Review: By Feel at Accola Griefen Gallery

by Elizabeth Crawford

up through June 23rd 
547 West 27th street

Polyphony, 2012. by Nancy Cohen. Glass, 11″ x 13″ x 6″
Image courtesy of Accola Griefen Gallery 

I walked into Nancy Cohen’s show By Feel at the Accola Griefen Gallery  after having visited Ambienti Spaziali by Lucio Fontana at the Gagosian Gallery on 24th street.  Fontana’s show was one of portals—vertical rips in the canvases were doorways the viewer could move through, and sometimes in the show there were literal doorways that became rips in the gallery space. I was keenly aware then, when I walked into “By Feel” of the way the space was governed, where and how I was being moved. If Lucio Fontana invites his viewer through a door, Nancy Cohen carries her viewer, and dissolves them like water. Cohen’s sculptures (mostly glass but absorbing many other materials and objects such as cement, jewelry bags, scooters and piano keys) are a metaphor for the movement of water and delineate (fictitiously, scientifically) how water moves.  This is not only an investigation of how water moves but how water moves us. 

Cohen’s forms encourage us to feel the pull of gravity within a weightless wonderland. Water drags us, pulls on us, sucks us down. One gets a feeling of the dance between lightness and gravity in her piece Spill was inspired by a picture from the BP oil disaster in New Orleans, where water is met with a heavy foreign pollutant, and embraces and carries this crisis in itself. There is an echo of this slow suffocating kind of embrace in many of the pieces as Cohen uses cement with glass. Another piece Orphan seems to stand as a kind of opposition to water since it is a cement-covered scooter standing alone in the middle of the gallery with a glass hand. Why does this form stand alone, isolated and grey like a blundering figure in a Beckett play while all the other sculptures seem to connect and flow towards one another?

Here is the exquisite contradiction, water is all embracing, water is one and still spits out pieces of trash that wash up on the shore alone and exquisitely rigid.  Still, as the viewer, one gets the feeling of how this lonely piece was carried by water, how water moved it to where it is. In Cohen’s piece Polyphony water seems to move by singing, water moves like voices in a choir coming together through difference.  

Water also is evident in the installation P (n,k) Combinatoric where Cohen forms spider-like molecules with glass, rubber, metal, cement, springs, piano keys and resin. The molecules dash across the wall, scampering towards something unknown. Is this then the structure of water – a spindly, sinister comic-like thing? And I think perhaps, in revealing to us a little bit of how water is made, the artist reveals something of her own making. Cohen is like a water spider that weaves its web, a silvery bell, underwater and breathes air by trapping bubbles. 

So water catches us, embraces us as a pollutant, spits us out, sings, carries us far distances, is home, is creaturely and strips us down. Looking at the pieces one feels oneself happily absorbed and at the same time eroded—stripped down as I said, and perhaps above all water reminds one of one’s own nudity. By Feel reveals water to be perhaps the most hidden and therefore naked body part we have. Cohen’s forms carry us away, out to sea, but also return us back to the very familiar and turbulent flows of water coursing within the body.





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