Text by Rosanna Albertini


EILEEN COWIN, From the series Mad Love, Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series,  2014    5.5″ x 8.2″                  
Courtesy of the artist

I lost my mother!
The young man sits at my left side on the bus, dirty nails ―in Italy we say che porta il lutto al gatto, that he is mourning the cat. At least mentally, he could cling to the window but he doesn’t. Medium long, greasy hair covers half of his face. His head and face are nothing noticeable except for the voice, a harsh sound like a badly played violin cord. The traffic from Westwood to Wilshire Boulevard makes the bus an island on wheels shaken between dry waves. The exhaust stinks whatever the brand. I can barely think, the inside air is cooled down and stays dirty, perspiration mixed with fragrances sent off from shoes, Mexican cooked beans’ flavor hidden in plastic bags and the stale breath of sleepers.
The young man decided for me that I shouldn’t get lost in my own thoughts, the brain lulled by dreams of clean air. And the story began as if he were the girl and I the pasha, in the thousand and one days of Los Angeles. Once upon a time there was a boy from the midwest. He now works at the Trader Joe’s.

Why did you come to Los Angeles?
My boy friend lives here.
And your mother?
She just died.

It was like to lie across a bare road erased from the map. Right, mother left us here to float in finitudes. Why my brain insists on thinking? Drawing parallels and circles? Adam and Eve lost the Paradise, so we keep falling, far from happiness and perfection. The young man didn’t look distressed. His hands, though, were agitated in a continuous finger torture, his nails could break.

She died and was cremated and I brought the ashes to Los Angeles.
And I went to a restroom. It was this morning. And somebody robbed my backpack, I had put it on the sink. I tried to grab it back, I was not strong enough. Mother was in the back pack. I lost her.

Feelings brushed against me like branches of biancospino, a prickly spring bush so full of white, tender flowers that thorns disappear covered by petals. Good to look at, without touching. I couldn’t avoid sympathy for my traveling companion. Keeping visible my  understanding, payed attention not to mingle with the personal spines surrounding his hands like a crown. Besides, my own spines started to fill my talking throat: whatever one says, go to the beach, take it easy, sounds so hypocritical, a screeching noise.

       If it wasn’t for the ashes transported in it, the backpack would have disappeared from his memory like the semi-transparent and light bags we bring home from the market filled with salad and carrots. Empty, they would fly far away, toward the faded circle of the moon still visible in the morning, a white ghost on the blue of the sky. They would be like moon lovers lost in her distance. The young man’s love for his mother, maybe, was no different. Dead, converted into ashes, she is so close to him he doesn’t know what to do with her. To know her wasn’t the point when she was standing on earth, for love had nothing to do with knowing and that was normal. But when it comes to death, he cannot get rid of something that looks like awareness, and it is not. It’s only the violent storm of all things never known about mother, an enormous empty ghost of memories that had been missed, or maybe, never existed.

Sitting next to him, I was daydreaming a chain of absurdities:  breakfast with ashes on the table, bus with ashes on the shoulders, ashes at Trader Joes underneath the check out counter, than home again. Mother’s ghost glued to his back. I was not really surprised, since I carried my mother inside my body for months, after she passed away. Almost an unspeakable feeling. The lost backpack made me smile.

Vladimir Nabokov:
“Hullo, person! Doesn’t hear me.
Perhaps if the future existed, concretely and individually, as something that could be discerned buy a better brain, the past would not be so seductive: its demands would be balanced by those of the future. […]
But the future has no such reality (as the pictured past and the perceived present possess); the future is but a figure of speech, a specter of thought.
Hullo person! What’s the matter, don’t pull me. I’m not bothering him. Oh, all right. Hullo, person . . . (last time, in a very small voice.)
When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!”*


EILEEN COWIN, From the series Mad Love, Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the  Mad Love series, 2014   5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

*VLADIMIR NABOKOV, Transparent Things, @ 1972, New York, Vintage Books, First Vintage International Edition, 1989



Los Angeles, mad love for life   – by Rosanna Albertini

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series, 2014,   5.5″ x 8.2″”
Courtesy of the artist

