Susan Cohn
1 protest / 1 object

1 protest / 1 object
, 2004
Installation view
Click to enlarge

This exhibition co-incides with the 2004 Biennale of Sydney

1 protest / 1 object is composed of two works – I protest and I object. From 1 to I, a singular position is reiterated – 1 as I and I as 1. This singularity though is composed of many; 2232 badges form the three parts of I protest; and 1230 in the two parts of I object. Like protests, these works are events composed of hundreds of individuals gathered together for one reason. Like slogans, single voices form a choir where individual inflections resonate in the overall timbre.

A dynamic between the singular and the mass is constant in Susan Cohn’s work. From the unique one-off piece of jewellery made specifically for someone to production work of multiples, relations between the individual and the collective are actively engaged with in the production of meaning and identity. In exhibitions, Cohn works with numbers, arrangements and groupings where tensions between one and many inform both the overall installation and the individual objects. In 1 protest / 1 object, this is worked through the titles from 1 to I, two bodies of work composed of panels upon which are hundreds of badges. Each badge is a product of its location in a larger picture and composes a whole like a pixel. Yet it is also singular – its image unique to itself and poignant in its potential as a carrier of meaning. This dynamic tension is accentuated by the fact that badges have an implicit sense of dispersion – each will find its way onto a body, leaving the whole while still expressing it.

In I protest, Cohn extends on ideas and concerns expressed in Love No War – both the badges and location are similar, however here the ‘I’ is introduced. In the previous piece, the photograph was unaltered – a serendipitous find. Here, Cohn’s hand is present in the graffiti questions and her focus made clear in the addition of newspaper photographs and iconic images. She continues to work these ideas because war continues. The subject of each of the panels reiterates tensions between singular and collective. The same torso is manifested in different states of display; photographs pose individuals – woman / mother and sons / child – involved in the collective event of war; Uncle Sam’s finger points out ‘We need you’, and graffiti calls for answers to identify individuals and questions what has led to the transformation of individuals from women and children to suicide bombers. These are heart-felt – ‘I protest’ – an intensity so singular yet felt by many.

Opposite, a slogan, a cry, an objection, a statement – I object ‘craft is a hand job’. As with I protest, it is composed of individually made badges, which in turn have mass-produced and hand made components. In each panel, the slogan composes the individual badges and is composed by them. One reads with the slogan writ large and each badge becomes unique and singular due to its location in the overall composition. The other is composed of hundreds of badges with the same slogan on each and therefore repeated hundreds of times to produce the overall panel. This produces a pattern where the irregularity of each hand-made badge is accentuated. The difference between them highlights again the tension between individual and collective, singular and mass, I and we in the making of identities.

The emphasis on craft here highlights aspects of making – the making of things, of installations, of situations, of identities. ‘Make love, not war’. The juxtaposition between I protest and I object, between a protest and an objection composed of hundreds of badges is an invitation, indeed an incitation, from ‘I’ to you, from 1 to many to share in this making.

Suzie Attiwill 2004