Bill Cohn and Erik Hansen, Industrial/Organic at ArtSpace, Maynard, June 3-27
The total effect of this two person exhibit is greater than the sum of its parts. The show is more a collaboration than an exhibition of two individuals. The work of each artist amplifies and enhances that of the other. Hansen's "timescapes" call for organisms. Cohn's organisms want an environment. The general mood of the exhibit is post-apocalyptic. It is a vision of the earth after the extinction of the human race. Ceramic sculptor Bill Cohn creates mutant organisms that seem to have evolved from soil fertilized by by industrial waste. They spring from the genetic mutation of nature and the city dump: twisting tubers are tattooed with patterns of industrial waste--floor mats mesh bags, bubble wrap, etc. A weird new botanical species has sprung up; industrial "nutrients" have been absorbed into the DNA. Isolated on pedestals in a gallery, Cohn's works remain discreet ceramic sculptures. Enter Hansen. His photographs provide valuable context for Cohn's work. Using studio setups and lighting, Hansen plants Cohn's visionary organisms in his bleak photographic "imaginary timescapes". But the collaborative aspect of the show arises not only from the inclusion of Cohn's work in Hansen's photographs, but also from the fact that Hansen's photographs surround Cohn's work and become an environmental backdrop. The signature work of Industrial/Organic is Hansen's piece titled It is the Past that Makes Demands (see illustration to right). The photograph is dominated by one of Cohn's more architectural pieces: a monumental arch is strangled by a snake-like coil. It is reminiscent of pictures of the temples at Borobodur choked by tropical tree roots. In the distant background, vague ruins evoke Stonehenge. The Neolithic/post-apocalyptic vision is out of time, void of human life and shrouded in the mystery of a vanished race.
Cohn and Hansen's work would have fit perfectly into an exhibition mounted last winter at the New Museum In New York titled After Nature. Like the ArtSpace show, the theme was post-apocalyptic. The exhibition was dominated by one work, Werner Herzog's film Lessons of Darkness, a film of the burning of the oil fields in Kuwait. The title and theme of theNew Museum show, After Nature, was taken from a free verse poem by the German author W.G. Sebald. The excerpts from Sebald's poem posted below complement Cohn and Hanson's installation:
To him, [the artist], this is creation,image of our insane presenceon the surface of the earth,the regeneration proceedingin downward orbits whoseparasitical shapes intertwine, and, growing intoand out of one another, surgeas a demonic swarm... "[We experience] "the extreme response of our bodiesto the absence of balance in naturewhich blindly makes one experiment after anotherand like a senseless botcherundoes the thing it has only just achieved.To try out how far it can go is the sole aim of this sprouting,perpetuation and proliferationinside us also and through us and throughthe machines sprung from our heads,all in a single jumble,while behind us already the greentrees are leaving their leaves and...loom up into the sky,the dead branches overlaidwith a moss-like glutinous substanceloom up in the sky."
W.G. Sebald, After Nature, Michael Hamburger, trans., New York/Modern Library, 2002