Tonight, loft apartment turned art gallery Club 157 will be transformed into a tribute to the life of Mary of Cain.
Who’s that lady?, you ask.
Well, she’s the creation of multidisciplinary artist and model Jane Cogger, who birthed the character four years ago when she wanted to write more from a place of fiction, rather than autobiography.
The name is a feminized riff on the phrase “Mark of Cain.” Mary comes from the Virgin Mary, which intrigues Cogger as “an interesting story that begs our desire for some kind of innocence that doesn’t really exist,” and it’s also her mother’s name. Cain recalls the well-known Biblical tale of brotherly murder and subsequent condemnation, but Cogger is interested more in the literary reimaginings of the story, such as Hermann Hesse’s Demian and Miguel de Unamuno’s Abel Sánchez.
“They’re both alternative tellings that talk about the Mark of Cain being something that’s more a mark of unconventionality, a strength that the common people will try to derive as a weakness and scorn it, just because it’s something that’s different and stark and interesting,” she says. “So then Cain becomes this character of strength and unconventionality as opposed to this harbinger of evil.”
After working on and off on writing Mary of Cain and taking a break to tour around as a freelance model, she found herself stuck. “I had become very content to try to live as this character than to write it, so the idea ended up staying really static,” she says. “That’s where the concept of the death of this idea, this character comes in. An idea that remains static is totally dead.”
So, she decided to memorialize the character once and for all not through writing, but through painting. The resulting works are visual treats, conjuring a darker world beyond our own, full of sinewy exposed limbs, hidden phrases, and creatures that sometimes appear to be melting into the shadows. Some Cogger began several years ago and recently built upon, thereby revitalizing and reimagining her own body of work. As a result, the paintings have a darkly fantastical tone, where the viewer can discover more the longer they look.
There’s still a writing component to the show, as Cogger has scripted short yet intriguing pieces of prose to accompany each work. One reads, “A confluence of forces real and imagined bring Mary to the grand realization of the Will to Love and she becomes self-actualized as the Sexual Jesus. Her love is perfect so long as it is fleeting.”
This is Cogger’s first time creating paintings of especially large scale, partially due to a unique circumstance where she found herself working in a large loft where Jean-Michel Basquiat used to work, which was being gutted and turned into a penthouse. “There was no running water, no toilet, no electricity, but it was huge and beautiful. I started both of these large paintings there,” she says. “It was pretty funny, sometimes I would just pee in little cups and take them downstairs.”
In addition to the paintings on view, there will be a “DeathWomb” installation built by Margaret Velvet and Jeffrey Thomas of art and nightlife collective nü goth. One can crawl inside of the black velvet void to escape the outside world. If even the thought of a small velvet space makes you overheated, there will be a cauldron of ice inside that folks can use in whichever way.
There’s also a living installation component featuring her boyfriend, artist Josh Kil, who will be anchored between two clear etched walls and have patterns of light displayed on his body.
Kil recently had an art show at nearby Christopher Stout Gallery (where Cogger met Club 157’s curator), in which he collaborated with Cogger in some of the pieces. “I’ve been involved with hundreds of people’s art projects over the past couple years, so incorporating people into mine felt somewhat natural,” she tells me.
Cogger’s original intention to attempt to extinguish her stagnating character, Mary of Cain, through art did not exactly go as planned. Rather, it resulted in a rebirth and artistic renewal of the very idea she thought had ran out of steam. “It revealed to me that I had more of an intention to bring this character back to life than kill her in the first place,” she says. “Death as a concept is a very powerful thing: if a music idol dies, they’re huge in all of our consciousness. Using the power of death to actually bring an idea back to life seems to be the result and probably the original intention, even if I didn’t know it.”
‘Mary of Cain’ opens tonight, with an opening reception from 6-9pm featuring live installation performance and DJ sets, at Club 157, 157 Manhattan Avenue, Bushwick. The works will be on view through August 7. More info here.