Interior Places

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Classroom (Hercules Bomber)
Woman artist,photography, black/white, documentary photographer, performance artist,unusual spaces, high contrast,speculation, interiors,environment, institutional environments, camera, human existence, work, power, unoccupied spaces,deception, illusion, military, symmetrical, airbase, converging lines, light, Angel Flare Decoy, claustrophobia,artificial,life and death, found image,mustard gas, mechanized warfare, political, interiors, photograph, black and white photography, found objects, military installations, institutional environments, boundaries, symmetry, millitary, targets, illusion,
description

Lynne Cohen’s photographs are all about capturing interior environments and the intriguing things they can say about the people who use them, their times and their culture. The locations she photographs reveal an artist who is forever in tune with her environment and on the look-out for interiors that act as  foundAn image, material, or object, not originally intended as a work of art, that is obtained, selected, and exhibited by an artist, often without being altered in any way. The cubists, dadaists, and surrealists originated the use of found images / materials / objects. Although it can be either a natural or manufactured image / material / object, the term readymade refers only to those which were manufactured. Also known in the French, objet trouvé. (Artlex.com)  objects with interesting stories to tell. Often the spaces are so unusual and artificial in appearance that critics have thought she physically created the installations, like  stageTo exhibit upon a stage, or as upon a stage; to display publicly. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  sets, and then photographed them as part of her artistic practice.

Cohen’s early work began with an exploration of  domesticRemaining much at home; devoted to home duties or pleasures; as, a domestic man or woman.  Living in or near human habitations; domesticated; tame as distinguished from wild; as, domestic animals.  Made in one's own house, nation, or country; as, domestic manufactures, wines, etc.  One who lives in the family of an other, as hired household assistant; a house servant. Articles of home manufacture, especially cotton goods.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  environments such as men’s clubs, halls, beauty parlours, living rooms and lobbies but as she worked through these ideas she gradually evolved to more authoritarian institutional environments such as target ranges, classrooms, spas, military installations and training environments. In her early works the  cameraIn photography, a tool for producing photographs, having a lightproof enclosure with an aperture and a shuttered lens through which the image of an object is focused and recorded on a photosensitive film or plate. In video, a device that receives the primary image on a light-sensitive cathode tube and transforms it into electrical impulses. (Artlex.com) Find out about 35-mm cameras at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film  was close to her subjects, but since 1980 she has moved the  cameraIn photography, a tool for producing photographs, having a lightproof enclosure with an aperture and a shuttered lens through which the image of an object is focused and recorded on a photosensitive film or plate. In video, a device that receives the primary image on a light-sensitive cathode tube and transforms it into electrical impulses. (Artlex.com) Find out about 35-mm cameras at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film  further away from her subjects.

start quoteThe process is both exhilarating and frustrating. Exhilarating because I never know what I'll discover behind the closed doors, worrying because I am never sure that the people in charge will grant me permission to photograph.end quote
-- Lynne Cohen (Hamkin 2007)

Ideas related to human existence, work and power can be symbolically revealed in these impersonal, private, unoccupied spaces. In an interview in 2001 Cohen commented that, “…My photographs from the beginning have been about various sorts of artifice and deception. I started out probing the boundaries between the  foundAn image, material, or object, not originally intended as a work of art, that is obtained, selected, and exhibited by an artist, often without being altered in any way. The cubists, dadaists, and surrealists originated the use of found images / materials / objects. Although it can be either a natural or manufactured image / material / object, the term readymade refers only to those which were manufactured. Also known in the French, objet trouvé. (Artlex.com)  and the constructed, the absurd and the deadly serious, the animate and the inert, and I have been probing that ever since.” (Cohen, 2001 interview)

In Classroom (Hercules Bomber) the scene is a straight-on  symmetricalFormal balance where two sides of a design are identical.  image of an unlikely classroom. It is a large cavernous  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  in the  shapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (Artlex.com)  of an airplane hull containing paraphernalia used for flying missions. Cohen’s 8” x 10”  view cameraTo find out about view cameras, go to Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_camera  is carefully situated to pick up all the details, emphasizing the deep  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  of the room. Her final image is enlarged from its original format to command a greater impact and to suggest to the viewer that he or she could actually enter that interior.

The overall scene has the appearance of a target, with its converging lines toward a central circle from which the light is radiating. The light  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  on the wall produces two large airplane-wing-like forms that glow on the mirror-like  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  of the classroom walls. This image brings to mind the light emanated by flares as they are released from the airplane and explode in an attempt to draw heat-seeking missiles off target.  See the YouTube video at the bottom of this page (Angel Flare Decoys) for an example of this image.)
 