If I had a place I think I’ve lost it one day. It was the first day I could call of summer in Los Angeles. Windy, with the smell of the ocean mixed with stinky rotten jacaranda flowers. If I were Paco Ignatio Taibo II I would invent at least a picturesque name, but there is no need. Life on the bus is made with give a place to, take the place of, go places, keep somebody in his place until the common destiny of being humans goes all over the place and I pretend I was somebody else. Or I was for real, can’t be precise about it. Tags in my brain got confused: it started at the museum. Mark Bradford paintings were an intimate place where his own skin, his organs mutate into moments of natural expansion of spots and branches, and unnamed maps. A loud docent looking fifteen, his assurance tells he is older, pontificates in front of twenty African-American teens showing them one painting, the first in the exhibition. “Can we see the rest of the show?” asks a boy. Desire in his voice. “No, there is no time, go to the other galleries.” Click, push, go, follow directions, you are only an occasional machine. Can’t choose on your own. Art, art, what am I thinking? Walking through a not far away time of my life I follow the directions in the same museum that spells: Telephone, Restrooms. If that’s the spirit I better obey. No problem with the restrooms, but the public phone was real only in my memory; an empty niche in a wall whispered, “I miss it.” A janitor passing by must have found me pathetic. I was staring at the hole. The young docent’s voice, implacable, bumped my eardrums along the staircase to the very exit. He had become an expert on AIDS percentages in the U.S.. Jeez, why does art scare him so much? He’s made of himself a perfect machine, maybe the system might fix his engines if he goes wrong, as they do with aircraft. My place is out of there although it is not clear how it happens that drivers waiting for the green light keep their metal wrapping still instead of killing us all in our little shoes on our feet. A cloud of fear materializes around me. I can be surprised, still love the wind caressing my neck. I jump on the n.1, drop my body on the closest seat half covered by the smooth, half naked black thigh of a handsome big guy with black glasses John Belushi style. “Aren’t you scared sitting next to somebody like me?” He was the least of my concerns that day, and yet instead I didn’t want to offend him. He was a soft, large presence. By eye, I would say half my age. “Why, because you are a big guy?” Idiot, I told myself, this is after the killing for racial hatred of nine people in Charleston, history is being rewritten taking the confederate flag out of the roof, he is black, I’m white. Or, my Southern Italian blood, who knows, could have drops of black blood. As he could have drops of white blood in his veins. “I’m not dressed properly” he said. Things are confusing. He is clean and smells good, no perfume. “Where do you live?” I asked needing to place him somewhere out of Santa Monica Boulevard. “In the Palisades.” Pause. “Why do you ask?” he replied. His voice, low and pleasant, awakes the spark of a question about my … intentions? “I don’t know,” I answered with a tiny, undetectable shudder of my shoulders. I was amused. “Maybe you could be scared of me.” I said it and felt the terrifying old woman that I am, the three horizontal wrinkles on my forehead almost pricking my face.

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Mad Love, 2014,  Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series, 2014,  5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

PS    Mad Love is an ongoing project by Eileen Cowin. These are two of the many images from the project.


 Los Angeles — About MAD LOVE by EILEEN COWIN 

Today Reading   by  Rosanna Albertini

The hard task, looking at a narrative art work, is to stop connecting to the déjà vu. And stop thinking that seeing — not the metaphor, the physical eye-sight — is such an isolated, unique gift that drives us through the day. Scientific stories tell us that our small brain — cerebellum— controls our involuntary and visceral reactions to the symphony of stimuli brought by the wind, the passing time, a sound of potatoes crackling in the oven, a truck’s brakes screeching, the cat jumping on the chair, the mailman slamming papers into the box. The small brain transfers his work to the large brain that gives inputs to move uncountable muscles, including the heart. Our whole body sees or not, if we care or not. How the brain regulates the engine is still unclear after centuries of questioning.

The marine layer was soft this morning, dulling the pain in my head. They both dissolved in a few hours. After talking to my plants in the garden, I kept looking at Eileen Cowin’s images. This is the way I saw them, only for today. Tomorrow might be different.

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Mad Love, 2014,  5.5

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Mad Love, 2014,   5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

glimpses of gestures and motions, instants, 

and life of stills asked to deal with a lack of light

black density of one kind on paper

and different on screen

a pond of ink filled with stories

written so many times that it’s better

to sink them, the infamous déjà vu, or

the black of the mulch full of promises and of

uncertain future

so that meanings I see in this art work are of today

mad love for life

the room of an undesirable end of the act

undeniable product of a black spot

a black page of time, unwritten story

that hides in flatness or ran away on spindly legs

ugliness is not to be transformed

in our greedy time of saved documents

separate from physicality — the skin is bruised

tactile pleasure is brushed away

and the major focus is in the eye

our cutting machine, close the eyelids

and the black will be there although not perfect

not as dense as the photographic black

not as defined as the vertical lines

forcing the image to restrain

or to grow hard as a metal box

only the eye is full

indifferent to the dinner’s leftovers

and reflecting the tiny image of something

maybe he didn’t care to see

(These are thoughts in vertical discontinuity, not a poem. RA)

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from, Mad Love, 2014,   5.5

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from Mad Love, 2014,    5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

A poet wrote that sensuality is what makes a work of art timeless, that the world of the artist is the domain ruled by senses. Unfortunately, those fingers crossed in the washing hands will remain the same over centuries only if some material support will allow their image to be visible. But, it’s a wonderful idealistic trick to believe that senses have the privilege of timelessness. The poet was captured by his inner beautiful flame. Accidentally, of male nature. He was writing in 1939, war time. He had to magnify the human ability to perpetuate life.

May 11 in Los Angeles. As my work uses words, I see them peeling off. Precarious brain slaves in a uniform. They creep silently toward Eileen Cowin’s images to push back tears and flashes of memories that are the major presence in my day. Time, or destiny? has stolen from life someone I admired immensely. My mind has wrapped him in black.

Good bye Chris Burden.

PS Mad Love is an ongoing project by Eileen Cowin. These are two of the many images from the project.