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Jem Cohen, Untitled (Manhattan Building With Lit Window), 2008, C-print from Polaroid original, Courtesy of the artist, ©Jem Cohen

Jem Cohen: Life Drawing

Artist: Jem Cohen
August 15 - November 29, 2015

The title of this multi-format photography and video installation by New York filmmaker Jem Cohen comes from the artist’s own characterization of his practice.

As he explains, “The unifying core of my work stems from encountering the world as it unfolds. Whether the project is long- or short-term, moving image or still photography, single pictures, multiple projections, or an installation, it is through close observation, careful listening, and an embrace of chance that I establish the bedrock. . . . Regardless of the tools and the form, the project is . . . life drawing.”

The dual-gallery presentation of Life Drawing at UMMA underscores Cohen’s use of disparate media that, rooted in a shared set of concerns and working methods, organically coalesce into a broader body of work.
We Have an Anchor, on view in the Media Gallery, is a single-channel video projection that incorporates composited 16mm, Super 8, and HD imagery. An environmental portrait of Nova Scotia, it takes its departure point from a live performance with multiple projections where Cohen collaborated with an ensemble of musicians to make what has been described as a cinematic love letter to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton. Footage of the island, gathered over 10 years, is interspersed with texts ranging from poems to local folklore, buoyed by both environmental sounds and an original score written and performed by members from a diverse group of bands, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dirty Three, Fugazi, White Magic, Silver Mt. Zion, and The Quavers.

In the Photography Gallery, more than 25 still photographs, again gathered over a long period in a disappearing analog format (in this case, Polaroid film), are subtly married to digital technology. The images, some urban and some domestic, are from a variety of locations ranging from New York to Tangier. With both the video and the photographs Cohen uses a strategy of free wandering conjoined with careful documentation in order to unearth and celebrate hidden, seemingly haunted geographies and their human (and animal) inhabitants.


Lead support for Jem Cohen at UMMA is provided by the Herbert W. and Susan L. Johe Endowment. Additional generous support is provided by the Susan and Richard Gutow Fund and the Robert and Janet Miller Fund.