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Cosima Von Bonin


Cosima Von Bonin is a German born contemporary artist, underground DJ, designer and creative director, with dedicated and permanent installations and shows at the Petzel Gallery, in New York, and the GAGA Gallery, in Cologne. Her practice features the use of textile, sculpture, sound, film and dramatic performance. She draws her inspiration from the cultural neighbourhood of her hometown, Cologne, and its unique and vibrant city life and rave culture. Von Bonin’s unique perspective on identity and metaphorical responses to worldwide issues are an extremely intriguing outlook on art; and due to this I chose to evaluate her work of ‘Total Produce (Mortality)’, seen above. This piece captures the personal attention of many visitorsfrom the moment that they see it, due to its place within her 2010 exhibition of ‘Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea?’ at the Sculpturecentre, in New York City.


Von Bonin uses deep sea creatures as a reflection of our modern-day society and as a comparison of the sea and our daily, mundane life. In this exhibition Hermit crabs and octopi’s flounce on furniture, burdened by all too human anxieties. Clams stare out of their shells, their goggle eyes bearing down on you as if they know your secrets.’ (Farago, 2016)

Within this idiosyncratic sculptural piece by Von Bonin, the audience can establish the presence of a large textile Octopus on a LED bed of similar textile confined wooden pallets. By Von Bonin designing and sculpting her figurehead Octopus out of textiles, it showcases a juxtaposition between masculine and feminine qualities. This is clear through the very typically feminine art medium of textiles and fabric making being used as a skin for a violent and dangerous predator of the ocean- defining a very masculine energy of physical strength and virile being. This can act as a commentary upon a theme very close and prevalent within most of Von Benin’s sculptures: feminism. The audience can interpret a theme of feminism within this contemporary sculpture, through this unique, slightly jarring, collocation of male and female energy.

The main principles of feminism are the fight for equality of men and women- allowing for typically masculine spaces to be open and explored by women without judgement and preconceived notions of gender roles within society, the same goes for typically feminine spaces. Therefore the historically woman’s art work of textile making being incorporated into a strong predator allows for the combatting idea that women aren’t one binary thing, and can be physically strong as well as emotional; delicate embroiderers, as well as able to do manual labour (here, Von Benin embodies this idea, through designing and building the structural integrity to be strong as well as layering fabric and embroidery on top, creating a perfect example of historically masculine and feminine work in one piece). Moreover, if the audience notices the LED light glowing from underneath the textile bed for the Octopus, they will notice the purple light shining. This is particularly important in showcasing Von Benin’s theme of feminism within this piece, as purple is the colour of symbolising women and, similarly, in the Bible, purple represents Gods creation of all the good things in the world made for both men and women. Furthermore, ‘Purple is the official colour of International Women’s Day, founded more than a century ago after some 15,000 women marched in New York City to demand better working conditions and voting rights. The current iteration of the day is intended to celebrate women’s social, economic, and political achievements and to call for gender equality.’ (Zillman, 2018). This relates to Von Benin’s exhibition, ‘Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea?’- that this piece features in- directly, as the location of it is the same place as the march for women’s rights- New York city. This suggests that the complete curation of this exhibition, from product materials to chosen location, all directly interrelates to her deep passion for, and constant theme within her artwork of feminism.


This piece of ‘Total Produce (Mortality)’ links to art history through its commentary on the sea, dedicating the perceptions of sea to artists such as Manet, and Whistler who both used the aquatic and oceanic views within their artwork, and which gave them a name within the art world as great artists. Where 19th century artist such as Edward Henry Potthast or Manet would paint the leisurely and relaxed scenes of families at the beach, there is now an ode to these views once explored by painters, represented within Von Bonin’s work in a similar but quite contrasting way. Where there were once the bourgeoise on vacation in Manet’s beach scenes, Von Bonin has replaced the human with aquatic life. This suggests that art is constantly being recycled and reinvented to reflect a modernist outlook in a contemporary and thought-provoking way. Perhaps the reasoning behind the idle expressions upon the sculptures faces and features are simply a reflection of these characters from older painters’ work, showcasing the emotions of relaxation- a sign of current day modernity.

Through Manet being a French modernist painter, who is notably one of the first recorded 19th century artists to paint the everyday life- he was a fundamental figure in the transition from realist to impressionist art. The call or ode to Manet in Von Bonin’s work suggests a worldwide view of the human impact on the ocean and its inhibitors, through Von Bonin’s cultural identity of Germanic ancestry as well as her showcasing this exhibition in a culture capitol of New York, it suggests that there is no inch of our human invaded world that isn’t free from the threat of destruction at man’s own hands.

Her contemporary expression of 19th century impressionist paintings is a key example of its relevance to art history. Without knowledge of previous artists, it is doubtful that Von Bonin would have curated her works in such a reflective style that imitates the oceanic paintings and beach scenery of 19th century seaside’s. The incorporation of the everyday scenery with the singularly rare anthropomorphic tendencies upon her oceanic critter sculptures represents the constantly changing and unstable modern day art world, where daily life is ever different and therefore the public demand and desire a constant influx and flow of new relatable artworks. Artwork from the 19th century impressionist period, with work from Manet, Whistler and Potthast for example, would not be very accessible to a modern-day audience with not much artistic knowledge – which is why contemporary art is so interesting. Von Bonin’s attempt to revitalise the typical ocean landscape scene made popular by these impressionist artists, in her own unique way, is something that would lure a range of visitors in with different levels of artistic knowledge.

As well as making the exhibition more accessible, as it is found to be more invigorating and easier to consume an artwork which is, firstly at eye level with a depth of view unlike that of a painting – as sculptures are three dimensional- and more stimulating through incorporation of the modern-day life within them. Contemporary art, therefore, is easier for a modern-day audience to connect with as they can relate to the subject matter more deeply as well as this, it is giving the audience an opportunity to base the commentary through their own associations. It is easier for people with little artistic background to reflect on the commentary of a contemporary art piece than it is, a fine art painting, as often times the audience can just look at a painting, recognise what is being shown or displayed and move on; whereas contemporary sculptures such as Von Bonin’s ‘Total Produce (Mortality)’ offers a more expansive search for answers as it makes the viewer work harder to understand what is being displayed, why it is being displayed, and its social, political or economic commentary upon society.


To conclude, Cosima Von Bonin is a unique contemporary artist who uses her cultural identity to signify heritage throughout the majority of her installations and sculptures, as well as often commenting on multiple themes throughout singular works, ranging from feminism to environmental destruction and pollution of the oceans, to even commentary on human identity and what makes man different and similar to other inhibitors of the world. This piece I chose to explore, by Von Bonin, of ‘Total Produce (Mortality)’ sees a reflection of the modern world and the destruction that mankind can make indirectly to the ocean life. It also sees commentary upon equality between genders and supporting of success within womanhood. Overall, I think this piece has many interesting and powerful messages behind it and as the New York Times suggests, ‘her art is soft and sociable but dangerous underneath, as strange and as acute as fish out of water’ (Farago, 2016)


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