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Catalog Essay – Nancy Cohen’s Sculptures
by Jill Conner


As global warming continues to erode our environment, the standards needed for daily living are increasingly changing, transforming personal and public ways of life. Sculptor Nancy Cohen combs through the detritus found within the urban landscape and deconstructs these findings into textural elements that appear within the surfaces of her work. After sorting through and disassembling her collections, Cohen then fabricates and casts handmade multiples using aquaresin, cement and glass. By working with translucent materials, many of Cohen’s sculptures also embrace water; its growing scarcity and the resonant effects. As Jacques Cousteau once wrote, “Life thrives in three parts of the ocean: the surface waters, penetrated by sunlight, where plant life blooms; the bottom, where organic detritus settles; and the area in which these two life-nurturing factors combine…”1 For Cohen, sculpture serves as a series of empirical investigations that render an array of issues in abstract form, replacing objects of utility with beauty.

The act of foraging for and collecting elements found throughout the local environment has had a strong history in American art made throughout the 1960s. Bruce Conner and George Herms in particular collected the traces of care-free beach culture found along the shores of the West Coast and repurposed these elements into elaborate, ephemeral sculptures that were positioned to fade over the course of time. Nancy Cohen’s work echoes this aesthetic but captures the movement of time and then isolates its motion through a specific manipulation of materials. Fleshed Out (2012) for instance, features a small sand-filled bag, dusted with white on one end and tinted with red pigment on the other, as it leans against the flat surface of a glass bottle. Cohen’s intricately laced wire work, that appears woven through a fret of plastic, pins this work together as it rests upon a black stone-like plinth cast from aqua resin.

Geography of Desire (2012) is equally elaborate but more symbolic of the ocean itself. A slab of translucent cerulean blue serves as a surface for the lotus form made from a melted perfume bottle, which suggests hand-held human agency and the effects of environmental erosion. The distorted top belonging to this object of vanity and longing extends to the left where traces of gold and white opaque glass rest upon thin light blue strands. This piece suggests the butterfly effect of contemporary decay, which makes itself visible on many beaches and in the endless swirl of refuse located in the Pacific Ocean. Cohen expands on these themes further in a large-scale installation titled Polyphony (2012) where strips of wave-like glass hang at varying heights as free-floating silhouettes interspersed with larger, biomorphic forms that add to the illusion of a watery depth disrupted by unknown forces.

Nancy Cohen re-contextualizes the cast form of two found scooters in Solo (2012) and Orphan (2012). These objects of mobility appear altered and stationary, weighted down by a series of toxic looking bubbles set into the illusion of blue and steel-gray pools. Cohen’s use of these castaways asserts an awareness of sustainability and our survival amidst decay. These sculptures do not purport to save the world, but they underscore our physical and psychological relationship to the natural worldNancy Cohen re-contextualizes the cast form of two found scooters in Solo (2012) and Orphan (2012). These objects of mobility appear altered and stationary, weighted down by a series of toxic looking bubbles set into the illusion of blue and steel-gray pools. Cohen’s use of these castaways asserts an awareness of sustainability and our survival amidst decay. These sculptures do not purport to save the world, but they underscore our physical and psychological relationship to the natural world by taking the viewer back to the land, its waters, and our fragility through an elegance that underlies each formal composition.

Endnotes:
1.) Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, “The Human, The Orchid, and The Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World”(New York: Bloomsbury 2007) 135.