Liz Cohen

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Liz Cohen
Liz Cohen in pink.jpg
at the Elwood Body Works
Residence Template:Country data US [[City:=Phoenix|Phoenix]], [[State_Name:=Arizona|Arizona]], [[Country_Name:=United States|USA]]
Born [[Birth Date:=1973-02-15|1973-02-15]]
Known for Projects Bikini Car Wash and Bodywork
Occupation Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers (NAICS Code: 71151)
Contact [ E-Mail]
Phone: +33 1 42 71 10 66 (Galerie Laurent Godin)
Reference Latitude: 33°27′56.32″N
Longitude: 111°54′49.83″W

Liz Cohen is an American performance artist currently specializing in an installation art project called Bodywork. This is a long-term exploration of the conversion vehicle / lowrider culture, as well as the experience of a woman as a custom car model. Cohen is taking an East German compact car called a Trabant and modifying it so that it will be able to convert by means of hydraulic or pneumatic mechanisms into a Chevy El Camino -- a Trabantimino. Simultaneously, Cohen is trying to "convert" her own physical body into one worthy of a car-show bikini model.

The artist has worked with grant funding for her project from Creative Capital, an arts group based in New York City,[1] plus the generous educational and equipment support provided by the Elwood Body Works in Scottsdale.


Cohen was born in 1973 and grew up in Phoenix, Arizona as part of a large Colombian immigrant family. When her father died in an automobile accident in 1990, she inherited his camera, a 1968 Nikon. Her father was a photography enthusiast, so Cohen felt closer to his memory in taking a photography course in high school.[2]

After high school in Scottsdale, she enrolled at Tufts University in Boston as an economics major. Tufts was affiliated with Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and all undergraduates were required to take two art classes, so Cohen enrolled in photography. Her early subjects were crowds of political protesters against the first president Bush. Enjoying the process so much, she wound up changing her degree to a dual major in philosophy and studio art.

After college, Cohen had to decide between pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy or becoming a photographer, and she grabbed her camera and headed to Panama. She spent four years photographing transgendered sex workers along the Panama Canal Zone. Panama was a unique country for Cohen to experience as a Colombian-American, because Panama has been heavily influenced (in many ways adversely) by both Colombia and the United States. She worked on this project for years, going back and forth between Panama City and San Francisco, where she enrolled in a MFA program at the California College for the Arts.

Genesis of Bodywork

After finishing school in 2000, Cohen stayed on as a photography teacher at the college, as well as at the UC-Berkeley. Her interest in lowrider culture began to grow, and in 2002, she attended her first lowrider show in Fresno, shooting many rolls of film. Her idea of becoming part of a subculture began to take hold. She especially noted that some of the female models posing with each car commanded great respect from the attendees, while others seemed to have no control over the situation as men stuffed dollars in their bikini bottoms.

"I started thinking an interesting way for me to push my documentary practice would be to become part of what I was looking at. I started to think about things I'm just not supposed to be a part of and how I could become a part of it during the process of photographing it. I keyed in on building a car and becoming a lowrider."

While studying under an artist residency program at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany, she found the car that she knew would be perfect for her project: a 1987 two-stroke Trabant 601 Deluxe. She purchased it in Berlin for $400, insisting to her more cautious boyfriend at the time that it would be safe enough to drive on the Autobahn back to Stuttgart. "I'm fucking driving this car," Cohen snapped. They survived the trip, despite a top highway speed of 40 miles per hour. Shipping the clunker to the United States cost at least seven times more than the car itself.

The project takes shape

Cohen has been exhausted by the amount of work and time that has gone into turning this Trabant into a metamorphic muscle car. But she's stubborn and insists that the mechanics she works under only show her the way, not actually do the work for her. This has included replacing the tiny East German engine with a mighty American V8 block, motorizing a linear extension shaft to "stretch" the car to El Camino proportions, and even front- and rear-wheel hydraulics to get the car "jumping" like any other lowrider.

The following video features Liz testing out her mechanical work:

With the car giving her lots of trouble, Cohen has focused equal time on her physical reconstruction from skinny photographer to sexy lowrider model. Naturally thin, Cohen didn't have to worry about weight loss; rather, she needed to put on some bulk and muscle to emulate the bikini models that adorn car magazines and shows.

"When you look at lowrider magazines, I'm too skinny for it. It's more chunky, more cleavage. I don't need to look like a body builder, I just need to look hot."

When the car is finally finished to her satisfaction, Cohen plans to turn her bikini-clad images into a calendar to sell at car shows, while also using them as part of exhibiting the Trabant.

For a much more detailed narrative of Cohen's story, please read the Phoenix New Times article about her.

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Interview with Don Barsellotti

Helena Keeffe is an Oakland, California artist who makes projects that serve as catalysts for social engagement. The following audio clip is a 2005 copyrighted interview of Don Barsellotti (owner of Elwood Body Works) as recorded and edited by Helena Keeffe as part of Familiar Audio Tour, commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for the exhibition Bay Area Now 4; used with permission, only on this website; unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. Source audio found at Keeffe's site.
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Photo gallery

A collection of artistic photos that Liz Cohen has granted permission for use on MyWikiBiz. Unauthorized reproduction of these images is prohibited.


External links

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