Roy Cohen’s solo exhibition Love You Yet Realistic expands his ongoing exploration of identities and cultural complexity in Israeli society. Under the definition of “Israeli” we find sub-categories, identities, and communities: Jewish, Arab, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Israeli-Arab etc. In his works, Cohen looks at the current social order through the lens of these familiar categories, which summon extensions and divisions, as he examines the elements and forces that engender a sense of communal belonging and tries to trace the characteristics of group cohesion.
The exhibition features videos and manipulated objects that incorporate movement and sound. Its title alludes to Cohen's bitter-sweet approach to the discourse surrounding identity and immigration in light of a national narrative rife with violence. The fragile works shift between dream and utopia to current reality and are characterized by a humoristic and playful attitude while also touching on violence and pain.
At the entrance to the gallery, visitors are greeted by the work Al-Aqsa–Kotel, which addresses the place where it is displayed, the fraught city of Jerusalem where religions and identities clash daily. It is an illuminated sign with the English words “Al-Aqsa, Kotel” forming a cross shape. The shift into English corresponds with typical billboards and commercial signs in the public sphere, creating alienation and (supposedly) deactivating identity and identification. The work turns a spotlight towards the connection between inside and outside, almost becoming a portal to a familiar yet imaginary space.
In the video Zehava and Bruce, Cohen brings together two disparate communities and worlds – masculine and feminine, “high” and popular culture – by juxtaposing two artists and two events: one is visual in nature – the documentation of the opening of the American artist Bruce Nauman’s exhibition Elusive Signs, held in 2006 at MOCA, Miami. The second is a vocal experience, the song “Telephone of Love" (words by Danny Shoshan) performed by Zehava Ben. Nauman’s neon works flicker in synch with Ben’s love song. Together, they create an unexpected audiovisual performance full of sexuality and humor, contrasting a powerful display of emotion and passion with self-control and restraint. The work puts side by side the “exclusive club” within which Nauman operates and the space in which Ben operates, two distinct and different communities. Cohen does not merge these groups but rather wishes to undermine their integrity and disrupt the experience of identifying with them.
In the gallery, several familiar objects that the artist imbued with motion turn into understated spectacles: a pile of decorated teacups and a bubbling hookah, moving in meditative repetition. Both works are related to rituals of hospitality or social gathering, emphasizing the physical gestures involved in them. These human-mechanical gestures teem in the exhibition space like hidden forces that conjure a ghostlike, human and physical presence.
The works in the exhibition form an elusive environment that echoes the local story while shifting away from it. Generated by the desire to examine specific, personal and emotional characteristics of communities and groups, nevertheless they do not follow the common division lines of their familiar representations but rather playfully question them.