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Emily Vey Duke (b.1972) and Cooper Battersby (b.1971)

Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby

Still from the film Being Fucked Up, 2001, by Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby
10:16 minutes, colour, English

Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby began working collaboratively in Halifax in June of 1994, while Duke was studying fine art at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). Duke is from Halifax; Battersby had studied computer science in British Columbia and did not formally attend NSCAD, but he collaborated with Duke while she was a student. While still an undergraduate at NSCAD, Duke did an exchange semester at the University of Western Ontario. Battersby accompanied her, and the pair studied with video artist Steve Reinke (b.1963).


Back in Halifax they produced Being Fucked Up (2001), a video that was widely screened across Canada and Europe in the 2000s, including at the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (now the Kunstinstituut Melly). Their work has always pushed conventions. In Being Fucked Up the artists are seen smoking crack, while Lesser Apes (2011) tells the story of the sexual relationship between a woman anthropologist and a female bonobo ape. Their videos are difficult, subversive, and beautiful. As artist and writer Tom Sherman (b.1947) writes in the aptly named book about their short films, The Beauty is Relentless, they created work that “involves us in a lot of thinking about good and bad and fair and unfair and the battle between hope and despair.


In 2001 Duke and Battersby followed Reinke to the University of Illinois Chicago, where Duke began a Master of Fine Arts degree. Battersby was accepted into the program the following year, and both graduated in 2004.


Like so many of the students who leave Halifax, they subsequently returned to the city, where, in 2004, Duke took on the role of artistic director of the Khyber Centre for the Arts (and where Battersby worked as the centre’s bartender and bar manager). At the time, the Khyber was one of the most important arts venues in the city, particularly for the younger generation of artists. Duke and Battersby were at the vanguard of this cohort. In 2005 the duo won the Aliant New Media Prize, and in 2010 they were the Atlantic Canada nominees for the Sobey Art Award.


Their work has been featured in festivals around the world, and they won the Grand Prize at the European Media Arts Festival in 2015 for their video Dear Lorde (2015). Since the late 2000s the couple have taught at Syracuse University and regularly return to Nova Scotia. Their most recent exhibition, The Infernal Grove, was launched at The Blue Building in Halifax in the fall of 2021.


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