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something that isn't | art

Benjamin Cohen is a London based artist as well as a Lecturer in Fine Arts for University of the Arts London. He received a Masters in Fine Arts from Central Saint Martins and has been creating, curating, collaborating, and educating since. “Something That Isn’t” is a series of objects, structures and images inspired by the “mausoleum-esque” architecture of his late uncle’s home. In this series Cohen explores “the architecture of memory; how we shape inhabited spaces and how architecture may shape us in return.” Artistically he is inspired by Chris Marker’s films, Philip Larkin’s writing, Diane Simpson and Diango Hernandez’s sculptures, as well as Ida Ekblad, David Noonan, and Mary Lund.

When I walked into Cohen’s exhibition at Fold Gallery I felt peaceful and nostalgic. My attention was brought to the colors in the room: pastel pink, bright yellow, and ocean blue. There was a balance between playfulness and seriousness. It had clear visual cohesion, reminding me of a particular parts of a house. Benjamin describes the collection saying, “Each of the works… need the other to operate effectively. There are correlations and overlaps between all the works; what can be found in one can be articulated in the next.”

I was first drawn to a pink silicone sculpture sitting on the ground titled “and dulls to distance all we were”. A few feet away was a similar piece colored blue. This stood out to me the most, I wondered if I stared at it long enough, I might see waves crashing. Cohen describes his color choices saying, “I come from a painting background and so, in some ways, I still think through painting in my sculptural work. The pink in these recent works can be found in paintings that I made over a decade ago.” As more people gathered someone accidentally nudged the first sculpture and Ben had to readjust. It was bold of him to trust the viewers to get so close to the work. It was charming to see people circled around the pieces having conversations. They were kneeling and pointing at what caught their eye. Everyone took their time viewing each object.

 A yellow wood sculpture of an iron fence titled “the point is: if it sounds like bacon you’re doing it right,'' was leaning against a wall. The humor of the title reminded me of my own relatives and I was drawn to those memories as I viewed the work. My friend commented that her childhood home had the same type of gate. I was impressed at the masterful modelling of identifiable structures.  

A few small objects seemed purposefully hidden and it took awhile to notice them. In the back of the room was a small resin cast on the ceiling. It was titled “if it didn’t bother you for 13.8 billion years” and made me think the placing and title were intentionally complementary. The most awe-inspiring piece was “Derrick”, created with perspex, acrylic, pine, talcum powder, dust, and skin cells. I asked Ben about it and he said, “inside is dust from my uncle’s house. My uncle was a hoarder... The whole house was packed with stuff. He never used to clean, never used to dust so when he died we had to clear out his house and there was an inch layer of dust everywhere… I had dust in bags and I was doing research on it and I realized that dust is 98% skin cells. So I realized that actually was Derrick on everything, objects, images, surfaces, furniture.” Ben had collected an exact amount of dust to replicate the weight of Derrick when he died and measured the box to his height. Cohen described the piece saying “technically, it is Derrick.” The piece was a link between architecture and the body. The intricate yellow lattice below was a replica of the design of Derrick’s bedroom wallpaper. I spoke to some of Ben’s coworkers who mentioned he had covered their shared office in swatches of yellow paint to get it exact. 

I spoke to Ben’s dad and asked which piece was his favorite. He instantly answered “Derrick” and told me the story of helping his son figure out how to create it. He felt a strong connection to his brother and his house through that piece, but not in any of the others. The rest explored a similar theme that had branched off from Ben’s memories.   The collection was extravagant and nostalgic. The subject matter reminded me of museums and old homes. It was personal, intimate, and ambitious. Ben mentioned he had only one week to create the exhibit, and I left thoroughly impressed. The only dissatisfaction I felt was a lack of photography. The advertised piece was a sculpture combining a photograph. It was beautiful but as the only work with a photo it seemed out of place. Overall the ornate-ness was freshly combined with pop colors and modern design. I imagined I was studying architecture through someone’s dreams, fragmented in filtered memories. I asked Ben where he sees his work going in the future and he responds, “I have never really known exactly what trajectory my practice will take, and so it’s impossible to know what might happen next. For me this is exciting and is why I continue to make work. As my practice spirals forwards, the context(s) and ideas that I explore will inevitably expand and contract.” I will be excitedly waiting to see where this forward spiral takes the work of Benjamin Cohen in the future.

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