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Cosima von Bonin’s Surrealist Playground @ Arnolfini

Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

Cosima von Bonin’s exhibition Bone Idle is permeated by contradiction. Her work, aiming to explore notions of sloth and fatigue, comprises a surprisingly energetic – at times almost manic – conglomeration of mediums. Through the use of materials as diverse as giant stuffed toys and larger-than-life streetlamps, von Bonin undercuts visitors’ expectations and invites them to reconsider pre-established ideas on how art sets about achieving its objective.

Stepping into the ground floor gallery is akin to stepping into another world – a feeling enhanced by the oversized wooden fence running along the wall. Von Bonin approaches the notion of sloth through repeated references to childhood and its accompanying immaturity, by showcasing works characterised by playfulness and an apparent lack of dedication. In the galleries of Arnolfini she has created a surreal playground: cages hang from the ceiling with the invitation to climb up and peer inside them; beach watchtowers are manned by enormous teddy bears, slumped lazily back listening to music (you are invited to listen to it yourself); a walk-in cage in the middle of the room coaxes you to step inside and examine more artworks. Overseeing this hub of childish activity are two enormous streetlamps with neon cigarettes attached to them. Leaning against a lamppost, smoking: the trademark of lazy daydreaming. Fatigue and laziness are gestured towards, but immediately cancelled out by the vibrancy of the works and the active participation they invite.

A recurring feature of the exhibition, conforming to generally accepted notions of sloth, is the unfinished artwork. The perception of artists as idle is a historic one, and the apparent failure to complete a work of art would reinforce that perception. Von Bonin’s work challenges both those notions: the prolific nature of the exhibition (possibly one of the busiest exhibitions the Arnolfini has hosted over the past few months) teasingly cancels out its own title; in addition to which, the ostensibly unfinished artworks function in and of themselves as insightful and moving artistic statements.

On the ground floor, Le Petit Café (The Bristol Cardboard Version) consists of disparate details that would make up the outside of a cafe: the cafe’s name, post box, vent and fuse box, and an empty menu board all come together to form an outline of an establishment. Pointedly, we are confronted with what should have been the final touches: the painful absence of the space itself asks us to consider the long and arduous struggle between conceiving an idea and bringing it to life. In the second floor, That Not Immediately Apparent Is, It is a Lamentation presents us with a series of padded hands – the material that should line the padding is missing. As it stands, the effect is one of disembodied hand gestures, the movements of a maestro conducting an invisible, inaudible orchestra. The use of synecdoche is a poignant feature in von Bonin’s work, serving to express and negotiate the tension between presence and absence, intent and (lack of) result.

There are more artworks that purposefully miss their mark. In Gallery 2, Rorschachtest #5 (Toto Version/Pink) is a playful take on the famous tool of psychological interpretation. Although most Rorschach cards are blots of black ink on a white background, von Bonin’s version is pink and padded, and clearly useless as an instrument of assessing psychological features. The implication that art is somehow unable to reach the furthest recesses of the human psyche is itself undercut: the artwork argues that science, in its turn, is also incapable of serving as an adequate and final measure of human behaviour. In Gallery 5, CVB’s Soft Fences (#1-8) crowd the room in a woeful failure of achieving their purpose as fences: soft and colourful, they would spectacularly fail to keep anything out (or in). Moreover, rather than encasing the space they fill it, huddled together as if for safety. The fences, like several works in Bone Idle, hark back to the chasm separating intent and achievement in a light-hearted but poignant way.

Cosima von Bonin’s Bone Idle for Arnolfini’s sloth section, Loop # 02 of The Lazy Susan Series continues until 25 April 2011. For more information and opening hours please visit www.arnolfini.org.uk

Image: Courtesy the artist, Galerie Daniel Buchholz (Cologne) and Friedrich Petzel (New York) Installtion photo Witte de With 2009: Bob Goedewaagen

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