Shower Singing, Without the Water: Why I Love Karaoke

microphone-laying-wooden-stool-under-spotlight-23504944Sunday morning,  I was reading an interview with New Yorker cartoon editor  Bob Mankoff in today’s New York Times Magazine. When asked whether or not an artist will redo an unsatisfactory cartoon submission,  he responded, “I often say the difference between an amateur and a professional is that an amateur really likes everything they do.”

And I found myself thinking, “What would be so bad about that?”

Not that I am knocking the rigor and discipline that lead to greatness. But everyone needs a place in their life where they can be an amateur. Eddie Cantor once said, “It takes twenty years to become an overnight success.” We spend most of our time seeking to achieve and to earn recognition in most areas of our lives. How many of us can honestly say we really like everything we do?

This struck  me with particular poignance the morning after I’d made my debut at Karaoke night at the Boom Box, the Dean Hotel‘s cozy, subterranean club in Providence. Unusually cozy. So cozy that even sans alcohol,  I found myself singing my heart (and lungs) out, accompanying myself with fist pumps as well as my hands raised in peace signs to accentuate relevant lyrics.  My playlist ran the gamut from Anna Nalick’s sultry  Breathe (2 a.m.)  to Alanis Morissette’s irreverent  Hand in my Pocket.  By the time I had everyone on their feet singing a boisterous Let It Go  from the movie Frozen, I was lost in the moment. My family did not recognize me, and my new club-pals cheered that I “rocked.”

The crowd quieted when someone chose to sing Bob Dylan’s  Hurricane.  Although Dylan’s anti-racist protest song was released in 1975, his gripping lyrics chronicling the imprisonment of Rubin Carter resonate eerily with issues of today, bringing the Boombox back to reality, for a moment.

Getting over yourself, singing with abandon, sharing the evening getting hoarse with like-minded strangers may not seem professional. In fact it will certainly offend the sensibilities of those with trained voices. But that’s exactly what is so wonderful about Karaoke and the brief sense of communal joy and relief it affords.

Besides, the cold never bothered me anyway.

 

 

It Was Providence

Parallel Lines Can Meet

Parallel lines can meet.

It was providence that we met and happily married in August 1992. Especially because we hadn’t when we’d attended college in that very city across the street from each other (me RISD, him Brown) years before. Other than a few concerts on the Green we’d both attended, and close proximity, albeit on opposite sides of a wall where he was the newspaper editor and I watched classic films, our paths did not cross.

We went to Providence, Rhode Island for our honeymoon, anniversaries and for family vacations over the years, watching the city undergo a wonderful renaissance. Not only did we enjoy the world-class art, music, and restaurants, but the smaller scale, sense of community, and kinder, gentler way of life appealed to us as well. And of course, a place named The Ocean State has easy access to my favorite element and un-crowded beaches.

So it seems fitting, just in time for our anniversary yesterday, that my husband and I relocated, our careers and our belongings, from Manhattan to Providence.

It was providence that we move here, like two fish out of water coming home.

Signage of the Times

Signage

Signage 1

New York is a tough town. It’s hard enough to get by in life, but in our city, the competition is staggering. The only way to set oneself apart from the crowd, is with savvy brand management.

I’ve seem Jimmy every day for years at his same spot near the subway entrance. Lately, I noticed he looked more dapper than usual. In place of plaintive scribble on crumbled cardboard, the likes of which can be seen on every block,  Jimmy was holding a snazzy new sign. It caught my eye, as any good marketing piece must, due to the pop of white trim bordering neatly cut carboard bearing his simple message (clearly created by the hand of a professional calligrapher).  What drew me closer was the clever detail of a custom-cut corner making it possible for Jimmy to hold his sign and his cane simultaneously.  I said hello, as usual, but lingered, intrigued by this ingenuity of design. As I contributed to his wallet before taking his photo, we chatted about his spanking new sign which, in fact, was created by a “graphic designer friend.” With a twinkle in his eye, Jimmy told me his birthday was the next day, and he planned to attach a ballon to the sign. I bet it will be good for business.

Heschel, King and You, 2015: An Invitation to “Be There”

Heschel King You WorksheetTo conclude my consultancy as the 2014-15 Eduardo Rauch Artist-in-Residence at the Heschel School in New York, I created an interactive visual project titled “Heschel, King and You” for Heschel@Heschel Week at the school. I altered the central iconic photograph of the march on Selma, to include a blank figural silhouette* (see Artist’s Statement below) linking arms with Heschel and King, along with the following text: Heschel was there because he prayed with his legs. King was there because he had a dream. Why will you be there?”

