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NonFinito, Artport, Tel Aviv, 2023. Curator: Vardit Gross

Chen Cohen’s archive of movements is challenging: on the one hand, upright standing, on the other—surrender and total collapse. It also spans many therapeutic gestures, most of them drawn from treatments that she herself has received and is receiving from doctors, nurses, and friends. In the works presented in “Nonfinito,” Cohen removes her slender body from the photographic frame where it usually dwells, asking other people and objects to act in her place, to move according to the movements in her archive. The material treatment she usually applies to her photographic works, is now applied to the materials themselves. We can only imagine what the three women staged in the photograph Pulse are holding. They are bending sideways, their hands outstretched. Are they trying to grab hold of the artist? Their movements are gentle, promising support, but in reality they hold nothing. The long, narrow rod, the lower part of a bracket—an L-shaped support for hanging shelves—likewise supports nothing. It is as though Cohen’s presence is embedded within it. Having stretched to a height of 1.70 meters, like the height of the artist’s mother, it seems to be seeking a new meaning, perhaps as an alternative, straight and stable spine. The curvy plaster jug was created in a long process of studying a material, in which Cohen experimented in the last year. It was constructed from materials that are also used for treatment and healing—gauze and plaster. The jug is associated with young women, such as the biblical Rebecca who offers water from the jug at the well, or Vermeer’s milkmaid. Its round shape resembles a womb; it envelops a space and holds change in it. Cohen, however, pours its content, and subsequently photographs the interior of the jug; that which is present in it, or possibly absent from it. The jug, whose symbolism as a link between the human and the transcendent crosses cultures (from burial rituals, through wine celebrations, to the local oil jar) thus loses its power to hold and contain, and the void becomes the essence. The load we imagine, whether inside the jug, between the outstretched hands, on the back of the shelf bracket, or on our own back, is the baggage we carry; visible or hidden, alone or with the help of others.

Text by Vardit Gross

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