Please join us at The Change You Want To See Gallery as filmmaker Jem Cohen screens excerpts from Chain (2004), Lost Book Found (1996), and selected shorts. Q & A to follow.
“The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject.” –Walter Benjamin
Filmmaker Jem Cohen doesn’t need to smack you over the head with speeches or movie stars or coincidence-driven scenarios to make his point. Instead, he draws it out in the artifacts, detritus, and details of the city. On the one hand he presents the fragments of a periphery that normally go unseen. But rather than bringing a lost landscape into new focus, Cohen manages to bring it into an indistinguishable blur. It is in this shift from the particular to the universal that we can locate a radical politics.
In Chain (2004), malls, theme parks, hotels, and corporate centers worldwide are joined into one monolithic ‘superlandscape’. One city blends into the next; it is increasingly hard to tell where you are. In Lost Book Found (1996) the quotidian remnants of commerce are explored through extreme close-ups. Debris, leaflets, coins and advertisements of the cityscape are revealed. Cohen uses film, and in particular super 8, as a tool to bring his subjects into view while at the same time distancing them from us.
Cohen’s works have a romantic quality that connect contemporary viewers to a lost era of home movies. It is through this reference to a familiar form that he is able to go beyond the personal, to point to a more provocative politics. His characters wander through the soulless landscape of capitalism, to haunting and remarkable effect. But perhaps their alienation reveals a possibility. Where the market aims to sell us individuality, maybe it is through a generalized dislocation that we can become connected to each other.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER
Jem Cohen is a New York-based filmmaker who mixes documentary, narrative, and experimental genres, often building from his own ongoing archive of street footage, portraits and sound. He often works with musicians, including R.E.M., Patti Smith, the EX, Terry Riley, Elliott Smith, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Vic Chesnutt, Cat Power, Jonathan Richman, Blonde Redhead, and the Orpheus Orchestra with Gil Shaham. His films have screened at festivals including Berlin, Rotterdam and Vancouver, and have won prizes at Locarno, Festival Dei Popoli and the Full Frame Documentary Festival, among others. His feature, Chain, won a 2005 Independent Spirit Award. His work has been broadcast on PBS, ZDF/ARTE, the BBC, and the Sundance Channel, and is in the collections of the New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and the Screen Gallery at Federation Square (Melbourne).
January 28, 2008