One gets a feeling of claustrophobia and uneasiness while viewing this image and some questions are brought to mind. Is there some kind of a crime hidden here? Have all the inhabitants been destroyed? How would anyone enter and exit this space? Who would use this space? What is being taught in this classroom? As Nancy Tousley writes, “Trying to figure out what’s being taught, what knowledge is being transmitted and how, or who is being observed and for what reasons can lead to some sobering speculations about the society we live in.” (Tousely, 1992)

A podium for teaching sits in the classroom, facing the viewer. While there is no instructor present, the podium in a quirky, humorous way takes on this task. It appears to be educating its audience about the processes learned and the actions that are enacted as a result of this kind of instruction. A solitary body/dummy is lying in a suspended cot which brings rise to thoughts of destruction, life and death.

Getting into institutional spaces often poses a problem for Cohen and is part of the challenge and process of her photography. She confides in a 2007 interview, “The finished photographs depend on the generosity of strangers. I see the finished pieces as collaborations of a sort.  The process is both exhilarating and frustrating.  Exhilarating because I never know what I'll discover behind the closed doors, worrying because I am never sure that the people in charge will grant me permission to photograph.” (Hamkin, 2007)

Cohen wants to be in control of all areas of her process and chooses to  frameSomething made to enclose a picture or a mirror; or an enclosure composed of parts and joined together; or to make such things. (Artlex.com)  her works with Formica.  She comments about her choice of framing material, “I decided on Formica because it is  fabricatedIn general, to make; to create. Often more specifically, to construct or assemble something. (Artlex.com)  photographically, it echoes what is happening in the photographs and it adds another layer of  illusionA deceptive or misleading image or idea. (Artlex.com)  and artificiality.“ (Ewing, et al, 2001) Cohen wants the  frameSomething made to enclose a picture or a mirror; or an enclosure composed of parts and joined together; or to make such things. (Artlex.com)  to “resonate with the subject” (Ewing, et al, 2001) and through her framing she provides the only clues about her thoughts on the image she is framing. For Classroom (Hercules Bomber) “a photo of a Hercules ‘bomber’ mock-up was given a yellow frame because of it’s association with mustard gas,” she explains, “I think the resulting pieces are more complete as objects and the border between the picture and the world no longer so abrupt.” (Ewing, et al, 2001)

Angel Flare Decoys

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Cohen’s environments are described in the preface to No Man’s Land: The Photography of Lynne Cohen as, “…serious, sometimes (as in the ominous military installations) deadly serious environments.” (Theberge and Ewing, 2001) Could this be true?
  • Cohen says, “If people didn’t find the places I photograph a bit, shall we say, bizarre, I’d wonder about them. (Ewing, et al, 2001) Do you find Classroom (Hercules Bomber) bizarre?
  • Many of Cohen’s works conjure up ideas related to smell. What kinds of smells would you experience in the scene in Classroom (Hercules Bomber)?
  • Do you think there are secrets suggested in Classroom (Hercules Bomber)? Is there a sense of alienation?
  • Can you see any examples of Cohen’s work referencing art history?  (See the Related Links section to see more examples of her work.)  What are ready-mades and how do they fit into art history?
  • In the 1917 poem by Wilfred, Owen Dulce et Decorum Est, the poet does not glorify war. He states that, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” is a lie after describing what he saw happening in war. (It is a sweet and fitting thing [to die for one’s country] (Horace, Odes III.2.13) Do you agree with Owen or would you be willing to die for your country?
  • Cohen states in a 2007 interview, “What I’m looking for is something political or conceptual, something incongruous or pathetic. It's difficult to articulate precisely what I am drawn to apart from a certain sense of strangeness, incoherence, sadness or an asphyxiating order. I am drawn to things being not quite right and to how various sorts of flaws poke holes in our dreams and ideologies.”  (Hamkin, 2007) What interests you in your life and art-making?
Online Activity
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Compare and contrast the images below to the Cohen image.

Look at Cohen’s classroom in Classroom (Hercules Bomber) and compare and  contrastA large difference between two things. It is a technique often used to create a focal point.  it with these two other more classic images of classrooms, seen below.

Some things to consider as you compare/contrast these images are:

 

Studio Activity

Interiors exhibition

“Art critic and novelist John Berger wrote that while a photograph records what is seen, it always, by its very nature, refers to what is not seen. Lynne Cohen's photographs confirm this notion and make us reflect upon the environments in which we live and create for ourselves.” (Unknown author, cited from Collections Canada, 2008)

  • Reflect upon your own environment and take pictures of interiors you find interesting in your home and community.
  • Think about interiors and the kind of interior you would like to represent in an artwork.
  • Use a variety of materials and methods to describe ideas the artists represented in this theme may have about interiors.
  • Put out a call for submissions, or ask friends and fellow artists from other schools or communities to submit works, for an exhibition with ‘Interiors’ as the theme.
  • Have each artist you select for your exhibition write an artist statement.
  • Work collaboratively as a group to decide on the image or images that best represent the ideas presented in the show. Use this single image or several images on the invitation.
  • Mount the exhibition in your school or community and invite guests to the opening.

