Artist's Project: Mirit Cohen
Brochure of Mirit Cohen's Retrospective at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Born in Uzbekistan, Mirit Cohen (1945-1990) immigrated to Israel with her family and settled in a refugee camp. After achieving early recognition as an emerging artist, Cohen moved to New York in 1975 to further pursue her work in drawing, sculpture, and performance. In a 1998 exhibition catalogue from the Ulmer Museum, critic Donald Kuspit writes that the central theme in Cohen’s oeuvre is the desire to make whole an identity that is continuously falling apart. Kuspit asks, “Where does Cohen’s disintegration – her pathos – come from? I think it is a way of registering her Jewishness…I submit that her drawings and sculptures are abstracted childhood memories from a time when she lived in fear and uncertainty and had little to eat – even when her family moved to Israel…” (Reinhardt, 18).
Broken Vessels, Mirit Cohen.
Shards of broken glass connected with copper wire
In New York, Cohen studied with educators from Chabad Lubavitch but maintained a secular Jewish identity. Her explorations into Hasidism may have inspired a series of installations entitled Broken Vessels. The work consists of glass shards and finely threaded copper wire. According to Lurianic Kabbalah when God created the world, a ray of light burst from a vacuum. God channeled the light via vessels. Some vessels shattered but sparks of light fell along with the broken shards. Thus, it is humanity’s task to restore shards of broken vessels that contain divine sparks of light in order to hasten the coming of the Messiah. Israeli critic Gil Goldfine described her drawings and objects as “rich in Kabbalistic metaphor, mysterious in their totality.”
Woman with Copper Snakes, Performance by Mirit Cohen. New York, 1982.
In a performance entitled Woman with Copper Snakes (1982), Cohen carried electrical cable twisted into a large ball through the gallery districts of Soho and 57th Street. Both copper and snakes are symbolic of healing and miracles. Indeed, the Hebrew words for copper (nechoshet) and snake (nachash) share the same root. In a letter to The Jewish Museum dated November 22, 1988, Cohen explains that her performance was intended “to enhance strength in a woman’s vulnerability.” Cohen’s battle with chronic depression ultimately led to her suicide in 1990. She bought a bouquet of flowers, climbed to the roof of a building, and jumped to her death.
Reinhardt, Brigitte, ed. Mirit Cohen: Broken Vessels. Ulm: Ulmer Museum, 1998.
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