Fetish as art

A talk with Monica Bonvicini.

We all wonder about you using materials such as harnesses, black liquid rubber and chains in your artworks. Where does your research is coming from?

It is always ideas that brings me to materials. In the 90s, I started doing large architectural installations. The material I used for those works came from the field of construction. At the same time, I became particularly interested in the construction of sexual identity via architecture, which in turn brought me to the representation of sexual behaviors – their clichés and origins, as well as how they are expressed and what that expression becomes outside of what is codified as the norm. I research continuously about psychoanalysis and sexuality, as well as labor, feminism, the design of architecture and urbanity, to understand how private and institutional spaces dictate codex of behavior. That is how works like The Fetishism of Commodity, 2002, Never Again, 2005, the Leather Tools, 2009, Stonewalls, 2002, NEVER TIRE, 2020, or Straps and Mirrors, 2010, came about.

What does “fetishism” mean to you and to your practice?

Art is the fetish per excellence. What I do and what all artists do is produce objects of desire that almost nobody can own and even if you do, you do not own the mind of the artist. So, in that sense you could even think of museums as large clubs or sex houses, places of orgies, annoyances, and pleasure. There is of course the classical classification of fetishism via Freud or Marx, as so well elaborated by Linda Williams in Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible, which has been an influential book for my praxis when I read it in the early 2000.

I often read that your work is described as an investigation of control, gender, space, surveillance, and power is that so? And which element would be the fundamental one?

Yes, I often read the same, someone must have written it and everybody else repeats it. I especially do not really know what to do with the aspect of surveillance…

Which installation and where would be the most memorable and precious to you?

The artworks that are the most memorable for artists are usually the ones which were either the most difficult to realize, or those where one dared to do something risky and it still paid off. Or they stand out in memory for the people or circumstances that facilitated them happening. For instance, the series of works Neck to Knees, 2016 and Hard String, 2017 are all very precious to me, as well as the drawings Places of ID’s, 1996, or the earlier Wallfuckin’, 1995. These are works on paper which were experimental in nature and quite unique with how they dealt with theme and material. Memorable to me are also the installation Plastered, 1998, the video work No Head Man, 2009, the I Cannot Hide My Anger installation from 2019, Stairway to Hell, 2003, in Istanbul, as well as the large-scale public sculptures She Lies, 2010, in the Oslo harbor, and RUN, 2012, in London.

In your work, the notion of cleaning appears several times. Thinking about your installation “Breathing” for the 2019 edition of Art Basel Unlimited or the broom standing in the corner at your last exhibition at Peter Kilchmann Gallery (Zurich). How does curatorial aspect influences your process?

Well, I never thought about those works in terms of cleaning… but actually you can even add a few other artworks such as 40% Pure, 2000 (a humidificator filled up with Whiskey) or Be Your Mirror, 2020, a 10-meter-long tiled walls of aluminum panels that are polish every day by employees of the museum, to this idea as well. There are a lot of things you want to get rid of, right? The rise once again of fascist ideologies in Europe, governmental corruption, and corporate greed, as well as the kind of systemic ambivalence that maintains bygone views on race, gender, and sexuality. In terms of sweeping away the dirt of the past, the artwork Swept Away, 2019 (the little Bronze broom you mention) is an homage to the young girls discovering and believing in the power of the witches. Let them fly and clear out the world from patriarchy…!

What are your currently working on?

I have two solo exhibitions open at the moment: Lover’s Material at Kunsthalle Bielefeld until May 30 and No Rest at Galerie Peter Kilchmann in Zurich until June 13, the latter which investigates and critiques the role of design and domesticity. In the summer I will contribute for the second time to the sculpture park Lustwarande in the Netherlands, where in 2009 I first hung the work Prozac, 2009, from a tree. This time I will work with signs correlated to poetries and literary quotations. This relationship between literary text and art is something I investigated from the beginning of my practice. Recently I have also been spending time reading and collecting texts in connection to my large architectural installation As Walls Keep Shifting. It was exhibited in OGR Turin in 2019 and at the Busan Biennial in 2020, next year it will travel between several venues around Europe – organically changing for each new presentation. I am also finishing a public light piece for a new hospital in Odense, DK, and developing an ambitious public art piece I was invited to conceive for the Toronto waterfront. In the very present, I just returned from a site visit to the Tempelhof hangar in Berlin where the group show Diversity United will soon open. In it I show two large-scale works: the hanging light sculpture Light Me Black, originally promised for the new ICA modern wing by Renzo Piano, and a totally new print consisting of 16 frames that together make up a giant work on paper featuring the iconic Marlboro Man. It is a work I have been working on since a few years and I am excited to share it.

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