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Nancy Cohen                                                                                                                                                 2. Cohen_Nancy_Hackensack Dreaming detail a 4. Cohen_Nancy_Hackensack Dreaming detail B - Copy Hackensack Dreaming hackensack dreaming north wall hackesnackDreamDraw

Hackensack Dreaming, 2015, handmade paper, rubber, 112 x 90 inches

installation hackensack detail detail detail 3 detail4 detail5 detail6 other side detail other side detail

The Power Plant Gallery at Duke University, Durham, NC

Hackensack Dreaming, 2014-2015
Glass, handmade paper, rubber, monofilament

Installation has three parts.
South wall is 20 x 11 x 13 feet
North wall is 17 x 11 x 9 feet
East wall is 112 x 90 inches

Installation originated at The Visual Arts Gallery, New Jersey City University, Jersey City, NJ and traveled to The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia, PA and The Power Plant Gallery at Duke University, Durham, NC and UrbanGlass, Brooklyn, NY.

I've spent time this last decade following the waterways of New York and New Jersey, finding the contradictions of “nature” in my urban environment endlessly interesting. Getting to the Mill Creek Marsh in the Meadowlands of Secaucus, NJ, I drive through the most congested, confusing and ugliest parts of my state. My friend, the photographer Robin Michals, going on these river journeys with me for her own study of sea level rise, calls this area “the spaghetti.”

We park next to Bob's Discount Furniture warehouse amidst Secaucus's outlet malls. From the marshes we look out in one direction to a water treatment plant, in another toward Walmart. We can hear the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. Beyond the worst of some mash-up of urban suburbia we can see the Empire State Building. The malls, the highway and the skyline of New York form the background for experiencing this isolated puddle of the organic in a deluge of the human-made.

The landscape is quiet and deserted. We found this place by accident several years ago at the end of a sunny winter day when we repeatedly tried (and frustratingly rarely managed) to gain access to the Hackensack River. We saw the water from the highway and followed it. A few steps from the shopping center parking lot we entered a quiet space where pools of flat still water gave way to the tops of wooden tree stumps that seemed to break free from thin sheets of ice while simultaneously appearing to encapsulate them as they ruptured the surface of the pale blue water.

The stump forms are inexplicable, magical, sculptural. They seem to embody fragility, perseverance and a caught moment. Conceptual ideas I have been moving around in my work for years were suddenly presented to me beside the New Jersey Turnpike.

Through repeated visits over different seasons I find these enigmatic forms and their isolated landscape equally compelling. During low tide more complex and elongated remnants of trees become evident, obviously densely close together as more of their former life is revealed.

We learn this used to be a cedar forest – intentionally destroyed hundreds of years ago. The Meadowlands themselves have been ravaged by the development surrounding this part of New York and New Jersey. The marshes made the location resistant to actual construction and instead became a seemingly endless absorption tank for every kind of refuse. The land’s uninhabitability destroyed its natural habitat and yet in some perverse way seemed to preserve it.

I find this site of unending interest as the stumps seemingly emerging from the water – surreal, beautiful, majestic in their survival and sad. In reality the water has overtaken them but they remain, monumental and as monuments to their history. In the summer, plants somehow sprout on them and at dusk they are carpeted with birds. Nature has re-habituated itself to the dead trees, adapted and endures. There is a moment on a summer twilight visit when as the neon sign for Walmart turns on and so do the lights on the Empire State Building, the sound of the birds drowns out the traffic. The remnants of the cedar forest stand firm and as witness to it all.

This installation is in no way meant to reproduce the landscape, my inspiration and reference point. I want the viewer to move through “Hackensack Dreaming” discovering and finding connections – compelled by the beauty and the strangeness. Thinking simultaneously of the made and found worlds – of nature (whatever that might be in an artist’s studio in 2014 in urban New Jersey) – a viewer might hopefully become temporarily lost in the contradictions and visual experience.