California uber alles: Artist drives through L.A., points camera skyward

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The walls of the gallery space are bare — it’s the ceiling that’s the real attraction.

A Williamsburg gallery invites art-goers to kick off their shoes, grab a plush cushion, lie down, and enjoy a projected video on the ceiling that gives viewers the sense of riding through Southern California in a convertible — gazing up at the great big blue sky.

“The classic idea of L.A. promises freedom. Imagine cruising in your car on these open roads,” says Cooley, whose installation “Skyward” is on display at the Boiler through March.

It’s true the experience exudes freedom, but it also feels a bit like being a Lilliputian, dwarfed by the heavens — a feeling uncommon to confident New Yorkers who stride forward without a thought given to the air up there.

“I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings, and find Los Angeles so rich,” said Cooley, who moved to L.A. after 15 years in New York. “[In New York] you see buildings. You’re concentrating on what’s straight ahead. You’re all up in your little groove. In L.A., you’re driving, so you have more time to look at the big, open sky. And there’s lots of activity in the sky.”

Sure enough, the famously terrible L.A. traffic gives denizens of the desert city plenty of time to look up.

But the air above also teems with traffic in “Skyward.” Man-made structures such as helicopters, airplanes, and blimps soar alongside fauna like bees, birds, and moths.

Even the faux grass that carpets the gallery’s floor is an allusion to L.A.

“The most classic things about Southern California — its iconic palm trees — aren’t native. Everything comes from so far away, yet people pretend to have green grass. There never should have been a city there. There’s no water.”

Although Skyward appears as one continuous recording, the nearly ten-minute video was compiled from numerous drives in various vehicles while others were recorded from stationary locations.

Compiling material for the video posed a myriad of challenges: Cooley had to crawl beneath a beehive to line up one shot.

The visual artist also braved an hour aboard a Pitts Special biplane as it performed aircraft aerobatics. He hired a pilot to fly him over the Pacific and wielded his video camera in an open-air cockpit to film the finale.

“Skyward” at the Boiler [191 N.14th St, between Wythe and Nassau avenues in Williamsburg, (718) 599–2144,]. Through late March, Thursday–Sunday, 12–6 pm.

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