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Urban Mirroring

Deville Cohen “Hand to Mouth: De-Suicide”, at PS 122 Gallery, and Tommy Mintz “Time After Time” at Guild Gallery II


Deville Cohen and Tommy Mintz clip, freeze and re-route time as it plays out in an urban environment. They accomplish this, in very different ways, via algorithms and mechanical interventions, not to mention innovative uses of media and technology.  Both approach a base material; performance in the case of Cohen, and the perpetual life of the street in Mintz’, and both generate visual narratives using algorithms, sensors, and cameras.  Their tools, acting on the activities they observe, results in the extraction of a process, more than simply data, and it is this process which they embody in their practices.  Tommy Mintz’ Automated Digital Photo Collage (ADPC) utilizes movement as the instigator of his photographs while Cohen presents three performances happening simultaneously in three countries and then heightens and weaves these performances together through projection and kinetic sculptures.  Cohen’s exhibition stands as a record of more ephemeral artistic engagements while Mintz’ examines life passing by.  To a certain degree these two artists’ practices are mirror images of each other:  Mintz uses his algorithm to determine what is photographed, Cohen processes a preexisting performance through the mechanical; but both artists uniquely lay the groundwork for the data they seek to collect.

“Hand to Mouth:  De-Suicide” (October 21-November 21) presented the visual and sculptural results of a series of workshops involving dancers Laura K. Nicoll (NY), Margaux Marielle-Trehoüart (Berlin), Tushrik Fredericks (Johannesburg/NY), and Effie Bowen (NY), dramaturgs Patricia Hernandez (NY) and Bronwyn Lace (Johannesburg/Vienna), and musician JD Samson (NY).  A collective formed over the Pandemic by Cohen, the goal of this group and its workshops was to interpret post-humanistic notions of the equivalence between sentient beings and inanimate objects, and to present a performance aesthetic that distances itself from the ideals of possession and property espoused by contemporary capitalism.  It’s a broad mandate, to be sure, and most of the source material was drawn from a live performance that took place on January 28th 2021 at 12pm EST, featuring Fredericks in Johannesburg, Marielle-Trehoüart in Berlin, and Nicoll in New York (in the galleries of PS 122).  The dancers performed on rooftops, subways stations and galleries in quick sequence, utilizing ladders, chairs and their surroundings.  Cohen’s objective with “Hand To Mouth: De-Suicide”, was to frame these performances in an interpretive structure so that the viewer could both ingest the performative material in the form of videos, and engage in an immersive mechanical ballet in the gallery space.  Using Isadora software, Cohen created a constantly shifting, whirring, and revolving orchestra of inanimate responders to the actions of the dancers.  When it began to rain in Berlin, a fountain made from a ladder, a chair and a garbage can began to gush in the gallery’s front space; when a specific song began on the soundtrack, a fog machine filled the room with mist.  A gang of overhead projectors with moving arms creating patterns and shadows clicked on at key moments and disrupted the action on screen with their own projections.  As amorphous as was the purported goal of the collective’s actions, Cohen was successful in creating an environment in which his Rube-Goldberg apparatus stood on equal footing with the performers on screen.

Mintz, in “Time After Time” (September 20-November 17), on the other hand, relied on a single automated entity, which produces the artist’s content for him.  He sets up his camera/computer dyad in promising areas full of activity; bustling street corners, construction sites, etc.  The algorithm which he has created is activated by movement: if a body passes through the picture plane determined by the camera’s lens, the shutter flickers and an image is recorded.  This movement doesn’t produce a string of images though—only the moving body or body part is included in the final panorama.  This generates a host of multiple-headed or many-limbed hybrids.  Serendipitously it is not only the movement of bodies or solid objects which triggers the camera, but clouds, weather, etc.  Counter-intuitively, the main action of the picture may reside in a fluctuating background, wriggling and writhing behind a static foreground.  Mintz often chooses to render the final image in a traditional format of framed photograph or laminated panel, but recently began to experiment more with fabric and plastic hangings. In a previous show at Puccs Contemporary in Budapest, he printed onto a shower curtain and introduced movement with a fan, bringing full circle the subtext of movement.  In “Time After Time” Mintz prints on fabric and encircles the viewer.   The work also curls around the room, inhabiting space as an undulating but still flat field of data representing traces of action observed through a meticulous mechanical eye—what does the machine make of all this information?

Is there any parity between the artificial eye and the human?  Both “Time After Time” and “Hand to Mouth” raise the question and explore the sometimes intrusive, often incongruous aesthetic of artificial intelligence.  The blossoming growth patterns of Mintz’s ADPC differs markedly from the clicking and flickering pas de deux of Cohen’s human/computer pairing.  The results are unexpected, beautiful and jarring, but for now, these sensors create only through response, which is perhaps all we are ready for.

-William Corwin, November 23, 2021, New York

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