Afterlives: Germaine Koh and Aron Louis Cohen



Nov 25 2017-Feb 2 2018

Or Gallery

Curated by Joni Low

By Adi Berardini

The exhibition Afterlives featuring work by Germaine Koh and Aron Louis Cohen critically encourages mindful thinking of our environmental waste and how our use of technology functions on a daily basis. Afterlives evokes the thought of the aftermath of our capitalist actions and buying into the technological system. What is the next life of the recycled television you just upgraded? When an object’s life is over how does it continue to manifest materially?

In Aron Louis Cohen’s piece Unmaking Time, Forward and Reverse, the spiral bound book of dura-clear prints placed on a shelf with archival gloves encourages users to discard the used gloves on the ground. With every turn of the page, the image becomes more obscured. Within the spiral bound book there are images of motherboards, chips and technological e-waste. The piece evokes the obscurity consumers experience of the environmental impacts of technological production and the build-up of e-waste in landfills as an ongoing issue.

Immediately, I think of the term transparency. Usually used in reference to policy, transparency can be thought of the openness and honesty of a company and their intentions. Moreover, it implies accountability. This piece is not only critical of a wasteful consumer mindset but the lack of transparency consumers experience in regards to socially and environmentally damaging practices within corporations and within the western economic landscape. 

Aron Louis Cohen’s work of a deconstructed television set exposes the unseen layers of a piece of modern technology we engage with but usually only think of the images on the screen. The layers include transparent acetate, fluorescent lights and the other components of the television set, including screws. With it’s clean and contemporary aesthetic, the work causes contemplation on how we rarely mindfully think about the technological components of a television and what their material impact can be on the environment.

Some works in the exhibition are precariously arranged, however, this sparks engagement, particularly in the centerpiece of the room where viewers are welcomed to write a postcard constructed from the recycled fabric of jerseys. The work transforms these old pieces of clothing as a means to write a message to a friend or loved one, providing a new life to these objects. The jerseys originally had names with destinations although they were most likely unethically produced overseas. By using the remnants they are attributed to many places. There is an arrangement of found plastics alongside that appear like decadent sweets, similar to cupcakes with pastel icing, melted into a new form. These both look at repurposing material that may have ended up discarded or in a landfill. They have been attributed worth and a new meaning.

In Koh’s pieces on the far wall, scrap automobile tires are hung with tension and animal attributes can be made from the presentation. The scrap tires almost appear as a midnight wing of a raven or in the case of the farthest one down, a curled elephant tusk. The association evokes the sense of roadkill on a highway and the effect that our hands often cause in creating man-made interventions in nature.

One of the highlights of Afterlives is the communication and relationships sparked through Germaine Koh’s telephone piece. The audience is invited to pick up the telephone receiver where they can call a number that consented to be randomly called throughout the duration of the exhibition. I participated in this piece a couple times and when I went to the opening night of Afterlives at the Or Gallery, I actually phoned Germaine Koh. Koh went on to explain adamantly that, “It never calls the same person twice.”

The strength of the piece is due to Koh’s technological programming prowess. This work strings strangers together in a poetic way and creates the experience of a new connection. When I called the second time, I spoke with a woman whose nickname was Flower and learned that we had a couple things in common. She is Koh’s friend from roller derby. It’s strange practice to randomly call strangers without having it be a prank phone call or soliciting. Koh challenges how although technology is designed to bring us together, it feels as if it so often isolates and alienate us.

The strength of this exhibition is the consideration of how our actions resonate. How do they continue on after we’ve made them? Are they able to be transformed? Whether our actions affect other people or the environment, there’s power behind them. Whether it’s contributing to the capitalism that creates mass e-waste or simply calling up an old friend, actions large or small create changes that build up inevitably over time. We throw out the bag of waste every week without considering the landfill. Actions have a ripple effect and sometimes it’s impossible to trace how loud they ring. Afterlives shows that there’s power in considering how our actions resonate after we’ve made them.


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