Nancy Cohen : Force: Observations from the Interior

28 March - 4 May 2019

 

For a very long time, waterways have figured heavily in my work.  There is something almost human to me in their balance of fragility and strength, the way they persevere through adversity—much of it inflicted by us.  After a long period of focusing on sculpture and installations, using handmade paper as one of many materials, several years ago I began to make tapestry-like paper drawings exploring these themes.  These began as a component for an installation based on a contaminated site on the Hackensack River in the Meadowlands of Secaucus, NJ, and evolved into a primary focus.

Imagery derives from memories of particular landscapes, in this case from two residencies I participated in during the summer of 2018. I joined the group Ninth Wave Global on a two week sailboat trip in and around Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic visiting places with extraordinary beauty as well as sites with significant pollution. We were immersed in an examination of environmental issues with a focus on the fishing industry and the struggles of local fishing communities. It was a physical and tactile few weeks – I was often hot, wet, salty, bug bitten, continually experiencing the unexpected and as intimately aware of my physical surroundings as I’ve ever been. 

This intense experience was followed by a month of solitude at the Tides Institute in Eastport, ME. I was captivated by extreme (30 ft.) tides leaving behind dystopian scenes of the landscape encased in seaweed. With every 12 hour cycle the coast was littered with both great varieties of marine life and the remnants of the industrial past of Maine scattered among the plants. Nature had seemed to come full circle to me – one example of many was clay from the earth, baked into bricks, built for industry, abandoned, blown down by winds and returned to the sea where they weathered back into organic forms.

This new work is an attempt to give form to the images and experiences I have been describing – of the vulnerability and resilience of both nature and our man made world and more personal observations of not dissimilar struggles of human aging. 

My drawings are constructed sculpturally.  I begin by making pigmented papers and then assemble them, still wet, in a quilt-like fashion; later I draw on these constructed surfaces with various densities of paper pulp.  The wet pulp on the dried sheets causes a buckling on the surface that appears very much like stitching. The finished works speak to the physicality of the body and simultaneously evoke an intimate sense of touch, in a way akin to being in nature experiencing both vastness and quiet moments of focus.