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Plague and Locusts 2020: David Cohn

Updated: Jan 31

My video art practice has always been a way for me to organize my thoughts – specifically those thoughts that feel as if they don’t belong in any real worldly dialogue. They are not thoughts I would normally express in conversation with others, but instead are what I might say to a stranger in a dream, knowing that they may be any combination of myself, anyone, and everyone.

The character I perform within my videos is myself, but a sort of projected, generic version of myself.

I started making art after college, where I studied philosophy. Later, I refined my style and methods during an MFA program at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. During and after my time at Northeastern, my work became more playful and comical, which I think is one way to approach the absurdity of being a human. For me, this absurdity comes from an awareness that I am a limited and specific individual in a sea of other perspectives. My own specificity feels awkward and unsure to me and my videos are the result of my trying – somewhat blindly – to discover my own perimeter.

Since my artwork comes from a place of alienation and internal solitude, the current isolation of lockdown seems to have both heightened the stakes and dulled my resolve. I am now craving those real dialogues with others more than ever, and the idea that I might have something essential to say to the world itself seems a bit hopeless or at least out of proportion. I feel cast back into myself: my need to dynamically engage with my own mind feels largely replaced by a sense of loss and also by a need to examine what I need emotionally.

Consciousness Economy. David Cohn, 2020

The lockdown period has been an indefinitely drawn out hiatus until recently, when it seems that some kind of ending is on its way. I think this existential shift – from endless to ending – has been disorienting for me and has shifted my relationship to my art. I keep asking myself what my art is (or does) for me. I am now trying to sit with this question and stay open to it, while reserving a doubt that the answer may never arrive. I like to think of making art in this way anyway: a bit more of a byproduct of intentions escaping my understanding than a determined product of what I need to see in the world. At least I always end up feeling, after I have completed an artwork, that it was that former kind of byproduct, even if I went into the project with an urgent sense of needing to say something. I am still learning to simultaneously hold onto doubt (doubt that I may never know what my art is, fundamentally) and faith (faith that whatever artistic processes are currently gripping me are necessary for my navigation of the world).

It seems that many people in the United States are determined to not let Covid-19 affect their way of interacting in general. The irony of course is that this denial is making the problem worse and more likely to inevitably affect them. As for the arts, I think they have been pushed onto their heels and will need to adapt. The sense of “the public” has changed and continues to change in ways I don’t fully understand. I imagine with public space (and that amorphous sense of “being in public,” fueled by social media) feeling more limited and less stable, art may radicalize more in one direction and also become just simple entertainment in the other direction.


©2018 by ephemereye