Atrium InstallationStudents, faculty and staff contributed written responses reflecting what “being there” meant to them, globally, politically or personally, whether  imagining joining the Selma march, taking a stand on a current social issue, working to ensure Israel’s existence, human rights or helping a friend or family member in trouble.

Heschel quote

Writing StatementsEach participant was invited to “make a mark”, a thumbprint promise to “be there” in the space of the empty silhouette. By the project’s end, each unique human print created a composite community presence” perpetuating the legacy of Heschel’s prayers and King’s dreams. I wove their personal statements and the thumbprints into the overall piece.

PRINTS

printing

ThumbPrinting As the project expanded, I integrated vintage printed collage materials from my studio into the composition, referencing the shared Biblical and historical metaphors about which King and Heschel were passionate. Heschel viewed King’s preference for the Exodus as the primary motif in the Civil Rights movement as a major step forward in relations between Christians and Jews. King drew an understanding of the nature of God’s involvement with humankind from his background in the black church, which resonated with Heschel’s concept of Divine pathos, linking the two men intellectually and spiritually. Both were considered prophets, messengers of their time, linked by their committment to prayer, morality and political activism.

Messenger of PeaceMessenger of Peace textHand of GodMoses, Aaron and Edybaby Moses

He Changeth the TimesPeter Geffen

SlavesLook Down, O LordPillar of Clouds

Completed project *AMY COHEN ARTISTʼS STATEMENT
In a conceptual piece such as this, I have taken an iconic photograph and tweaked it, respectfully, to create a conceptual, contemporary work interpreting a historic event. I intended to make the following points:
I integrated vintage printed collage materials from my studio into the composition, referencing the shared Biblical and historical metaphors about which King and Heschel were passionate. Heschel viewed Kingʼs preference for the Exodus as the primary motif in the Civil Rights movement as a major step forward in relations between Christians and Jews. King drew an understanding of the nature of Godʼs involvement with humankind from his background in the black church, which resonated with Heschelʼs concept of Divine pathos, linking the two men intellectually and spiritually. Both were considered prophets, messengers of their time, linked by their commitment to prayer, morality and political activism.
The “missing” figure is meant to encourage the viewer to identify the deleted person. In doing so, those who don’t know who Ralph Bunche is (having always focused on this “famous picture of Heschel and King”) will find out more about Bunche and his strategic work, not only in the Civil Rights movement, but for his late 1940s role in mediation in Palestine which earned him the1950 Nobel Prize. Sometimes less can lead us to more.
It is my hope, that upon reflection as to why an artist would make such an outrageous edit, the viewer would connect my reference to Bunche as juxtaposition of Buncheʼs past award-winning, essential role in Middle East mediation, with his significant “absence” in this 2015 rendition, at a time in our history where such mediation and peace eludes us.
Too often, significant people throughout history have been ignored or forgotten. Not just blacks- in all these years, the “Unidentified Nun” pictured marching has never been named. And, not just blacks and women: in the new film “Selma” where is Heschel?
I have included a photograph of Peter Geffen, founder of the Heschel School, and Moshe Shur taken in 1965. Both men worked closely with King, ultimately assisting with his funeral.
Included too, is a photograph of the late Eduardo Rauch (who lived in Chile at the time of the Selma march) to represent his loving, activist spirit in this modern day rendition. I have tried to honor Edyʼs memory in all 6 of the projects I created during my year as Heschelʼs Eduardo Rauch Artist-in-Residence.  

To Thine Own Selfie Be True (Not)

Mona LIsa SelfieMuch has been written about the phenomenon of the Selfie. There is even a whole new greeting card category dedicated to Selfie-inflicted humor.  Selfie E CardBut it is the proliferation of Selfie Sticks that troubles me.

Selfie on a Stick — a local company that sells the device online and at select Nordstrom and Opening Ceremony stores — has seen a 3,000 percent growth in sales in November alone. They’ve sold out of their Nordstrom stock three times already this season.

My concern is with neither the aesthetics of bizarre compositions nor the sharing of TMI that should remain private.

