Tara Cooper

Tara Cooper
University of Waterloo


Working within the realm of creative non-fiction, Tara Cooper’s art practice combines fieldwork and footwork. Her most recent study Weather Girl led to a residency with the Wassaic Project in New York and financial support from the Lois Claxton Humanities and Social Sciences Award. Cooper completed her MFA at Cornell University, specializing in the disciplines of print, short film and installation. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo. Cooper and Jenn Law are co-editors of Printopolis, an upcoming publication produced through Open Studio, examining the state of contemporary print in Canada.

Themed Panel (Proposed)

When does this become that?
In biology, the meme is described as a system of behaviors that are transferred from one organism to another. Rather than employing a genetic strategy, it uses methods of imitation coupled with the power of reproducibility. By applying a meme-like system that transfers behaviors (operations, actions, repetitions and responses) to the discipline of print, the panel asks: “When does this become that?” Inspired by the idea of the meme as a transferable, imitable unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices across time and space, our discussion addresses the impact and subsequent meaning of both transference and repetition—print as a verb and print as a noun.

Brought together by the upcoming Canadian publication, Printopolis, published by Toronto’s Open Studio, the three panelists question what print can teach artists about the potentials within their material practices—how training in print enables artists to employ technical and conceptual strategies across diverse disciplinary and media boundaries. With this in mind, they will also address the printed outcome. What is the end or productive (printerly) effect?

Barbara Balfour begins the discussion with a reflection on the “what” and the “why” of print. Drawing from her experiences as student, instructor, professional printer, curator, writer and artist, she responds to the colloquial musing, “What’s up with print?” Her answers shift between the perspectives of skeptic and advocate, as she analyses her personal relationships to why: why she makes prints; why she teaches print and why she writes about print. Consciously avoiding the territory of how—the techniques employed by printmakers—Balfour confronts the misconceptions and paradoxes related to a print-based practice.

Caroline Langill locates print between the analogue and the digital by examining the work of three contemporary printmakers: Barbara Balfour, Philippe Blanchard and George Walker. She answers, “When does this become that?” with examples that mobilize the material (in all its hands-on messy glory) and the technological (the inherent potential of the digital realm). Langill will also discuss these works relative to Greenbergian ideas of overallness, to the embodied nature of printmaking, and the impact of embodied art practices on experiences of community.

Jenn Law discusses the concepts of mastery and transference in relation to contemporary printmaking practices, reflecting on how artisanal knowledge is produced and embodied through material process.  Focusing on the work of Jeannie Thib, Penelope Stewart and the art-making duo Hallie Siegal and Matt Donovan, Law examines print as a set of aesthetic and conceptual strategies applied across diverse media.  Here, transference is presented as a pedagogical methodology as well as a process of technological and conceptual exchange. In looking at “when this becomes that”, Law celebrates print’s chameleon-like ability to simultaneously mimic and inform other media, while remaining faithful to a distinctly graphic outcome.


Weather as experienced—cold, hot, wet or dry—is a condition that we all understand, from the mundane observation, “looks like rain”, to the severe meteorological event. It is a subject that has universal impact and appeal. Weather Girl is an on-going series combining meteorology and creative non-fiction through the practices of printmaking, film and installation. I have been working on Weather Girl as a distinct body of work since 2009.

Supercell, Weather Girl’s newest phase, addresses the current condition and impact of severe weather occurring each spring in North America. Research included two storm chasing expeditions, May 2012 and June 2013. Focusing on the great plains of the United Sates and Canada, the expedition covered more than 6000 kilometres in search of supercells. Best known for producing severe meteorological outcomes such as hail, tornadoes and torrential rainfall, supercells are cumulonimbus storm clouds that rotate due to strong updrafts. It is a project that combines scientific fact with the visual poetics of a storm cloud.

Weather Girl’s Top Three Storm Chasing Surprises:
1.    The food is crappy. Think Coffee Mate, Long John Silver’s and gas station cuisine.
2.    A series of dents and divets marking any car found in a parking lot along Tornado Alley means that the car and possibly its driver were caught in a hailstorm, with stones comparable to golf balls. Tornado Alley runs through the middle of the United States.
3.    The movie Twister marks a seminal moment in the history of storm chasing.  Following its release in 1996, chasers were questioned if they were pre Twister or post Twister. The question implied that the true storm chaser didn’t need Hollywood’s special effects to discover his or her passion.