Artist Spotlight: Noga Cohen
Noga Cohen is a New York-based artist and educator. She is the recipient of the NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) Immigrant Artists Program Fellowship for 2021-22. She received her MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University in 2021. While earning her MFA, she received the David Berg Foundation Fellowship, the Artis Contemporary Fellowship, and the Brevoort-Eickemeyer Fellowship. In 2018, she won the Gross Foundation Prize, the Adams Prize, and the SBY grant for emerging artists. Her work has been shown in venues such as Amos Eno Gallery (Brooklyn), ChaShaMa (New York), Wallach Gallery (New York), Project V Gallery (New York), the Art Lab (Tel Aviv), and more. Her work was featured in publications such as ArtForum, Art and Education, Tiger Strikes Asteroid Magazine, and more.
What or who inspired your interest in the arts?
My art practice is inspired by the body and its relationship to trauma. I create melted plastic and ready-made sculptures that echo visceral texture and anthropomorphic forms, as a way to explore an idea of a body, and how it carries marks and reminiscence of events over time. I use a lot of found objects in my work, especially objects that were designed to have a functional purpose that serves the body or have a relationship to it. I use furniture, insulation materials that are often used in house constructions, trash, and plastic. I often find materials for my work in the streets or in dumpsters outside of construction sites. I’m inspired by objects that have a history, a past: objects that were once used and discarded, and carry scars from their past lives. My practice is experimental, and the creative methods I use are often expressive and physical: breaking, burning, wrapping. By manipulating and transforming furniture and synthetic materials, I explore their inherent qualities and their relationship to the body. I am curious about the ways that objects react to different actions and manipulations, as well as about the effect of the passing time, like a human body. I work from a critical political point of view on the ways the human body is perceived, used, and valued in current times.
Notions of violence are important components of my work. Besides my interest in the ways that psychological trauma affects the human body, I’ve been drawn to the idea of “slow violence” from an ecological and biological perspective – slow, invisible processes of accumulations of toxins, and foreign objects that enter the body that become one with the organic tissue. Investigating different kinds of damage, like long-term damage caused by microplastics or air pollution, that are not necessarily visible or quantifiable, is a way for me to explore the impacts of violence and trauma – personal and collective, visible and invisible.
What was the creative journey that has brought you to where you are today?
As a part of my creative journey, I explore how to create art in a world that is in an ongoing state of crisis. I am constantly thinking about how different events and experiences are reflected in the world and on the body, through marks and traces. Having a background in photography informed the ways I interact with materials and spaces in my sculptural practice, and how I think about relationships between space, time, and body. My photographic practice was based on cropping, deconstructing, layering, obscuring, and decontextualizing visuals of found footage pornography. Creating deconstructed images and using content taken from pornography has been a way for me to understand my own personal experiences. My way of learning, gathering information, and observing the world was based on extracting pieces of information and decontextualizing them. I kept using similar practices when I transitioned into working in sculpture and installation.
While moving to New York in 2019, I became interested in everyday objects and materials around me: plastic bags, shower curtains, packaging materials, furniture, and trash. Engaging with mundane objects was a way for me to respond to the experience of being in a new place, interacting with the space around me, and observing the ways my body played a role in this transition. I started tearing down objects, breaking and rebuilding, burning and melting. These were actions I took to create a fragmented representation of reality as I experienced it at the time. These actions are performative, physical, and expressive, representing an externalization of internal mental processes. While feeling overwhelmed, helpless and frustrated due to political climate and environmental uncertainty, I found that these actions create a robust personal response. In my studio practice, I draw a line between different ways that pain, violence, and trauma manifest in the body and in the world, in nature and in everyday objects. I am interested in the ways that accumulative environmental damage is similar to the physical and psychological damage that manifests in the body and mind. I am interested in pushing the limits of materials and exploring the possibilities of methods of destruction and reconstruction in my practice. I want to expand my practice and address the perilousness of human existence in a time of an ongoing crisis, in relation to decay, time, and loss.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a new body of work that’s based on repurposed insulation materials. I am endlessly fascinated by the possibilities and potential that found objects and materials carry. By using insulation materials, I touch on ideas of protection, isolation, and perilousness. For this new project, I create a collection of thin, translucent objects that are made to be a part of a site-specific installation and interact with space and light. I also work on a smaller series of objects made of acrylic panels, wax, and recycled textile fibers.
In addition to my studio practice, I am involved in independent curatorial projects and educational initiatives.
What do you need as an artist today?
I used to think that my creative practice thrives in times of chaos because my practice is reacting to changes in the world. Nowadays I understand that I need stability to be able to focus on my creative work. For me, feeling safe and protected is important in order to let myself take risks and allow myself to step out of my comfort zone.