Meet the Winner of Hennessy and Pratt Institute’s ‘Wild Rabbit’ Competition

From left: judges Billy Paretti (Hennessy), designer and Pratt alum Harry Allen, and Jennifer Yu (Hennessy), with Michael Cook and his winning work, competition mentor and judge Futura, and faculty advisor and judge Jeff Bellantoni. (Photos: Rene Pérez)

Ithaca, New York native Michael Cook and his mixed media work hopped to first place in the Hennessy-sponsored competition that challenged a group of Pratt students and recent graduates to produce work that illustrates the “wild rabbit.” The contest was part of the cognac house’s collaboration with street artist Futura, who has splashed his signature colored helices on a bottle of Very Special (V.S.) cognac and mentored the competing students. Cook, who graduated from Pratt in May with a BFA in communications design (and a concentration in graphic design) and now lives in Brooklyn, took top honors for a piece that incorporates sculpture and video. He received a cash prize and an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris for the October launch of the Hennessy V.S. bottle customized by Futura. As Cook prepares for the show of his recent work that opens Saturday at HomeGrown Board Shop in Ithaca, he made time to answer our questions about the competition, his winning work, and why graphic design is more than adjusting text boxes in InDesign.

What was the original brief for this collaborative project with Hennessy?
The original brief from Hennessy was to create a piece of artwork, of any medium, that related to the theme of “chasing one’s wild rabbit.” This was aligned with the brand’s mantra of “Never Stop. Never Settle.”

How did you respond to this theme and what did you create?
I used this starting point to conduct an exploration of what it means to me to be an artist and ultimately what it is that I want from art. There seems to be a myth, or a misconception, that being involved in graphic design means you spend your days in front of a computer adjusting text boxes in InDesign. I realized pretty early on in my art school education that that wasn’t going to be me, so I would usually try to find ways of conveying the same ideas in ways that allowed me to use my hands and explore different formats.

In a way a lot of that culminated with this project. I created a multimedia installation centered around a sculpture of a rabbit in which the tools I used to build it were also the building blocks of which it was made. Spray cans, squeegees, paintbrushes, and ink jars all form parts of the final sculpture. The second part of the installation is a video shot from a mini projector housed in the rabbit’s chest; the video is a companion piece, done in a combination of live-action and stop-motion animation that shows various building materials and art supplies (some used in the rabbit and some not) moving and interacting with one another. Addressing the challenge to me meant experimenting with new materials, repurposing and reimagining old ones, working with my hands, and creating art and design that wasn’t limited to one medium or category.

Tell us about the experience of being mentored by Futura.
Working with Futura was a phenomenal experience. If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be meeting him and receiving feedback from him on something like this I don’t think I would’ve believed it. My introduction to art began with spray paint, and I owned more than one album that he’d helped design before I was a sophomore in high school….[W]hen I entered the project I didn’t really know what to expect. While graffiti and street art are certainly more accepted today than they were when Futura started, I think there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the people who make it, especially the ones who have been doing it as long as he has.

Besides the Hennessy launch event, any plans for your upcoming Paris trip?
Oh man. I don’t know what to expect from Paris—it will be my first time in Europe. I’m just going to try to see and soak in as much as possible. In the meantime, I’ll be brushing up on my French.