Rachel Leah Cohn Mem

Rachel Leah Cohn Mem

Apr 5 – Jun 23

To walk through the installation, Mem, is to enter a myth. A kaleidoscope of the divine feminine, there are fountains of light centering the space on the painting of Miriam– one of the seven major prophetesses of Israel. Miriam carried a rock from which flowed an abundant amount of water during the 40 years Jewish people searched for a place to live in the desert. Access to this water made survival of her people possible. Smaller paintings surround her, as well as ritual objects such as papercuts and amulets.The title of Cohn’s show, Mem, is a Hebrew letter that has multiple significant meanings in the work. “I recently took a class about the complexity, flexibility, and magic within a single Hebrew letter. When searching for a title, this one letter encapsulates many ideas I have considered while working in the studio. The shape can be seen as a wave and stands for the word for water, mayim,’ and Miriam and mikveh, a ritual bath used for transformation,” Cohn said. “Mem is related to feminine energy, motherhood, and the womb, symbolizing protection, safety, and giving to others.

“The letter also represents the number 40, a mystical number that speaks to the cyclic nature of time, moving from the past to the future. It is the time necessary for something to ripen and come to fruition, which I relate to both the creative process and this moment for all of us, which felt like an unmoored time of wandering and isolation, but also rebuilding. For me, it is an optimistic title, a link between the world we see and the hidden alternatives. It is a hope for connection and transformation for the world, seen through the lens of my experiences and the character of Miriam.

”The exhibit is also a reflection of these experiences living life and traveling around the world to practice art as someone with Jewish heritage. Cohn has led an extraordinary life as an artist traveling, teaching, living and learning in places like Qatar, Denmark, China, and others.“The show is really about me thinking through my cultural heritage and my connection to Judaism, which is something that has always been a part of my life, but I think has been increasingly for-fronted by myself, but also by others particularly while living in Qatar, and some of the experiences that I had there that are both positive and negative,” said Cohn, now based in Indianapolis. “It felt impossible for me to talk about my own culture with my students. Even though expressing my heritage wasn’t always something that was super important to me, I think the experience of working with them on representing their culture — and feeling like I needed to hide my own — made me think more about the valuing of sharing my experiences more directly.”

Cohn utilizes several different 2-D and 3-D artforms to create the exhibit, although her background is originally in painting. The forms include — but are not limited to — sculpture, painting and light manipulation. These artforms express a myriad of connecting themes and ideas within the exhibition.“I have been researching the traditional craft of papercutting and am pulling out the shapes and symbols that I’m interested in and then converting them into these laser-cut objects that I’m painting on top of,” said Cohn, who also works as the Foundations Coordinator and an Assistant Professor in Ball State University’s School of Art. “And then that’s within the idea of a fountain — which is ultimately the form of this project — that has to do with Miriam from the Torah and the well, bringing water out of the desert to survive.

”The water of this fountain is external, but also internal. Cohn enjoys finding ways to use the materials she has at-hand to make works of art, channeling inner resilience from her ancestors. And, sometimes being resourceful means finding new peers to collaborate with, wherever she is. Some of her notable works include Hot Pot Sauna Cart (2016) which was made for the Bi-City Biennale for Urbanism and Architecture in Shenzhen, China; Lantern (Abu Nakhla Mirage) (2017), made in the desert in Qatar as an experimentation with light and location; and The Thunder, Perfect Mind (2021), an exploration of light and themes in Judaism. Cohn said although she has an eclectic-to-the-eye portfolio, all of her works have connections to her upcoming exhibit.

“I think my practice — and adapting to what is there — has been a theme of my life,” Cohn said. “When I look at my work over time, I’m finding different ways to talk about the same things.”Tube Factory artspace Chief Curator Shauta Marsh met Cohn when she was a juror at Ball State in 2019. Marsh had traveled to Qatar with Tube Factory’s Mari Evans exhibit. And Cohn and Marsh talked about the otherness they’d each experienced in both the Middle East and the Midwest.“I don’t have a strong sense of identity. So often I work with artists who do,” says Marsh. “Their work processes and relates stories tied to identity that are in jeopardy of being lost. My style as a curator is not an expert but an explorer. The exhibits at Tube Factory are an exploration with both the artist and the audience. I asked Cohn to use her work to explore her identity.”

As a multi-racial curator, Marsh’s practice has centered around identity and exploration of the meaning of culture. And Cohn’s exhibition continues this path.“After thousands of years — humans are still so threatened by each other’s appearance, by what each other speaks and believes,” says Marsh. “But we know that people are more open to art than each other. My hope is that people will see the work and the story of it — and hopefully we can all work on feeling less othered, less fearful of each other.”

This exhibition is made possible thanks to the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Ruth Arts, Ball State University’s Aspire Program, Efroymson Family Fund, Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Arts Council of Indianapolis and City of Indianapolis, and the Indiana Arts Commission.

About Tube Factory  Tube Factory is a 12,000 square foot museum space curated based upon the themes of community, place, memory and mythology. They commission local, regional, national and international contemporary visual and musical artists, borrow artifact-based exhibits and create community-sourced exhibits. A previously vacant former manufacturing building, it is now a thoughtfully renovated home base for non-profit art organization Big Car Collaborative’s work as well as partnership-based community meetings and cultural events.

For more about Cohn  Check out her website at rachelleahcohn.com and on Instagram @rachelleahc

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