The problem is that this invention is yet another way for people not to relate to each other. This add-on to the Selfie trend goes the extra yard to improve the end result for the self-photographer.  This makes it even less likely he or she would turn to a stranger to document the moment at hand, further ensuring autonomy.selfie stick It saddens me to think of losing the random human encounters, the warmth, generosity and enthusiasm expressed by hundreds of strangers I’ve enlisted to photograph me with friends or family.  And when I, unsolicited, offer camera services to a couple, family or group of tourists struggling to get everyone into their snapshot (except themselves) I am consistently met with smiles of gratitude and profuse thanks. Everyone gets this! As a professional artist, I get an additional kick, thinking of the hundreds of my “anonymous” photographs circulating all over the world.

Clearly, we have been transformed, and in my opinion, damaged by our increasing self-sufficiency. With our dependence on and gratification with our devices as our primary relationships, it should come as no surprise that entrepreneurs have captialized on our withdrawal from others, creating the  current boom- Professional Cuddlers.  According to Stephanie Armour’s cover story in the Wall Street Journal:

“the cuddle-for-hire business is taking off—even though the clothes stay on. Thousands of customers across the country are booking appointments with professional cuddlers in at least 16 states…plans are underway for a cuddling convention…One free app, Cuddlr, launched in September and already has had about 240,000 downloads, according to Charlie Williams, a founder and developer. The location-based social-media application allows users to find people near them to cuddle with. Between 7,000 and 10,000 people are using the service daily, he says. The company’s slogan: ‘Ever just want a cuddle?'”

Someday, we will better see the negative impact of technology on the human brain and interpersonal relationships.  As we deepen our committment to our devices for the sake of speed and efficiency, we see automation enables autonomy. It’s difficult to imagine how humankind will fare over time. In The Descent of Man Charles Darwin, who popularized the phrase survival of the fittest, was misunderstood to believe exclusively in our competitiveness and aquisitiveness. However, Darwin himeself noted that, “humankind’s real power comes in the ability to perform complex tasks together, to sympathize and cooperate.” In The Descent of Man, the word love appears 95 times while the famous term survival of the fittest, appears only twice.

Happily, we are hard-wired to connect; the vagus nerve releases oxytocin at simply witnessing a compassionate act. Inter-relatedness is the norm amongst many species, from insects and birds to deer and primates, who operate based on consensus decision-making.  Elephant Selfie

Married to our hands-free electronic devices we crave human touch, which can now be purchased on-line.  Although we have access to infinite possibilities when we hold the whole iWorld in our hands,  I’d advise bucking the trend and find ways to engage with real people before we forget how. It’s the Smart thing to do.

Downer-A-Day Calendar

ATTITUDE Words. I just can’t get enough of them. Playing Words With Friends keeps me out of trouble between face-to-face rounds of my favorite game, Scrabble, wooden tiles and all. Last year, I received a 2014 “Word-A-Day” style calendar,  a gift from someone who knows of my fascination with words. I eagerly anticpated starting each day with intriguing, unusual new language I expected would inspire my writing, my art, my curiousity about culture, psychoanalysis and history. I even dreamt each morning’s new word would serve as a metaphoric template for my day. Unfortunately, I quickly noticed that my new calendar had a bit of an attitude, an annoying one at that.

These days, it’s hard enough to tune-out talking elevators, buses, and appliances, but after a few months living with my unrelentingly dour calendar I felt depressed rather than inspired. After a particularly rough patch, (the highlights were agita, prescind, enfant terrible, foozle, baleful, bogus, agress, glower and daymare), I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned my  Word-A-Day calendar face-down on the dresser, where it has remained, mute,  ever since.

Why, you ask, didn’t I just throw it away? The answer lies in an episode of the Twilight Zone called “Living Doll” or,  for those who know it, “Talky Tina.”  A father, played by a young Telly Savalas, maddened by the voice of his daughter’s menacing, talking doll, tries to break it, burn it, saw it and worse. Finally he thinks he’s finished it off, disposing of the mangled doll in a trash can.  To his horror, and that of this viewer, the doll miraculously survives, driving the terrified father to an unhappy end. The nasty voice of my calendar, I am sure, is just as irrepressible.

In fact, just now, while writing this, I took a peek at my calender, curious to find today’s word offering:

eigh·ty-six

/, ātē ˈsiks/, verb, slang : to refuse to serve (a customer); also : to get rid of : throw out

A coincidence? Or, have I entered the Twilight Zone?
As 2015 approaches, I’ll have to consider my new calendar options carefully.

