TERESA COS - Karnofsky’s Scores

Vernissage September 7 2023 5pm + After party
Exhibition till Oct 4th 

Together with the exhibition, the artist and Saint-Martin Bookshop will present an original portfolio of prints. Edition of 5+2AP, signed and numbered.

A Matter of Abstraction
by Piero Biesello

These new works by Teresa Cos prompt a reflection on art and concreteness, toying with abstraction. A lineage of critiquing abstraction as life-deprived formalism started as early as abstraction itself, leading to a few historical avant-gardists proposing “concrete art” as an alternative.
Concreteness in art has taken different shapes ever since; its presence in these works is not so much about solidity as it is about reality–things in these works are practical, life-related, existential even.

The exhibition’s title, Karnofsky’s Scores, refers to the Karnofsky Performance Scale,[1] an abstraction of human well-being used to assess sick people, typically cancer patients. On the scale, “100” refers to “normal, no complaint, able to work” while “0” refers to “dead”. In a world of scarce resources, where rare drugs are allocated by state and corporate authorities, reality is measured and numbers are crunched; economic thinking can happen and efficiency has to win. The able can work, the unable is dead. A sick body can be cut up in many figures; the Karnofsky Performance Scale summarizes them well, proposing its philosophy of life along the way.

Laser-engraved on those folders that might otherwise contain medical paperwork, Cos’s Karnofsky’s Scores appear as abstract drawings and their direct opposite at once. Hot and cold are joined. Their inspiration, the score, a “weapon of math destruction” as Cathy O’Neil calls quantified thinking applied to very human affairs,[2] is a pull to earth where there is no soil (read paper or canvas) left for pure formalism. The reality-bound move happens despite a sense that the artist thought about composition and color with a good amount of care, creating what she called a “visual poem where the score becomes notation.” These works are only as abstract as scores on cancer patients can be; they can’t and don’t escape the burdens of real life despite a critical attempt at structuring. 

[1] The exhibition also features a teaser for an upcoming film by Cos, showing a trip to the grave of David A. Karnofsky in Los Angeles. The pioneer oncologist who gave the name to the score in question died himself of lung cancer at 55. He was active in World War II in the Army Chemical Warfare Service where he carried out his early research. Cos’s take on Karnofsky is more systematic than personal. Pointing to the fact that his burial is next to those of Hollywood pioneers keenly touches upon the idea of efficiency in art too. No other art industry relies more on quantification than Hollywood, an environment where numbers grow so big that only a cost/benefit analysis can help to judge a work’s value. Next to the monoprints, Cos’s trailer is an appendix broadening her general political argument to a meta level: an insider’s comment on art and numbers; a further take on today’s industries of efficiency.

[2] Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction, Crown Publishers, 2016.

Teresa Cos is a visual artist and musician based in London. Indebted forever to rhythmanalysis and depth psychology, their audiovisual works, performances and scores map and disrupt culturally fabricated notions of time, identity, memory, and desire.
Teresa has presented and performed their work in various international contexts including Cafe Oto (London), Radiophrenia at CCA Glasgow, KBC-Belgrade Cultural Centre, 3rd Industrial Art Biennial (Labin), Argos Centre for Audiovisual Arts (Brussels), WIELS Contemporary Art Centre (Brussels), Casino Luxembourg, bb15 (Linz), Q-O2 (Brussels), Kanal-Centre Pompidou (Brussels), The Mac – Metropolitan Arts Centre Belfast, Centrale Fies (Dro), Careof (Milan), and the 14th Venice International Architecture Biennial. Teresa was a resident at Rupert (LT), WIELS (BE) and the Jan Van Eyck Academy (NL), a participant of VISIO European Programme on Artists’ Moving Images (IT) and of the Botín Foundation Workshop with Tacita Dean (ES). They have released work on Takuroku/Cafè Oto and Umland Editions/Q-2 and self-release their ever growing Archive of Loops.

All the artworks and prints were produced in April 2023 at Frans Masereel Centrum, BE.