MOUTHBRAIN, the film — a documentation of the performance at ICA LA — was presented in a limited online screening on the museum’s website from September 12 to 18, 2022.
On August 5 and 6, 2022 in our Field Workshop, ICA LA presented the West Coast premiere of MOUTHBRAIN, a performance written and directed by artist Barnett Cohen.
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.
Writer & Director: Barnett Cohen (he/him)
Choreographer: Lisa Fagan (she/her)
Performer: Deja Bowen (she/her)
Performer: Evan Spigelman (they/them)
Looks: Nancy Stella Soto (she/her)
Styling: JenniLee (she/her)
Text Design: Tanya Rubbak (she/her)
Documentation: suz murray sadler (they/them)
Film Documentation & Editing: rybg
Special Thanks: Asuka Hisa, Anne Ellegood, Isabella Parlamis, Victoria Genao, Adam Lee, Chad Elliott & the ICA Frontline Staff, Jayne Drost Johnson, Serena Ponciano, Jon Neustadter, Lexa Safran, suz murray sadler, Kim Donica, Julie Niemi, Jake Ziemann, Galen Swords, Asha Bukojemsky, Summer Guthery, Penelope Luna, Big Bud Press, and the Ace Hotel LA.
Barnett Cohen (he/him) is a queer artist who shape-shifts through form. A published poet, performance maker, painter, and activist, he was born in South Africa, grew up in Georgia, and now lives between Los Angeles and New York. Throughout his anti-disciplinary practice, Cohen proposes a kaleidoscopic queer surrealism in which he accumulates language and symbols and disorganizes them into alternative logics within his work, giving shape and sound to new kinds of nonsense. He has presented work at REDCAT, JOAN, LAXART, 356 Mission, Human Resources, and The Box in Los Angeles, and at The International Center of Photography, JDJ, International Waters and Kaje (both forthcoming) in New York. In 2021, Open Space/SFMOMA published a collection of his poems alongside those of artist Simone Forti. He has been in-residence at Skowhegan, MacDowell and NARS. He was recently nominated for the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant.
Lisa Fagan (she/her) is a choreographer based in Brooklyn. Her work has been presented at Target Margin Theater, Mabou Mines, Mount Tremper Arts, HERE Arts Center, Bard College, The Exponential Festival, Ars Nova, New York Live Arts, Movement Research, Gibney, CPR, Roulette. Recently, she choreographed THESE DAYS, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Fagan is the creator/director of CAMP: Collaborative Arts Mobility Project, an experimental summer arts program for artists across disciplines.
Deja Bowen (she/her) is between Los Angeles and New York. She is an actor, model, and creative. A graduate of AMDA College & Conservatory, she has collaborated with Barnett Cohen on MOUTHBRAIN at JDJ (NYC) and on SOMETHINNNGISALWAYSSSWRONGGG at JOAN (LA).
Evan Spigelman (they/them) is a non-binary performer and drag monstrosity. Evan’s trash-drag alter-ego Mx Asa Metric is one half of Creep Cuts, a pair of anti-fascist, drag-adjacent queer clowns. Evan has worked with artists such as Taylor Mac, Justin Vivian Bond, Sunni Patterson, Junebug Productions, Rebecca Mwase, Ron Ragin, Diana Oh, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Jenn Kidwell, Pearl D’Amour, Annie Kaufman, Viva DiConcini, Penny Arcade, Mink Stole, Joey Arias, Peaches, Machine Dazzle, House of Yes.