Instruments and Gestures, Hifa Museum, curator by Dr. Kobi Ben-Meir, 2023, photos by Elie Posner
Over the past year, Chen Cohen photographed her medical routine in various clinics and at the Bnei Zion Medical Center in Haifa. She focused on the medical instruments and her encounters with the medical staff—meetings intended to treat the body, which were full of tenderness and compassion, healing the soul, too. She did not document the treatments from a seemingly objective position, or one that emphasizes the difficulty of being the object of a medical examination, but rather performed for the camera. She came to the check-ups as a healing shaman, always dressed in the same long black dress, which is contrasted with the white space. The camera she installed in the clinic transformed the event into an artistic act addressing beauty and love.
Partly extracted from the video footage, the images were processed and cleansed of superfluous details to refine the manifestations of beauty and love embedded in it. At times, the medical instruments resemble human beings making gestures. In this equipment-rich setting, an intimate interpersonal relationship is forged with the medical staff, an encounter between a woman who puts her body in the hands of another, and an individual who extends a supporting hand. In the action performed at the museum, eight men and women supported Cohen’s body, and were photographed only after the artist left their grip and took her place behind the camera. The resulting images distill the medical procedure into moments of grace and gestures of generosity.
The paper she uses is fragile, easily wrinkled, and it is not durable over a long period of time. The gauntness, illness and fragility of the body are subjects Cohen deals with through her work. Her decision to execute the performance in front of the camera, only to then freeze, dissect and print it can be interpreted as an action of killing and resurrection. Cohen worked on the current installation during her stay at the residency program of the Cite, Paris. In which she decided to transform from a creating artist to a cared for artist, or in other words - from an acting artist, into one which is acted upon: she invited people into her room - weather it was women who moved her bed towards the window, or a couple of artists to sculpt her ill hand out of plaster, and to mold a form of masks from her body.
Cohen transforms personal challenges and experiences into a fundamental question regarding the possibility to heal: “When the result is out of our hands, we must put our trust in the hands of others. Our faith. I am attentive to the words which women creators had said and written in times of disease and suffering. Women who felt that their end was near, I listen to them as if hearing a prayer. In their voice I find a closeness to a godly presence.”
Text: Kobi Ben-Meir