An ambitious vivid new anti-Capitalist, Holocaust themed installation by the young controversial London born Jewish artist Leo Cohen hits the rooftop of Central Saint Martins: Byam Shaw School of Art this year from June 28th – July 5th. The two-part installation will feature six pools of liquid, three of which speak of Nazism, nature and remembrance; blue cornflowers, red and white poppies each emerge from their separate contained white pools of water and rainbow refracted motor oil. Opposite, the other three pools appear ominous, black and oily with piled gaunt ‘Schiele-esque’ bodies in one, a shower over the other and in the last a sunken US Standard Oil drum.
Cohen became both outraged and inspired when he uncovered that US Standard Oil had traded oil and shipped Zyklon B, (a chemical used to gas Jews, gay people and gypsies in the concentration camps), to the Nazi company IG Farben up until 1944, one year before WWII ended, and was potentially responsible for funding the Nazis for the sake of capital profit and was a puppeteer for war games. The installation is controversial, pushing the senses and emotions of prospective viewers. Cohen explores themes of ‘otherness’ in relation to Nazi and Vichy anti-Semitic propaganda, crafting his starved and extremely shocking bodies out of cardboard, plastic and tape, explaining “I wanted to make them look unconventional and alien, different, other, so the viewer becomes disturbed. The materials chosen are low class and found object, which are non-elitist, gradually becoming acceptable in some art circles yet, on a whole, still regarded as a kind of “unter”-Art by the mainstream culture of bourgeois art afficionados. The struggle for acceptance is symbolic of the struggles Jews have had in gaining acceptance of their own identity by the wider society.”
Cohen de-territorializes the boundaries between historical and contemporary, Nazism to oil-barons, exhuming disturbing themes from his own cultural heritage to reflect upon the death of life and nature at the hands of oil and those who control it; uncannily a topical issue in view of the destructive oil spill currently affecting the shores of Louisiana in America. Symbolically, red, white and blue flowers collectively are the colours of the American flag and the Union Jack. Individually, the red poppy links to Remembrance Day, whilst the wild white poppy, introduced in 1933, is a symbol of peace that represents looking forward, not back on the bloodshed. The national flower of Germany, the blue Cornflower, originally symbolic of blue-eyed Aryanism, links the piece to the Nazi belief that they were acting in accordance with nature and Darwinism, adopting Nietzsche’s ideology; Dionysus being the ecstasy “arising from the innermost depth of man, indeed of Nature, on the annihilation of the principle of individuation”. Simply put, the destruction of individuality would bring a Dionysian ecstasy of total oneness; all boundaries would become dissolved. Similar trends of thought already dated back to the enlightenment and later influenced utopian socialism. Although Cohen would passionately agree with the concept of unity of all peoples, with equal rights and responsibilities, being Jewish, he also feels at war with any philosophy which attempts to erode culture and ethnicity, which could be perceived as individual differences.
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