Nicole Cochary has lived in a lot of ZIP codes for a 22-year-old.
Her father worked for the National Park Service, so she spent her childhood living in some of the most beautiful parts of the country — first the Grand Canyon, then Maine, then California’s Bay Area for her high school years.
After her first semester at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Cochary’s family made another move, that time to Jackson.
“Its funny, when I’m here and people ask me where I’m from I’ll say Maine, but when I’m in Providence I’ll say Wyoming,” Cochary said. “It’s something I can switch up, which is sometimes fun but can also be confusing to myself, when attempting to identify roots.”
The idea of home — how we define, create and understand it — has been a prevailing theme in Cochary’s artwork since her final years at Brown and, now, her first post-graduate year living in the area.
This month Cochary is hanging “Pet Landscapes and Grounded Tchotchkes,” her debut Jackson show at the Center for the Arts. The show explores how “home” can be defined by both the large, expansive landscapes around us and the small, collected items we accumulate in our physical abodes.
A long time coming
“Pet Landscapes and Grounded Tchotchkes” is Cochary’s third show exploring the idea of home.
“A few years ago, I realized that almost all of the artwork I was making could be tied back to ideas of home and domesticity,” she said. “A lot of this probably stemmed from arriving at university and constantly being asked ‘So, where are you from?’
“I ended up meeting many other students that experienced the same confusion when trying to answer that question, and I think a lot of us were just simply exploring that confusion through the artwork we made.”
Her first show, “nurture/structure” (2018), featured a series of photographs Cochary took while traveling. None of the places she photographed were places she considered home.
Instead, the exhibition “was partially an exercise to find familiarity in transient spaces, but also to simply appreciate the physical materials that build our world,” she said.
Cochary took those ideas a step further for her capstone project in 2019, an installation she called “structure/nurture.”
“The photography felt much more impersonal, while my installation of paintings, sculpture, and video, seemed to capture an intimate but uncanny environment,” she said. “I think the installation also helped me come to realize how important crafting a personal space is to establishing a sense of home for myself.”
The current experiment
In “Pet Landscapes and Grounded Tchotchkes,” Cochary takes what she calls “the next logical step,” leaving the interior of a house to explore how exterior environments further shape our ideas of home.
“This series of paintings was an exercise in taking outside landscapes and discovering how they relate to my concept of home,” Cochary said. “I know that my upbringing in national parks has definitely influenced me, but I’m not quite sure how.”
Even while living in some of the most naturally inspiring places in the country, Cochary remains attached to the interior things that help create a personal sense of space, which is where the tchotchkes — trinkets, knickknacks, souvenirs — come in.
Cochary is a collector, and throughout her many moves has kept personal items close at hand. It’s a habit she picked up from her mother, who would balance little tchotchkes on all the artwork in her house. In “Pet Landscapes and Grounded Tchotchkes,” Cochary pays homage to that tradition.
“I don’t think these items are necessary, but for a sentimental person such as myself they do bring me joy,” she said. “For me tchotchkes end up acting as an intermediary in storing memories.”
Cochary is not sure if she has figured out how to exactly define a “home” — or if she ever wants to.
“I think at the very core home is just a place or environment you feel attached to with some level of comfort, which can be voluntary or involuntary,” she said. “For me, creating a sense of home includes documenting my surroundings and also placing my emotions and possessions within them.”
There will be an opening reception for Cochary’s show from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday. Cochary will also host an artist talk and tea from 4 to 5 p.m. on Jan. 16. Both events are free to attend. “Pet Landscapes and Grounded Tchotchkes” will be on display until Jan. 26.