Nets too are an important symbol found in Cogswell’s work, an element found in both Vinyl Euripides and in Hand, Nets, and Other Devices.
Cogswell uses the nets in Vinyl Euripides to harken back to the story of Electra, where a vengeful Clytemnestra invites her husband Agamemnon into a bath, traps him in a net, and murders him.
“Cacoyannis lingers on the imagery of the net because it is part of the story, but also because it is a part of Euripides’ message: we are caught, not by impersonal forces manifested by the gods, but we are caught in a net of our own devices,” Cogswell said.
The nets used in Cogswell’s vinyl installation were originally created as part of a 1997 creative collaboration at U‑M entitled Seven Enigmas, created in partnership with dancer/choreographer Peter Sparling, biostatistician Fred Bookstein, and astronomy research scientist John Clarke.
In Seven Enigmas, Cogswell and Bookstein used a program devised to map brain anomalies to map Sparling’s dance movements onto a morphing grid. “Those grids are alive,” Cogswell reflects. “There’s something about their motion that is lyrical and human.” Using film stills from Seven Enigmas, Cogswell repainted the grid, adding little knots and curves to create a net.
Cogswell in Santo Tirso, Portugal
In addition to its appearance in Vinyl Euripides, Cogswell’s net is stretching across the globe for his second 2022 installation, Hand, Nets, and Other Devices, on view at two jointly-run and neighboring sites on the same museum campus in Santo Tirso, Portugal: The International Museum of Contemporary Sculpture (October 2022-January 2023) and The Municipal Museum Abade Pedrosa (October 2022-October 2023).
Housed in the historic 17th century Benedictine Monastery of Sao Bento, the conversion of the Municipal Museum Abade Pedrosa from monastery to museum has garnered international acclaim for its design by two Pritzker Prize winning Portuguese architects, Alvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto de Moura.
As Cogswell describes it, the museum layout includes a long hallway where monastic cells have been converted into gallery spaces. Each cell contains objects from a different era to create a linear progression through history. The objects in the museums’ collections are all from the region of Santo Tirso and include stone age implements, artifacts from the region’s Roman occupation, and 19th century looms.
“If a modern-day citizen of Santo Tirso were to encounter that stone age person, what do they have in common? What would they understand about each other? I’m not saying that they wouldn’t, but there are gaps there and connections to explore,” Cogswell said.
Cogswell’s installations in the museums use adhesive vinyl, intaglio prints, video installations, and several hundred painted studies of archeological objects to explore those connections.
“The museum space is exhilarating,” Cogswell said. “I kept asking myself, ‘are they really going to let me do this?’ The museum director, Álvaro Moreira, has been just unbelievably receptive to my ideas.”
The exhibition will also feature a screening of Jeweled Net of the Vast Invisible, an immersive animated simulation of the distribution of dark matter in the universe, created in collaboration with cosmologist Greg Tarle and composer/musician Steven Rush as part of a 2014 M‑Cubed project, first installed at the Duderstadt Center.
Even the didactics at the museums will feature Cogswell’s work. By incorporating what he calls “cosmic images” into educational videos about the archeological sites where the museum objects were unearthed, Cogswell hopes to infiltrate the narrative to encourage expansive interpretations.
“A didactic video of a Roman fort will be infused with dancing grids or a simulation of dark matter from Jeweled Net, changing the way we perceive it,” Cogswell explains.
The museum gift shop will sell tiles featuring figures from Cogswell’s “Anthropomorphic Alphabet” series, works where the letters of the alphabet are composed of human figures bent to the shape of each letter. The genesis of this work dates back to the mid-’90s and has been revisited as part of this exhibition to occupy an entire museum wall.
Designed in the color families of traditional Portuguese tiles – blues and golden yellows – the alphabet on the museum wall spells out a passage in Latin from Ovid’s classical narrative poem, Metamorphoses: “All things change, nothing perishes.”
“The images in these exhibitions are very playful, but they have undertones that might not be so playful,” Cogswell said. “Ultimately they are playful because I’m playing. It’s that simple. I’m experimenting. I’m making rules and I’m breaking them.”
Story by Truly Render.