If something is okay, you will hear the response “That’s cool”, but that’s not cool. Cool is a subliminal, fleeting quality that is rare. If you pursue cool, you won’t find it. If you try to become cool, you’ll fail. Cool resides mostly among the African American Jazz musicians of the 1950s and 60s. You only have to list them to feel the personification of cool – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, their very names shout cool.
Sun Ra: The Cosmo Man, installation view. Photo Andy Keate.
Author Robert Farris Thompson, professor of art history at Yale University, has located a more ancient source for cool in the idea of “Itutu”, one of three pillars of a religious philosophy created in the fifteenth century by the Yoruba and Igbo civilisations of West Africa. Itutu, which Thompson translates as “mystic coolness”, contained meanings of conciliation and gentleness of character, of generosity and grace, and the ability to defuse fights and disputes. It was also associated with physical beauty.
Cool is, of course, gender, race and occupation neutral. Amy Winehouse was troubled, but cool. For a time, Steve McQueen (the one on the motorbike in the movie The Great Escape) was the King of Cool. Yet cool hasn’t always had a good press. One generation’s cool can easily become the next’s dross. You know, however, when you are in the presence of cool – it’s a feeling, a magic moment when your senses dance and the hair stands up on the back of your neck.
The most unlikely people can become cool. The most unlikely people can discover cool. Who would have thought that a group of 15 to 25-year-olds calling themselves Collabor-8 could have been instrumental in planning a cool exhibition? Who would have thought that a middle-aged, somewhat lugubrious Jazz artist dressed as an Egyptian deity from Saturn could be cool? That’s the nature of cool – it appears under the most unlikely circumstances.
Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, I Want, 2015. Courtesy of the artists, Marcelle Alix and Ellen de Bruijne Projects.
If you want to find cool, why not try Alien Encounters at Nottingham Contemporary? Listen carefully to Sharon Hayes channelling Kathy Acker and Chelsea Manning, she is dangerously cool. Or, if that doesn’t please you, try the immersive experience of Sun Ra in Gallery 2. This exhibition will enhance your mood on the dullest of days and you won’t find a cooler space in the whole of Nottingham. You have until 31 December, so don’t miss it or you’ll regret it.
Cool is the new cool.