Shelter of Peace: Remembering Yitzhak Rabin

14In my continued role as the 2014  Eduardo Rauch Artist-in-Residence at the Heschel School in New York, I created an installation to invite the community to commemorate, on November 5th, the 19th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s death.

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Reflecting on the life and death of Yitzhak Rabin, particularly against the backdrop of this summer’s events in Israel and the continued violence and uncertainty of our times, I turned to the Hashkiveinu, inspired by the image of the “Shelter of Peace” for which we beseech God. To represent the temporary and fragile nature of the longed-for “Sukkah of Peace,” I  suspended a torn, imperfect expanse of fabric beneath which, the community gathered. The red sections of the fabric are a reminder of the blood that continues to be shed. The peace process, like the fabric,  has been imperfect and tears us apart.

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5

8

9Today, we can’t help but connect the past- Rabin’s work for peace, cut short by his murder- with our current-day prayers for peace in Israel and between the divisions within the Jewish people. Particularly painful, and timely, is the fact that Rabin’s murderer was a fellow Jew. This makes the Heschel School’s pluralistic mission of education, understanding and acceptance even more urgent.

2The spirit of Edy Rauch, for whom the artist residency has been established,  is celebrated in every project I do at the Heschel School. To honor his memory for this particular project, I pinned hand-crafted green beads in the fabric, embedding Edy’s spirit in the commemoration of Rabin,  through symbolic reference to Edy’s love of green ink pens and the environment.12Twenty years ago, when Yitzhak Rabin accepted the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat, Yehuda Amichai attended and read an early poem of his titled “Wildpeace,” written in 1986, which was as fitting for those times as it is today:

Wildpeace

Not the peace of a cease-fire,

not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,

but rather

as in the heart when the excitement is over

and you can talk only about a great weariness.

I know that I know how to kill,

that makes me an adult.

And my son plays with a toy gun that knows

how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.

A peace

without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,

without words, without

the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be

light, floating, like lazy white foam.

A little rest for the wounds—

who speaks of healing?

(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation

to the next, as in a relay race:

the baton never falls.)

Let it come

like wildflowers,

suddenly, because the field

must have it: wildpeace.

-Yehuda Amichai

 

Shanah Tovah

LeShanah TovahI am wishing you a happy, healthy and holy New Year. Click on the link below for a short Youtube video to partake in the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar. I am doing the series of traditional calls sounded during the month of Elul, leading up to the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

http://youtu.be/r65MJQTWW9o

Portrait Amy with Shofar

And, from my blog archives:  https://amyartcohen.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/have-shofar-will-travel/

Tennis Courting: Love At First Sight

US Open, Ashe
I’ve never been particularly interested in the game of tennis. Having no exposure to it as a kid, it was a subject about which I wondered why people were so passionate. In junior high school I owned a “tennis sweater” to look chic, but that was as close as I got.

As a family splurge, I found myself at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the Grand Opening of the U.S. Open this year, perched way up in the farthest possible seats, enjoying cool breezes and the relief of a setting sun. When the fireworks and performances subsided, and the first game began, I was surprised to find myself intensely attracted to the blue rectangle with crisp white lines establishing the perimeters of the action about to take place.

But it got even more exciting. From the thwack of the first serve, I was gripped. The rules of tennis were a complete mystery to me, yet I was completely mesmerized by the choreography taking place on the contained space of the court. I followed the linear action created by the powerful players in tandem with the dance of the ball’s path. It was like watching the creation of a living drawing, an experiential, ever-changing, etch-a-sketch ephemeral work of art.

At home, I stayed glued to televised coverage of the Open at every opportunity, much to the surprise of my family. What had happened to me? I was, at once, exhilarated and totally relaxed. I was bewildered by my fascination with any sport, and why tennis? The sense of well-being I experienced watching the game was undeniable.

I think Bento Boxes have something to do with my new love.

I have always adored having a meal served in the geometric, organized, compartments of a Bento Box. With everything so neatly in order, what could go wrong? If life were like a Bento Box (instead of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates) there would be no chaos. As in tennis, everything would be confined to the neat boundaries of the box, agreed upon by one and all. If not, it would be Out. Any questionable behavior would be reviewed and scrutinized in graphic replay to determine if the act, depicted by a crisp black icon, was on the line just enough to be considered In.

I know in my heart this passion I have for tennis will continue. This is more than just a crush; I have finally found a sport that’s the perfect match for me.

bento_box_rectangular