subjunctive mood/ people with the sense of possibility, the new gallery in musrara, Curator: Ilanit Konopny. 2018

text by  Ilanit Konopny

68 A digression: Do people have to be in harmony with their bodies?

For it was he himself who kept this body in good trim by means of gymnastics, giving it the shape, expression and alertness whose inner influence may well be compared to the influence a permanently smiling or permanently grave face has on its owner’s state of mind. And, oddly enough, the majority of people have either a neglected body, formed and deformed by accidental circumstances and seemingly in almost no relationship to their mind and character, or one hidden under the mask of sport, which gives it the look of those hours when it takes time off from being itself…

But is this the body of our mind, of our ideas, institutions and plans, or—the pretty ones included—that of our follies[1]?

(ROBERT MUSIL)

 

Chen Cohen

For three months, every Sunday morning, I went out into the field near my house carrying the "The Man Without Qualities". Along trails rich in caves and potsherds, on the ancient road leading from Nebi Samuel to Jerusalem - I randomly opened the book at the request of artist Chen Cohen. She asked that, like in Tarot reading, I would allow pages from the text to appear arbitrarily. Every Sunday she received a photo of pages laid out against the background of the archaeological site near my home. Following in her steps, I found myself reading "The Man Without Qualities" in a nonlinear way. While wandering between the house, the field and the book opening, I also hunted fossils. Every Sunday I sent her a photo of the fossil or fossils I'd collected too.

Chen Cohen reads pages from the book. Page 117 depicts Ulrich, the man without qualities, who tries hard to walk the streets casually and serenely. He seeks for the secret balance between emotion and the world that has been violated for a second and notices “All the readiness to run and jump and fight that there is in a well-trained body today”.

Cohen's body is subject to constant changes. She has rheumatoid arthritis. The artwork she creates through photography deals with thoughts about the compatibility between the person she is and her body. She notices that as the structure of her hands changes, the pace of speech and walking also changes. The physical changes began to serve her personality, the pace dictated by the body determined her pace of thought. As an artist, she photographs performative actions of her body in video and stills, and then chooses a single image and processes it. For Cohen, the physical, performative act, is also an act of spirit - she believes she can make the body become her characters and vice versa - both as a photographer and as a person - the body serves personality and the personality serves body.

Cohen reads “All the readiness to run and jump and fight that there is in a well-trained body today”. She decides to perform a physical action that goes beyond the capacity of her body. To train herself for an effort that transcends endurance. To allow strenuous physical labor to produce an act of spirit. The daily practice to which Musil refers is a kind of agenda, habit, which has the potential to lead to change in the given physical structure and in the internal personality structure. The training allows the body to remember, experience and not be surprised at the time of the action. Cohen sets training days with a partner - she will carry his thin and tall body, as her own, beyond the impossible.

Chen Cohen's body is degenerating. She reads pages out of “The Man Without Qualities” and looks at photographs of fossils. She thinks of her body as one that can petrify. The fossils, she says, capture life within them - they are a grave, and the body, motionless and untrained, will turn her too into stone or statue.

 

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[1]MUSIL ROBERT. The Man Without Qualities. Secker & Warburg Ltd., London (1953), vol. 1:

https://uberty.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/musil-1.pdf, p. 234.