Andrea Cote: Body of Evidence

Ms. Cote’s public art projects will be the subject of a talk at Guild Hall on Saturday at 3 p.m
Andrea Cote cast a rubber mask of her face for “Second Skin,” which explores the idea of persona and what we reveal and what we hide. Mark Segal

Andrea Cote is a multimedia artist whose work includes photography, prints, paintings, sculptures, performances, and installations. “I do work that invites people to participate, that’s very public, but then I also have work that’s very private, done in the studio,” she said last week.

Ms. Cote’s public art projects will be the subject of a talk at Guild Hall on Saturday at 3 p.m. Her most recent was “Eyes on Main Street,” which was exhibited last year from May to October in downtown Riverhead. Her intention was to promote an awareness of the town’s diversity and the stories of its citizens.  

“Living in Flanders, I knew that Riverhead had been trying to draw people there to see what’s going on,” she said. “The East End Arts Council has been on Main Street for a long time, and the Suffolk Theater opened last year, but there are also a lot of vacant storefronts. I wanted a way to activate those empty windows.”

“Eyes on Main Street” consisted of a website, which is still accessible; posters placed in empty storefronts, and a window installation of 75 blindfolds on which Ms. Cote printed photographs of the eyes of local residents and business owners. “The blindfolds are quite beautiful on their own, but there’s something else that happens when you put them on a person. It becomes uncanny and striking.”

Each poster shows the artist standing in front of a Main Street location, wearing a blindfold printed with the eyes of the person associated with that site. The posters were imprinted with QR codes (barcodes containing information about the items to which they are attached), which, when scanned with a smartphone, opened a video portrait of the person. The videos are mini-documentaries that add up to a portrait of a community. A selection will be shown at the Pollock-Krasner House in Springs in September as part of the Artists on Film series.

Ms. Cote’s video “Memorized” is currently playing in the artist-members exhibition at Guild Hall. At the O, Miami Poetry Festival in 2013, she invited people to write their favorite line from a poem with chalk on a blackboard, photographed each one, and created a slideshow from the results. “I was a poetry minor,” she said. “I’m thinking about a piece using my own poetry and a chalkboard, for which I’ll cast my own chalk.”

The human body is often the generative element of her more private, studio-based work. For two decades she has used the body as both subject and object, often in the same work. For “Second Skin,” she cast a rubber mask of her face and took a series of self-portraits trying it on and otherwise handling it. “I was after a sense of vulnerability,” she explained. “I’m playing with what it means to shed one’s skin or adopt a persona.” The mask both exposes and hides what’s beneath it.

In a series of collages, Ms. Cote cut out her own naked figure from a sequence of photographs and treated the images as paper dolls, folding, twisting, and distorting them. She used an overhead projector aimed at a studio wall on which she had pinned other objects and photographed the resulting collages, which have the surreal feel of Man Ray’s Rayographs. Her body is both a representation and an object to be manipulated, and the distortions add an unsettling effect to some of the images.

Photography, printmaking, and casting figure prominently in Ms. Cote’s work. “There’s something about casting and printmaking that creates a record, an indexical mark,” she said. “I often have a setup, a conceptual framework for a piece, but then I just play with the materials. It becomes a performance in the studio, and the photographs are a record.”

In one work from graduate school, Ms. Cote interacted with a life-sized silhouette of herself, cut out of Mylar — peering through it, dancing with it, and hiding behind it, while she herself was naked. For the series “Body Print Mandalas” she created rubber casts of parts of her body, then inked and pressed them to Mylar, creating abstract patterns that are nonetheless recognizable for what they are. “In these works I am taking the body apart in fragments with the intent to weave them together in new and more ‘wholistic’ ways.”

Ms. Cote is now working on materials for a show in September at Art Sites in Riverhead, featuring live performances in the gallery, photographic work, and the opportunity for viewers to sit for castings.

She showed a visitor a recent cast of the face of Claire Watson, an artist from Water Mill. “I talk to people while I’m sculpting them,” she said, “and I record the conversations, which will be compiled into a sound piece shown with the portraits. So it becomes a whole experience between two people, with one trying to capture the other.”

She also plans to create a live mandala on the Art Sites floor using her body and Peconic River mud. Again, the body is present, in action, but it is also a tool. Once completed, the mandala will be a record, a kind of action painting using the body and mud instead of brushes and paint.

Ms. Cote was born in Brooklyn but grew up and went to college in Miami. After graduating with a B.F.A. in 1994, she and her sister “just got in the car and drove from Miami to Seattle.” There, she worked as an artist’s model (“Modeling was my introduction to performance”). After two years she moved to Philadelphia for a year, then enrolled at the State University at Purchase, where she earned an M.F.A. in sculpture in 2003.

Ms. Cote and her husband, Pierre Cote, a sculptor, left Brooklyn for Flanders in 2007 when his employer, Crozier Fine Arts, asked him to manage the company’s Southampton office. Soon after they relocated, Ms. Cote became pregnant. Their son, Nathaniel, is now 6.

In 2012, the Anthony Giordano Gallery at Dowling College presented “Body of Evidence,” a 13-year survey of Ms. Cote’s work. She has exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Delaware Art Museum, the Paul Robeson Galleries at Rutgers University’s Newark campus, and galleries both nationally and internationally. She has created performances for the Dumbo Arts Festival, the Neuberger Museum, and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, to name just a few.

For the past year Ms. Cote has been the teaching artist in the Watermill Center’s Young Artists Residency Project. The after-school arts program, run in partnership with the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreation Center, engages students ages 8 to 12 in visual and performance arts. “The kids get to see the collection, interact with the artists in residence, and work with different materials,” she said. “Upcoming is a live performance with video, text, dancing, and drumming. It’s fun working with the kids, and it keeps you on your toes.”

On July 18 she will lead a “gesture jam” on the terrace of the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. The idea of the program, which is an inventive figure-drawing class, was born in Seattle, where Ms. Cote and her partner choreographed and improvised performances while artists sketched them. For the Parrish jam, musicians will provide the soundtrack and serve as the models at the same time.

"Eyes on Main Street" (poster of artist wearing Danielle Gisiger's eyes)
"Blue Body Mandala," 2013. Wood block ink print on paper (cast rubber body parts)