Color plays an important role in work by Cosima von Bonin. Her unique and recognizable color palette tends toward dark grays, along with black highlighted with bright whites. Purple, blue, brown, green—almost every color appears in her work but always as shades or tones. So “Grandville and the Decision at Grandville” on view at Galerie Buchholz is an aberration. Everything is white or off-white. There is one red-orange hermit-crab stuffed animal slumped over a table but that is about it, The Bonin/Oswald Empire’s Nothing #05 (Grandville-and-the-decision-at-Grandville-Version) 2010/2011.
The show is conceived of as a loop, much as the way the rooms of the gallery lead to one another in a misshapen circle. The exhibition, made of discrete objects, can almost be considered a piece itself. Perhaps continuing from, or because of, last year’s major exhibition at the Kunsthaus Bregenz, “The Fatigue Empire,” everything seems tired and drained. In some instances this is quite literal; early works such as a pair of bikinis and a large sheet of handkerchiefs sewn together have been recreated in whites as special new versions: Untitled (Bikini I & II Grandville-and-the-decision-at-Grandville-Version) and Untitled (Grandville-and-the-decision-at-Grandville-Version), all three 2011. But new works are also colorless like the pile of soft cartoon characters lying spent in a heap on a white table: Bart Simpson, 2 x Daffy Duck, Eeyore (2011).
I can’t help but think of Bunnicula, the vampire bunny who leaves a trail of white vegetables in his wake as he sucks out all their juices. Michael Sanchez’s brief essay accompanying the exhibition talks of vampirism. Not just in terms of color but also in the way she is re-using, re-presenting and re-making her old work. Maybe cannibalizing or a snake eating its own tail are better descriptions though. Being preyed on by a vampire does leave you pale and fatigued, though.
The exhibition seems like experimentation with the idea of a retrospective. Perhaps after going through the mid-career survey in Bregenz, von Bonin is inclined to take that on as subject. But we only see work from the beginning and the present, nothing in the middle. Early works from twenty years ago along with stuff made in the last two years are folded into one another. Can you have a loop, as the exhibition text suggests, if you only have a beginning and an end? And is this the end? The text that accompanied “The Fatigue Empire” seemed to imply that von Bonin looks at every piece she makes as potentially being her last and that the she reserves the right to withdraw from art at any time. Indeed a snake devouring itself does form a loop.
Standing sentry in each room and tying everything together are clusters of porcelain seashells and sea creatures mixed with jellyfish-like Mac Soundstick speakers and their cords, Grandville and the Decision at Grandville I-III (2011). Coming from them is the ceaseless drone of digital white noise, the kind you’d play to help you sleep. This is a special kind of white noise though; it is “White Noise,” composed by her frequent collaborator Moritz von Oswald.
While there is a lot of conceptualism to wade through, it is a sculptural moment that leaves the most lasting impression. Originally made for the Bregenz exhibition last year the sculptures of Toyota trucks have been reconfigured and represented here as Untitled (Toyota-Grandville-and-the-Decision-at-Grandville-Version) 2010/2010. Two trucks are made of wood; one is made of cardboard and yellow packing tape. The two wooden ones are each split in half down the center. One is placed flat against the wall, making what looks like two trucks in silhouette. The other is placed alongside the cardboard one in the cramped room. This second wooden truck is placed so that its split lines up with the doorway and continues into the adjacent gallery where Bart and his pals lie passed out. The gap forms a narrow secret passageway. There is something about the way the sheets of wood relate to the sheets of cardboard and how aware you are of your body as you move through the space around these fake vehicles that is quite amazing. As you carefully move through the truck and into the other room you experience the odd situation of a sculpture of a vehicle literally being a vehicle that transports you from one room to another. You are in Cosima von Bonin’s art, and there is her art at the either end. A perfect summation of the show as a whole.
~Erik Wenzel, an artist and writer living in Berlin.
(Images: Cosima von Bonin, Installation View; Untitled (Toyota-Grandville-and-the-Decision-at-Grandville-Version), 2010/2011, Spruce, cardboard, tape 5 parts, Dimensions: 2 parts: 175 x 88 x 250cm / 2 parts: 184 x 260 x 87 cm /1 part: 300 x 175 x 178 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin)