Critics’ Picks

Deville Cohen, Poison, 2011, color video, 19 minutes. Installation view.

Deville Cohen, Poison, 2011, color video, 19 minutes. Installation view.

New York

Deville Cohen

Louis B. James
143B Orchard Street
October 26–December 3, 2011

The five aluminum-mounted ink-jet prints on view in Deville Cohen’s first New York solo exhibition seem like souvenirs from the main event: a nineteen-minute video playing on a large screen in the gallery’s basement. Combining photographs of set pieces from the video with stock images of outer space, the decontextualized photomontages fall flat as isolated works. Within the first thirty seconds of Poison (all works 2011), a pair of hands reaches across what appears to be a book. The “book” is pried open to reveal a pop-up paper sculpture depicting rows of parking meters. One seamless edit later, a person, holding a photocopy cutout of a car in front of his torso and head, walks through a life-size replica of the parking meter scene amid the unmistakable sound of an ignition switching on. Welcome to Cohen’s allegorical alter-reality, where faceless stagehands (and legs) mobilize intricate paper sets within a black box theater–like stage. In a conflation of signifier and subject, everyday objects—and/or their reduced and enlarged facsimiles—are recast as backdrops and actors in his hermetic, immersive, time-based collage.

Poison is a meditation on our relentless consumption and depletion of natural resources, namely petroleum and water. Beginning with Google-culled images (Chevy trucks and highways, gas stations and mountaintops), Cohen created a kinetic landscape from hundreds of Xeroxes, some as large as thirty-six by forty-eight inches. (One wonders, given the theme, how dutifully the artist recycles.) Long reams of dyed lace symbolize petrol (black), water (white), blood (red), and pollution (yellow-green). Readymades, most notably a toilet seat and lid, pop up occasionally among the assemblages. Approximating protagonists are an eight ball and a single die (each an oversize photocopy) who hit the open road as if in a buddies-on-a-road-trip film. Diegetic time is marked by the emptying and refueling of their gas tank.

Narrative takes a backseat to Cohen’s prosody and obsessive adherence to visual detail. Though the moral takeaway is clear—humanity is going to choke on the poison of its own excesses—the real star of the show is the system of referents and signs the artist has created: a singular visual vocabulary whose primary unit is the photocopied representation.