Barnett Cohen: MOUTHBRAIN

ICA LA is pleased to present the West Coast premiere of MOUTHBRAIN, a performance written and directed by artist Barnett Cohen, on August 5 and 6, 2022 in our Field Workshop.

MOUTHBRAIN is an hour-long two-person performance that documents and disassembles our pixelated present of anxious forces and neurotic tendencies through a combination of poetry, stylized movement, sonic play, and cinematic lighting. Originating out of a long-form poem by artist Barnett Cohen, the performance synthesizes a range of urgent themes: climate grief, state violence, reparative justice, systems of bodily surveillance, cishet fundamentalism, and the meme-ification of political mood. The piece accounts for the intense everythingness of life, reflecting a frenetic sense of discord felt everywhere. Accumulation and annotation are central to the work. Found language–from personal conversations, poems and theory, words overheard, or experiences encountered online–works its way into Cohen’s heavily footnoted text. The piece is philosophically entwined with such voices as anarchist-anthropologist David Graeber, social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff, two-spirit poet Julian Talamantez Brolaski, prison-abolitionist and queer poet Jackie Wang, and poet Walt Whitman.

Originally staged at JDJ in New York in November 2021, MOUTHBRAIN was performed by Deja Bowen and Evan Spigelman who pioneered the piece with NY-based choreographer Lisa Fagan. Moving through space in looping and repeating gestures, the performers echo the form and language of the text. Double-takes, small abrupt head turns, maximal use of fingers and thumbs, and swipes of the body or forehead sample a range of contemporary kinesthetics. Their movements and facial expressions are uncanny yet familiar, evoking a sense of flashback for the audience, while their voices deliver the range of sonic qualities of Cohen’s queer surrealist text.