Lynne Cohen: Occupied Territory


To say that Lynne Cohen’s black-and-white photographs are of ‘empty rooms’ is both overly simplistic and deceptively accurate. The rooms she captures may be deprived of people, but certainly not of ghosts. Even if the lack of humans implies inaction, the echoes that resound in such an absence make their mark more directly than if the rooms were mobbed by persons. When witnessed together, the 24 photographs of ‘Occupied Territory’ inhabit an anti-space, a sort of negative setting, in which intention – that of employee, patron, director, artist, club-member, executive, etc. – becomes the main character. Cohen confronts her protagonists with a glaring, monochromatic question: how much control do you have over a space if, in your absence, it is still resolutely active?

In observing Police Range, a shooting cave whose only evidence of prior pistoleering is the five staggered targets dangling front, left and center, a viewer is instantly arrested by what such a space implies: a place for those qualified, by law and by trade, to practice violence. Taking the people from the range, Cohen loudly shows, does not prevent past or future guns from blazing.

Party Room, 1973 is darker than the morning-after simply because everyone has had decades worth of redress. What results in this scene is the room itself rendered, by Cohen and by time alike, as a stoic victim of well-constructed indiscretions.

Pool, 1975, a drained, once elegant swimming-hole, angles sharply to be considered as a memorial for childhood holidays. But rather than resurrect good times, Cohen’s stark image puts to rest any hopes of forgetting.

Undercurrent Online Magazine notes that this ‘Occupied Territory’ is a show inspired by an eponymous catalogue of Cohen’s works from 1987. Such a gesture implicates the transformation that is seemingly always at stake in Cohen’s oeuvre: the restless nature of purpose-driven artifacts, in space and in documentation, can never fully be realized, or comprehensively catalogued, but their fleeting notions may be recognized and admired. Ms. Cohen continues to provide evidence of the tensions surrounding Space and its relationship to Time, leaving her viewers to constantly question where exactly it is that they stand, literally.

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