21 – 28th May, PV 20th May The Bomb Factory Art Foundation
The Bomb Factory presents ‘Actaeon’, a debut solo exhibition by resident artist Robert Cooper. After receiving online abuse, Cooper resonated with Actaeon’s story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and started to use drawing to rebuild his confidence in making.
The show reenacts the myth of Actaeon who startles the goddess Diana and her nymphs and a chaotic frenzy ensues. The drawings are made with Sharpies, highlighters and colour pencils to create vivid, energised and frantic scenarios of rabbits and deer celebrating change and vitality. The recurring eyeball motif representing the flurry of Diana’s nymphs who were startled and scattered by Actaeon. It symbolises the witnessing of ongoing tragic events that have occurred during the past year from our positions of enclosure.
The show marks the return of exhibitions at The Bomb Factory, and, given the animated nature and timing of the work, celebrates a ‘bursting’ out of lockdown.
In March 2020, sitting on the tube heading home, I was feeling ill and having a crisis. A few months earlier, I had received a lot of abuse after posting a random image of a deer found online. Although I carried on making work, I knew the incident had paralysed me. I was scared of fully expressing myself. I was fearful of associating myself with anything I had previously made, or even of simply existing online.
When I got off the tube and went home, it turned out I was sick. Coronavirus had just become headline news and with my flu-like symptoms I isolated, surrendering to the protective space of my mattress.In my home, I found all the drawings I had made as a teenager. They didn’t resemble the style I had developed through my digital and sculptural work at art school, but I realised that the fundamental ideas in them were the same: dead animals, distorted bodies and consumer culture.
Unexpectedly, the drawings fell out of me. After a couple of weeks, a language of speed, line and motion developed. My abstract thoughts grew bodies and limbs as animals began to dance around the pages in various fragmented layers. These forms are full of anxiety and joy, and my fears towards engaging in intangible systems, such as consumerism, capitalism and mass production. The first successful drawing was of a deer, and I remember telling myself, ‘this is your way out’. These drawings were my escape and my safety net: within each drawing, I could ‘talk’ about anything I wanted to without external criticism.
It was not until the lockdown that I had had the time to read Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The myth of Actaeon in particular resonated with me. Actaeon, the hunter, walks in on the goddess Diana bathing naked with a crowd of nymphs, who, when enraged by the trespass of her privacy, consequently turns Actaeon into a deer. He is ripped to shreds by the jaws of his own hounds. Did Actaeon deserve death for ‘accidentally’ interrupting Diana? His fate resonated with how I felt when I was being trolled and attacked for the misunderstanding of a photo I posted online. Suddenly the digital space where I had once felt safe had turned against me. Just as Actaeon’s hounds ripped apart the deer’s flesh, the death threats I received have bitten holes in the way I felt about myself and the things I made.
Through reading about the careless Actaeon and through rediscovering drawing, I learnt that things transmute, metamorphose, and yet continue. Actaeon’s fate is not the end of the story or even an isolated event: the story goes on and unveils many more metamorphoses.
The work I have made celebrates my personal victory in continuing to make work after a difficult event. The drawings embody the will to counteract the challenges that I have experienced over the past year.