Stepping through the black paper curtain of Deville Cohen’s exhibit at the USF Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), visitors enter a world where conventional ideas about the relationship between humans and their environments are challenged.
Cohen’s video installation, “Grayscale (A Video in Three Acts),” is part of CAM’s new exhibition “Stagecraft,” which also features work by Brian Bress, Kate Gilmore and Mary Reid Kelley. The exhibition opened Friday and runs through Sept. 10.
Based in Brooklyn, Cohen combines elements of cinematography, sculpture, collage, print and theater in his video installations.
“Mediation is really important to me,” Cohen said. “The camera is a stage, and I’m using the collage and sculptural elements to combine images in the frame.”
“Grayscale” was shot over the period of a year in three different locations. Influenced by the theatrical elements of the desert at night, Cohen filmed Act One in Israel – his birthplace.
Act Two was shot in a soundstage during his time at Bard College in New York, and Act Three was filmed in a Brooklyn studio.
The video is projected on a screen that can only be reached by passing through a curtain made of three layers of heavy, floor-length construction paper strips. The area inside the curtain, containing only the screen and a circular carpet in the center, is entirely dark.
Eric Jonas, who received a B.A. in studio art from USF in 2010, said he helped Cohen construct the curtain and set up the exhibit.
“(Cohen) wanted to set up a different space from the rest of the museum,” he said. “Once you are inside the piece, you can’t really see your way out. You almost feel trapped or separated from the rest of the museum.”
Having lived in Berlin and New York, Cohen said he became interested in human behavior in relation to environment and how individuals interact with their surroundings. “Grayscale” features men covering their faces with large, 2-D Xeroxed images of everyday objects such as cars, pianos and paper clips. Cohen’s imagery juxtaposes the real and the represented – 2-D and 3-D objects.
“It’s not that I’m removing the faces from the people,” Cohen said. “The Xeroxed paper itself becomes empowered because the paper carries the image and the image is the representation. It’s about making the objects and images the characters by giving them legs and arms and activating them.”
In addition to the imagery featured in the piece, Cohen also had to consider cinematography and production techniques. Cohen said “Grayscale” references work by surrealist filmmaker David Lynch, who commonly features a curtain in his work.
“The curtain represents separations between conscious and unconscious,” he said.
For Cohen, working with sculpture and collages lends itself to photography and video. In his video installations, the sculptures become the props and the collages become the images.
Joan Molitor, a CAM visitor and photographer from Chicago, said “Grayscale” could easily translate to still photos.
“While watching it, there were definite times when I thought I could capture an image and frame it, and it would be a great black and white photo,” she said.
Two years after beginning the project, Cohen still has “Grayscale” on the brain. The piece he’s working on is a continuation of the installation.
Ultimately, Cohen said he created “Grayscale” as a commentary on the human condition.
“It’s about human experiences through relationship to environment, objects and other humans,” Cohen said. “It’s ideas, it’s feelings, it’s experiences.”
“Stagecraft” remains open throughout the semester and into the fall, with a reception featuring the artists Aug. 26. For more information on the exhibition, call CAM at 813-974-4133 or visit ira.usf.edu.