The malls, highways, and skyline of New York form the backdrop to an organic world: the Mill Creek Marsh, in the Meadowlands of Secaucus, New Jersey. Isolated amid a sea of human-made structures, the landscape is quiet and deserted.
Hackensack Dreaming, Nancy Cohen’s large-scale installation of handmade paper, glass, and monofilament, is a document of the Mill Creek Marsh’s soul. Shaped by acts of nature and human decision-making, the marsh is a scene of cedar stumps—the trees felled long ago—and refuse of all kinds. But the stumps, poking up through the icy waters in the winter, are also home to birds and sprouting plants each spring.
In Cohen’s installation, the audience is encourage to, simultaneously, move through the scene, discover connections, and think of the made and found worlds—of nature, the artist’s studio, and the gallery.
At the core of my work is the intense contradiction between fragility and strength, both in our personal lives and in the broader environment. One body of recent work focuses on the latter and comprises a series of studies of waterways and natural systems realized in collaboration with scientists and environmentalists. Another shifts perspective from the vulnerability and tenacity of nature to that of the individual navigating a perilous world. My working methods merge material and formal concerns with content to explore the interplay of these ideas. I counterpose skin and structure, exploit extreme imbalances in weight, incorporate light into physical constructions. All of this allows me to make literal the delicate, ephemeral balance of my subjects. And even when these are environmental, there is an implication of the personal. The body is always implied—its touch and tenderness, its frailty and endurance. In this work, as in my own life, elements hang in the balance, each one necessary, tenuous and connected.
Thank you to Midori Yoshimoto, Professor of Art History, New Jersey City University and to the Schuykill Center for Environmental Education.