Rooms of Her Own: The Comfortable Strangeness of Lynne Cohen’s Photographs

Spa, 1999, gelatin silver print, edition of 5, 44.75 x 54.75.”

The critical potential of Cohen’s work lies in its characteristics of ambiguity and opacity, or at least, these are what provide the real dynamic for her photographs, propelling her descent into what critics have referred to as “strangeness.” This capacity is a critical one because it is infinitely open-ended, cannot be cashed out in terms of some social, political or aesthetic agenda but is simply a figure of resistance itself. Her ostensible subject, the room, has the dimension of what we call home and the body we call self. Home is the securing of a terrain, the marking off of spaces, and this is a set-up that places the familiar over the strange, inside from outside, and unity over diversity. As mentioned above, responses to Cohen’s photography have often identified her attempts to disrupt this, using terms such as strange, weird or sinister. Pursued further, these helpful observations deliver us to an ultimate question. That is, what is the uncanny thing? Could it be the gap, the other that Modernism has identified with the medium?

Untitled, 2011, C-print, edition of 3, 76.5 x 91.25”. Courtesy of Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto; Art 45, Montreal; and the artist.

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Volume 30, Number 3: Photography

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #119, published September 2011.

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