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Steffanie Ling
Aleesa Cohene at Western Front
June 07, 2018

I Don’t Get It includes an array of olfactory sculptures, inkjet prints, a beach towel, a multi-channel sound work that transmits from motorcycle side view mirrors, and an edition of embroidered sweatshirts. But the centrepiece of Aleesa Cohene’s exhibition at Western Front is the two-channel video Woah (1 and 2). Both channels show scenes of women from Hollywood movies as they meander interiors, answer phones and doors, and unload their vehicles. The screen on the left shows black women; the screen on the right, white women. Their actions are roughly synced in the sense that both women on screen are conducting approximately the same activity. This gives the impression of parallel universes. The sound is arranged with two mono-channels – the action from the left video is heard from the left speaker and vice versa – to frame the work as one divided space.

Aleesa Cohene, Whoa (Pineapple Nails), 2017, red cedar, acrylic nails, acrylic paint, scent

Requisite to editing this together would include watching all the films, selecting the right frames, and rewatching them in the editing process. Cohene was thus subject to hours of media portraying women conducting mundane acts, engaging in melodrama (on the right), and sublimated emotion (on the left), before dealing with the task of making distinct the actors’ race and then structurally recomposing the footage. This gesture of pulling-apart followed by critical reassembly resonates as a labour of confronting the dominant and unequitable images of our time.

At one point in the video there is an interruption to the flow of Hollywood pacing. On the left screen, we are shown a woman listening to a voicemail. She hears the voice of Christina Knight reading from her text Black Joy in the Hour of Chaos: ”We remake the world each day in tiny, often forgettable actions. It might seem, in this schema, that there is no outside to ideology, no way to alter a system that is always reproducing itself through our quiet consent.”

Aleesa Cohene, Whoa (Need a Towel?), 2017, inkjet print, beach towel

Initiated with a “declarative naivety,” the exhibition offers tricks, prompts, logics, and dialogue through the images and works. Woah (Diary of a Young Girl) gathers a paperback copy of the titular book, a hard drive storing all the unused scenes including men from the source films for Woah (1 and 2), and an invitation to Trinidadian filmmaker Michèle Pearson Clarke to collaborate on a future project using the aforementioned heap (I’m certain it’s a heap) of excised footage. For Woah (Need a Towel?), a still of a pineapple getting sliced was reproduced on a beach towel. The pineapple is also a referent for the scented sculpture Woah (Pineapple Nails). The formal choices behind the singling out of these particular moments that appear in Woah (1 and 2) for sculptural translation are not explicit, but indicate some visual prompts and tricks given in lieu of a political answer to proceeding from the aforesaid declarative naivety.

In the exhibition’s literature, it states that “white people have a lot to answer for in the acceptance and perpetuation of the reification of ourselves as a norm.” The other side of quiet consent is the position the artist and co-curators, all white women, are striving to reckon with. The title of each work prefaced by the onomatopoeic “woah” expresses a need for momentum (power) to be halted, but beyond the contemplative pit stop of interfacing with art, what remains is the intent to engage with the uneasy confrontation of the racialized power structures white women are all implicated in. That has yet to be materialized, and is therefore yet to be halted.

Aleesa Cohene: I Don’t Get It continues until July 27.
Western Front:
The gallery is accessible.

Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.



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