New York

Rachel Bas-Cohain

Rachel Bas-Cohain is also involved with the mechanics of sight and perception. Her interests center around the limitations of perception and how they affect our experience of art.

The farthest view upon which we can still focus is usually our optical aspiration, so to speak, but bas-Cohain points out that it should not necessarily be our desired resting place. The rear 50 feet of the gallery space are separated by two floor-to-ceiling pieces of cheesecloth which are connected by 20 differently angled cloth cylinders. The quotations printed on the back wall of the gallery, all of which have something to do with visual perception, cannot be seen through a single aperture; one is forced to move from opening to opening in an attempt to quell the frustration of not being able to see an entire sentence and therefore not able to take in an entire thought at once.

In bas-Cohain’s drawn diagrams, a landscape scene is obscured in the same manner as are the quotations on the gallery’s back wall: our eyes at a given point are allowed only partial entrée. Boulders in the drawing (like the cheesecloth curtain) impede our full view of the distant scene. Although they have the role of irritant, they also begin to claim an interest of their own.

In a scaled-down model of the gallery space are strings which radiate like lines of sight from a small photographed sign to upright sewing needles some distance away. Each needle stave is labelled with a numerical measurement of vision: 20/20, 20/40, 20/80, 20/200, 20/20, of course, is descriptive of perfect vision. The others call for compensation for the eye’s limitation—either with an optical lens, or, in the case of this model, the advancement of the sign in proportion to the extent of the correction required. In bas-Cohain’s scale model set-up, the compensation, though seemingly stating a scientific truth, intentionally or unintentionally alters truth; the small sign reads: “From inside the A.I.R. gallery you are reading this through 52 or more of air.” In reference to perfect vision, the sign speaks of the truth; in reference to less than perfect, it doesn’t.

Just as truth can be obscured by greater visibility, so can the removal of an obstruction still not satisfy our deepest motivations for seeing. In contrast to Stella’s “single image” and “what you see is what you see,” Rachel bas-Cohain posits that all seeing and looking is limited and sometimes fragmented. It is like the first photograph we take, shocking in that the edges cut off so much of the remembered; the visual “scoop” of our eye at the time seemed limitless. Bas-Cohain’s work delineates the borders of our vision with the underlying assertion that the making of art has to do with the compensation for its limitations.

Judith Lopes Cardozo