Article by Kimberly Budd in Berlin // Sunday, Sep. 17, 2017
‘3612,54 M³ VS 0,05 M³’, the title of Monica Bonvicini’s latest installation at Berlinische Galerie, refers to the volume of the space in relation to the volume of the artist. This detail is intrinsic to understanding the notions at play in this exhibit and the recurring concepts explored over Bonvicini’s career. There is an anticipatory surge in entering ‘Passing’, 2017, the first piece the audience comes in contact with in the mammoth install—an elongated site specific structure, acting as a barrier between the gallery foyer and the rest of the piece. A small amount of light leaks either side of the metal door visitors must step through, adding to the sensation of suspense. On the other side of the door is an engulfing scene and time is needed to gather ones bearings, as every sense is being toyed with.
After absorbing the scene and the initial question of ‘what exactly am I looking at?’ has passed, neurons start to fly and objects begin to reveal symbols, paving the way for comprehension. The room is reminiscent of a theme park, but of an S&M variety. The second installation, ‘Breathing’, 2017, is a main attraction, at 10 metres high two industrial air cylinders control a structure resembling a whip that oscillates between speeds, sometimes soothing, sometimes unruly and intimidating. The whips behaviour is central, sometimes thrown about wildly, causing individuals to move around the space with constant caution. The path towards and around ‘Breathing’ is also visually obstructed at first by another piece, Waiting #1, 2017, which reminds one of the metal barrier to wait behind before a ride. These series of obstructions within the installation causes a strong sense of dualism to the piece; being in control and being controlled. The exhibition as a whole proclaims to deal with the notions of facade and the structure of the building and its function as a venue. This statement and each of the works are heavily laden with concepts surrounding power, control, society, architecture and intervention —concepts integral to Bovincini’s oeuvre.
We witness in ‘3612,54 M³ VS 0,05 M³’ some recurring symbols from her previous installations, for example ‘Belt Couch’ and ‘Corner Boy’, 2015, where she utilises leather belts, objects representative of control and fetichism, but also restriction, and turns them into sculptures that are recognisable as bedroom furniture. These works are an allusion to the competing facets of control and restriction in bed or within one’s sexual identity—these props generally being used in the S&M community, one that the artist finds liberating. The symbolism of these objects and their obstruction of movement in the exhibition space signifies an intervention of the buidling’s functionality and, in turn, the way people react to the space.
This intervention is a form of resistance to the problematic foundations of institutions. We also see this in the disruption of functionality through the main work ‘Breathing’ that relies on the air from the building’s art depository to function in order to keep moving the whip. Architecture is an institution that Bonvicini has thoroughly critiqued in her work and believes is all about corruption, power, class, money, and state ambition. She has said, “I’ve always considered the systems of architecture and of art to be very similar, or at least to work in similar ways. I think it was Mark Wigley who wrote that architecture creates, via all the magazines, books, symposiums, discussions, and the like, a sort of barricade that at once leaves the non-professionals outside and makes any sort of attack or critique from the inside impossible”. In ‘3612,54 M³ VS 0,05 M³’, Bonvicini is critiquing from the inside and allowing the non-professionals to participate and also question the socio-political issues it raises.