Places are strange: Lynne Cohen at the Design Exchange

Last weekend we saw Nothing is Hidden, an exhibition of photographs by Lynne Cohen, who is the 2011 recipient of the first annual Scotiabank Photography Award. Since the 1970s, Cohen has created a remarkably cohesive body of work exploring the strange, often funny, and sometimes disturbing emotional and socio-political terrain that lies just beneath the naugahyde surface of many semi-public and institutional interiors. Entirely photographed from mid-distance with minimal intervention, Cohen’s seemingly banal observation rooms, meeting halls, classrooms, sports clubs, and military facilities (these being just five examples of the 20–30 categories she has chosen to explore) evoke an intangible and unsettling sense of presence even as they document a physical state of emptiness and conspicuous absence.

As a broad overview of Cohen’s work to date, Nothing is Hidden juxtaposes images from a wide variety of places designed (mostly by non-designers, much to our visual delight) for the enactment of rituals of learning and leisure, expectation and experimentation, and conflict and congregation, among others. In pursuing a typological approach to her chosen subjects over the course of her thirty-year career, Cohen has developed a highly focused practice identifying and distilling such hybrid, liminal, or parallel spaces into singular images which belie her ostensibly neutral framing in order to reveal the absurd, uncanny, and paradoxical nature of these largely unexamined yet carefully constructed sites for social interaction and control.

Having returned time and again to particular types of places, Cohen catalogues a range of examples within such diverse categories as living rooms, men’s clubs, laboratories, and spas. And inevitably, from these larger groupings, sub-categories begin to emerge—typologies within typologies which reveal ever finer strands of human desire and intention. While not strictly executed in series, these variations on certain chosen themes beg to be seen in relationship with each other and for this post we’ve made one such selection of images: a series of odd little spaces wherein the line separating people from furniture becomes strangely blurred, sometimes disappearing altogether.

Nothing is Hidden is a primary exhibition of the CONTACT Photography Festival and is on view at the Design Exchange through June 30th. This and other shows featuring Lynne Cohen’s work, along with $50,000 and a publishing deal, comprise the Scotiabank Photography Award given to Cohen last year. The 2012 recipient of the award is Arnaud Maggs.

Read more about the Scotiabank Photography Award on their website

See more information on Nothing is Hidden at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival website
Attend an exhibition walk-through at the Design Exchange on June 26th with Olga Korper, director of Cohen’s Toronto gallery

Read this illuminating interview of Lynne Cohen by Mona Hakim for Afterall
Another excellent interview by Bryne McLaughlin for Canadian Art

See more images and information on Lynne Cohen’s website

This article was revised on May 31 to provide correct information on the Scotiabank Photography Award. Thanks to Stephen Weir of the SPA for the clarification.

top: Lynne Cohen, Nothing is Hidden, exhibition view, photo by Shani K Parsons
all other photographs by Lynne Cohen 

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