Barnett Cohen. im a pause im a fiction im a pervert im a dream | Photo courtesy of the artist.

Barnett Cohen

At Canal Projects, multidisciplinary artist Barnett Cohen unravels the injustice and violence present in everyday life through a text for two performers that slowly devolves into absurdity.

Photo credit: Andrew Hallinan


351 Canal St, New York, NY, 10013
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Barnett Cohen | Photo credit: Andrew Hallinan

im a pause im a fiction im a pervert im a dream

im a pause im a fiction im a pervert im a dream is a hour-long performance involving two performers — Deja Bowen and Ray (Tsung-Jui) Tsou—styled in looks by CFDA award-winning fashion designer APOTTS and presented to an audience in the round. In lighting by Bessie-nominated designer Sarai Frazier that evokes the bright white lights of transitional spaces (i.e. airports, bus depots, hospital waiting rooms, and refrigerators), the performers offer an text-based score to an audience in the round, delivering the writing through a combination of monologues, asides, and soliloquies. The score, which originates out of Cohen's writing practice, documents and synthesizes the persistence of anxious forces, neurotic tendencies, and unremitting violence inherent within dominant ideologies. A range of urgencies–climate grief, state-sanctioned force, reparative justice, reproductive rights, systems of surveillance, transphobic legislation–appear and reappear within the writing. While the voices of the performers are initially clear and comprehensible, over the course of the performance, they disintegrate into static, echoes, and distortion as artist Victoria Keddie processes and warps their voices into pure acoustic presence. Their words literally disintegrate as they attempt to make meaning within the overlapping existential and perpetual crises we face. Their movements are glitchy, samples, and loops. Double-takes, small abrupt head turns, maximal use of fingers and thumbs, swipes of hands sample a range of contemporary and daily movement. The performance ends abruptly and in darkness. As the audience exits the space, they receive a zine-style copy of the text, designed by LA-based graphic designer and longtime collaborator Tanya Rubbak.

About Barnett Cohen

Barnett Cohen shapeshifts between poet, performance maker, painter, and political activist. Born in South Africa, Cohen grew up in Georgia, and now lives between New York and Los Angeles. Throughout his multidisciplinary practice, Cohen proposes a kaleidoscopic queer surrealism of futuristic theoretical concepts, engaging bodily shapes, and calls for subversive action. Frequently collapsing borders between genres and mediums, Cohen synthesizes our present reality of ruined meaning, anxious forces, and unremitting violence within dominant ideologies. His work mirrors a frenetic sense of ever-present discord. He has presented work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, REDCAT, JOAN, LAXART, 356 Mission, Human Resources, The Box (Los Angeles), The International Center of Photography, JDJ, International Objects, The Exponential Festival, The Center For Performance Research (New York), City Limits (Oakland), Onassis Foundation (Athens, GR), and Rupert (Vilnius, LT.) In 2021, Open Space/SFMOMA published poems poems, a collection of his poems alongside those of artist and collaborator Simone Forti. Cohen has been in-residence at Skowhegan, MacDowell, NARS, and Rupert. He is a recent grant recipient from The Foundation For Contemporary Arts, and was nominated for the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant in 2020. His work has been reviewed and featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, T Magazine, Artforum, hyperallergic, Cultured and Riting. In 2017, Cohen founded the Mutual Aid Immigration Network (MAIN), a trilingual free assistance hotline for people detained in immigration detention centers across the United States. MAIN connects people who call with bond funds and legal services that can accelerate their freedom from incarceration.


Presented by Canal Projects for the Performa Biennial 2023.


Barnett Cohen: im a pause im a fiction im a pervert im a dream is supported by Canal Projects.


Ray (Tsung-Jui) Tsou, Deja Bowen


Sound Designer: Victoria Keddie
Lighting Designer: Sarai Frazier
Costume Designer: Aaron Potts, APOTTS
Styling: Jenni Lee Text Design: Tanya Rubbak

Performa Team

Hartwig Art Foundation Curatorial Fellow: Sakhi Gcina