How to See in the Dark
We know it: 20 months of pandemic, of anxiety, loss, of isolation has been transformative. As Keeyanga-Yamahtta Taylor put it, “life has been suddenly and dramatically upended, and, when things are turned upside down, the bottom is brought to the surface and exposed to the light.” Much has been brought to the light this year: our relationships to each other, to ourselves, to our communities, to our work. Maybe especially our relationships to our work.
Genevieve Cohn’s last solo show, “The Beauty of the Burden,” featured wide swaths of blue and yellow, orange and purple. In those paintings, women worked together – building external environments to match their internal ones. In Cohn’s own words, those paintings were “held together by women who navigate, fix, and pull together the landscape that surrounds them; they pull their worlds together with string and mold mountains with their bare hands.” It was beautiful, as has been the oft overlooked work of women. But the light in Cohn’s new work (created in late 2020 and 2021), is different. The pacing is different. How to See in the Dark represents a progressive evolution. Though still rich in blues, greens, awash in purple, these are no longer paintings of women at work. These women have put down their tools. They have laid down their heads.
In February 2020, The New York Times Magazine published a “Future of Work” edition. The issue featured an article profiling the Marxist feminist Sylvia Frederici, who, since the early seventies – when she spearheaded the Wages for Housework movement -, has pointed to the unpaid domestic labor of women. “Women’s work” has historically been seen as the work of caring, of tending, of
uniting (“They say it is love, we say it is unwaged work” was an early rallying cry of the movement). “How might this year have looked different” the article’s author, Jordan Kinser asks, “had the work we do to care for one another, ourselves and the world around us been valued at a premium? How would the future look different if, as Federici suggests, “we refuse to base our life and our reproduction on the suffering of others,” if “we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them”?
Like the women in Cohn’s new paintings, many of us spent hours in the last year and a half in a dark room with one ear pressed to a wall, listening. As our own worlds became more isolated, we got to know our neighbors through the sounds they made in the morning, in the evening. For some of us, something strange happened. Spending less time in motion, more time with ourselves, we became more connected to the people in our buildings, on our block, in our city. It is counter-intuitive but evident, this year especially: when we slow down, we are more able to let our bodies acclimate to their space. We are more able to radically, honestly, hear one another – to empathize.
How to See in the Dark is an exercise in empathy. Walking into this room full of women in close up is like entering a room full of light after a long trek through a touch tunnel. These women – alone and in endless combinations – are protesting. They are also developing new and greater senses by which to relate.
About Genevieve Cohn
Genevieve Cohn grew up in rural Vermont and received her MFA in Painting from Indiana University. She has attended residencies at The Fiore Art Center, The Vermont Studio Center, The Ragdale Foundation, and AiRGentum and is the winning recipient of the Hopper Prize.
Her work has been featured in New American Paintings, Create Magazine, Art Maze Magazine, and she has exhibited work in New York, Boston, Chicago and Seville, Spain. She is currently living and working in Boston, MA.