Expanding a body of work already recognized for its exceptionally whimsical, imaginative fusions of form, color and context, artist Cosima von Bonin is currently showing a series of new works on view this month at Petzel in New York. The artist’s eighth show with the gallery, What if It Barks is also perhaps her most ambitious for the space, continuing her unique formal interventions on a grand scale with AUTHORITY PURÉE, her first full scale installation at Petzel’s 18th Street location.
Cosima von Bonin, WHAT IF IT BARKS? (Installation View), via Petzel
Drawing inspiration from past exhibitions and investigations into the landscape and creatures of the deep sea, von Bonin has worked along similar lines in the past. A past show, Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea?, which traveled from Glasgow to New York and on to Toronto, drew on the violent imagery and comedic kitsch of sea life, putting together a series of large-scale sculptures that twisted the language of souvenir tchotkes into bizarre, alienated forms. Leant additional weight and capacity by their massive size, von Bonin’s works in the series are too large to ignore, their subject matter and references quickly outliving their original referents.
At Petzel, von Bonin returns to the themes of her past show, executing a series of sculptures that combine fish and sharks with electric guitars, torpedoes, surfboards and dresses, creating a dizzying and surreal environment. Yet a certain degree of anthropomorphism is expressly embraced, turning these strange figures into something of a silent metaphor on the violence of modernity. Her figures turned into walking stand-ins for the modern human, von Bonin’s inflections of natural predators and undersea weapons brings a thread of the political to the work, a reference to undersea confrontations and their parallels above ground. Only here, we are shown fish in man’s place, a swapping of roles that leaves parallels of predation and prey in the spotlight.
Yet von Bonin’s work simultaneously nudges at deeper senses of fish-ness and the lines between fluidity and stagnation. “Do you know that feeling when you wake up and feel unadaptable, stranded and useless,” she writes in the show text. “One of these days…you think to yourself: ‘Don´t make such a spectacle of yourself. Get out of bed immediately. Go to the plaza where they serve authority purée. Suck it up.'”
This experience of the world, one bound and defined by floppy, vacillating characters and flaccid, beached egos, serves as a fitting metaphorical backdrop to von Bonin’s figures. For even as her sculptures and installs point towards parallels in the natural state of beings and animals, her work mines deeper connections, ones where those distinctions no longer carry water.
The artist’s work is on view through April 21st.
— D. Creahan
Cosima von Bonin: What if It Barks? [Petzel Gallery]