 

An ‘air of strangeness’

In an interview with Mona Hamkin, Cohen revealed, “Pretty much everything I've photographed has an air of strangeness. This is curious, because the  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter is quite banal – a living room, a classroom, a spa… The strangeness is partly due to the fact that the ordinary is often more menacing than the blatantly bizarre, which can be easily dismissed as impossible.” (Hamkin, 2007)

  • Create a dance or write a story or play about your photographs to describe what has happened or what will happen next.

 

The perfect classroom

The students who use the classroom in the Cohen photograph are working in a simulated plane/classroom in a hands-on learning environment. They are learning by doing before they are actually called upon to work in that setting. What would you envision as the perfect classroom for your  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  of learning and what you want to learn? Draw a picture or write a short description of the ‘perfect classroom.’
 

Sense of smell

Many of Cohen’s photographs evoke a sense of smell.  To look at some examples of her other work, go to her website.

  • Look at other art works and think about the smells that are evoked. Some examples on the ARTSask site are Victor Cicansky’s Root Cellar, Susan Shantz’ s Hibernaculum, Grant McConnell’s Errant Dogs, Doug Kirton’s Toxic pool Group III, Jana Sterbak’s Attitudes.
  • Make an artwork where the sense of smell is both activated and important to the overall impression of the work.

 

Make your own postcards or artist trading cards

Cohen’s works have a slick and posed look much like the photography seen on many travel postcards. Make your own postcards or artist trading cards using a  cameraIn photography, a tool for producing photographs, having a lightproof enclosure with an aperture and a shuttered lens through which the image of an object is focused and recorded on a photosensitive film or plate. In video, a device that receives the primary image on a light-sensitive cathode tube and transforms it into electrical impulses. (Artlex.com) Find out about 35-mm cameras at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film  or any other method such as mixed media, pen and ink,  printmakingA print is a shape or mark made from a block or plate or other object that is covered with wet colour (usually ink) and then pressed onto a flat surface, such as paper or textile. Most prints can be produced over and over again by re-inking the printing block or plate. Printmaking can be done in many ways, including using an engraved block or stone, transfer paper, or a film negative. The making of fine prints is generally included in the graphic arts, while the work of artists whose designs are made to satisfy the needs of more commercial clients are included in graphic design. (Artlex.com)  or paint.

Here are some interesting facts about artist trading cards:

  • Artist trading cards are individual masterpieces that are 2.5 x 3.5 inches in size.
  • There are groups of artists who gather regularly to make postcard-like artworks which they exchange with each other.
  • They can be made out of any available materials and can involve any imaginative methods.
  • While the artists are working on their trading cards they discuss ideas related to art and art-making.
  • When they are finished they exchange trading cards and receive feedback on their work.
  • It is a creative event where artists meet other artists, discuss issues and ideas and no money is exchanged.
  • For more information on artist trading cards go to:
References

Author unknown. ‘ Lynne Cohen.’  Celebrating Women’s Achievements – Women Artists in Canada.  Library and Archives Canada.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 7th, 2008 from:  http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/002026-507-e.html

Byrne, David.  Occupied Territory: Lynne Cohen (Foreward).  New York, New York:  Aperture, 1988.

Dyck, Sandra.  Artist Talk/Lynne Cohen.  Announcement.  Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 7th, 2008 from:  http://artengine.ca/pipermail/artlist/2006-March/002067.html

Ewing, William A., Lavoie, Vincent, Pauli, Lori, Thomas, Ann. 'Camouflage: An Interview with Lynne Cohen.' No Man’s Land: The Photography of Lynne Cohen, Thames and Hudson, London 2001

Findley, Kathleen.  ‘Lynne Cohen.’  Arts Magazine, April 1992.

Hakim, Mona.Mona.  Artists at Work: Lynne Cohen (Interview).  March 22, 2007

Lake, Margaret. ‘Lynne Cohen P.P.O.W.’ Art News. May 1992, p. 128

Leffingwell, Edward. ‘Lynne Cohen at P.P.O.W.’ Art In America. June 2000.

Mellor. David.  Occupied Territory: Lynne Cohen.  New York, New York:  Aperture, 1988.

Murray, Joan. Contemporary Photographers.  Farmington Hills, Michigan:  St. James Press. 1995.

Paul, Fredric, Jean-Pierre Criqui, Roman Tio Bellido, Johanne Lamoureux.  Lynne Cohen:  L’endroit du décor/Lost and Found.  Paris, France:  Hotel des Arts and Frac-Limousin, 1992.

Thomas, Ann. No Man’s Land: The Photography of Lynne Cohen.  Exhibition catalogue.  National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 2001.

Tousley, Nancy.  ‘Photographer Gets Behind the Scenes of Everyday Life.’  Calgary Herald, June 11, 1992.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning