sound recordings. 

A significant element of Cook’s research was firsthand observation of cranes in their natural habitat, which she and sound-engineer collaborator, Paul Dickinson, did via a four by six-foot enclosure near the water with no bathroom or heat amidst freezing temperatures. Despite the difficult conditions and scarcity of sleep, Cook described witnessing crane movement on the water as one of the most “magical experiences” she’d ever had. The observations of their calls, mating dances, migration patterns and nesting habits in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Maryland inspired her animations in addition to film and sound documentation. 

The multi-media body of work “Cranes in Motion” contains two close-up series of photographs, focusing on detailed textures, feather patterns and eyes of the cranes that Cook observed. The two animations include an interactive installation called “Mimicking Whooper” that uses gaming software to animate cranes mimicking observers’ movements, originally displayed at the Temporary Resurfacing street exhibition in Milwaukee and now at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis. Cook also animated “Prehistoric Resurrection,” which involved assembling a fossilized crane skeleton to model for the three-dimensional, animated recreation coming to life and interacting with present-day cranes. 

Cook has a website with her information and links to all her projects at cathyccook.com, where all of the works mentioned above from “Cranes in Motion” can be found in addition to sound recordings, wetland videos and a compilation of cranes in poetry. Her currently in-progress project is entitled “Eye Movie,” which explores her experience with ocular surgery and disorders by recreating imagery as she’s seen it via 16mm film and animation. More information and pictures as well as Cook’s favorite works from other artists can be found on her Baker Artist Portfolio at bakerartist.org.