Barnett Cohen is a visual artist who shapeshifts between poet, performance maker, and painter. Cohen writes text-based scores for performance that document and synthesise our pixelated present of ruined meaning, anxious forces, neurotic tendencies, and looping violence. The scores contain their writing and a wide variety of found language that Cohen accumulates from personal conversations, what they read, overhear, or encounter online–all of which are footnoted. Based on the scores, Cohen’s performances articulate a kaleidoscopic queer surrealism through constellations of futuristic thought forms, bodily shapes, and calls to subversive action. The performances are combinations of speech and choreographed movement that are hilariously absurd, deeply intuitive, and highly political.
Cohen has presented work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, JOAN, LAXART, 356 Mission, Human Resources, The Box, and REDCAT (Los Angeles), The International Center of Photography, JDJ, International Objects, The Exponential Festival, The Center For Performance Research (New York), City Limits (Oakland), The Onassis Foundation (Athens), Autarkia (Vilnius). In 2021, Open Space/SFMOMA published a collection of their poems alongside those of artist and collaborator Simone Forti.
They have been in-residence at Skowhegan, MacDowell, NARS (US) and Rupert (LT.) Cohen is a recent grant recipient from The Foundation For Contemporary Arts, and was nominated for the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant in 2020.
In 2017, Cohen founded the Mutual Aid Immigration Network (MAIN), a trilingual free assistance hotline for people detained in immigration detention centers across the United States. MAIN connects people who call with bond funds and legal services that can accelerate their freedom from incarceration.
Image: from Barnett Cohen’s personal archive