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Artist Interview: Michael Robinson Cohen by Anthony Mazzei

Michael Cohen lives in the Bywater about a ten or fifteen minute walk from Fair Folks New Orleans.  He- a recent not so long ago, not so far away resident of Brooklyn- is part of a growing class of young people descending upon New Orleans hungry to work, to create and to do good. He received a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts to pursue community development and design activism projects in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans. The current project he is working on is called the Greenline and you can read more about it here.

He also happens to be a very very talented sculptor and carpenter, and was selected as a featured artist in the December architecture and design event here put on by the AIA New Orleans called DesCours– where exciting and intriguing installations take place in settings around town more often abandoned or under-appreciated.

Here are two pieces he recently built for the Life is Art Foundation, one on their farm in Sonoma, California.

Looks pretty heavenly, huh? And here is another he built for the Eiffel Society on St. Charles here in New Orleans.

Michael was kind enough to answer some of our questions for all of our readers to read.

1. What is inspiring your work these days?

Recently, I have been experimenting with new types of material production techniques. I am fascinated by the way in which the building process can dictate an object’s formal and material quality.

2.  Does your material usually come before form or form before material?

Lately materiality has been the primary entity driving my work. I’m interested in the way that natural patterns can be manipulated through the act of joining. When two pieces of wood are connected there exists a tension between the original grain and the compound pattern created by the jointed formal relationship. In several recent works I strive to use a singular joining typology to achieve a dynamic form and patterning.


b. How about function before form or form before function?

The Miesian mantra of “form follows function” is often fetishized as ethically superior approach to design. The notion that an individual, whether an architect or designer, is capable of having the foresight to prescribe a function for a space or object is implausible and authoritarian. Rather than establishing a rigid form or function on an object, I aim to achieve a high degree of flexibility and adjustability in my work. Design mutability enables the end user to apply their own use and composition.

3. What is your greatest challenge as a designer?


As a designer I believe that every formal move has to have a rational justification. I constantly struggle with my desire to achieve rational purity.

4. If you could collaborate with any artist living or dead, who would it be?

It would be a dream to collaborate with the late Gordon Matta-Clark. I’m compelled by his ability to employ one simple formal move to completely recreate the meaning of a landscape, building or object. I also can’t even begin to fathom what he would create with the city of New Orleans as his canvas.


5. What is the quality you are most attracted to in art or design?


I like the challenge of establishing a set of design constraints and rigorously committing to them during the production process.

6. What is your most prized possession?

I recently visited my Grandfather’s furniture factory in High Point, North Carolina and I found several hand drawings he did of desks and cabinets.

When asked to provide a picture “in his element” Michael sent this. It is pretty self explanatory.


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