Cosima von Bonin at MAMCo, Geneva

by Benjamin Snyder, September 2011

Zermatt! Zermatt! Z…ermattet!—third of the four “loops” of Cosima von Bonin’s currently rotating Lazy Susan Series—slid into Geneva’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCo) in June, eroding the otherwise purposefully drowsy works of a woman hailed frequently as one of the most influential artists working in Germany today. The first two loops, at Witte de With in Rotterdam (October 2010 – 11) and Arnolfini in Bristol (2011), titled Far Niente (Italian for “Do Nothing”) and Bone Idle respectively, held intact the slowed-down, lethargic nomenclature that von Bonin has deployed elsewhere in The Fatigue Empire (Bregenz, 2010) and The Juxtaposition of Nothingness (New York, 2011). With this latest Swiss display, however, she introduces an element into her title that, even before the actual words, creates a notable dissonance with the artist’s typical appeal to languor: the exclamation mark. The action brought by this modest gesture sets a slightly different stage for this particular installation of the series, serving as one of the ways the Lazy Susan is saved from a repetitive bore that can so often plague the traveling exhibition. Moreover, this respite from boredom betrays an irony that is always present in von Bonin’s recent, supposedly “fatigued,” oeuvre. That is, there is nothing tired about them.

Sure, there is an oversized stuffed bunny lying feet-up with the word “SLOTH” inscribed in red on its soles in the exhibition’s first room, or another drooped over and straddling a shiny pastel cruise missile and covered in caricatures of its own vomit. And yes, the large hanging cloth works with lounging characters and stitched captions declaring, “Next week we’ve got to get organized” do further the show’s tropes of laziness and inertia. Still, never has fatigue felt so hip, so smooth and, oddly, so active as in Zermatt! Zermatt! Z…ermattet!

Von Bonin does not produce fatigue. In fact, her work incites movement, both of the cerebral kind and the locomotive, with frequent appeals to viewers to climb a stepstool for better vantage points on the installation. If anything, instead of producing fatigue, she reaches to represent it, an active pursuit evidenced both in the labor required to produce her elaborate works as well as that required of the viewer to absorb them. As a representation, the fatigue is estranged from the effect of the display, even while it is written all over it. The title itself suggests this. Zermatt is a German-speaking town in southern Switzerland that is, being in the shadow of the Matterhorn, famed as a launching point for the active pursuits of skiing, hiking and mountain journeys. The last “Z…ermattet!,” however, produces a form of the word ermatten, a passive German verb meaning to exhaust or tire. Yet even with ermatten’s enervated signification, the exclamation mark keeps the word from achieving its intended force, just as a parent yelling, “Sleep!” to his child would likely incite the opposite effect.

The exhibition, which draws on most of the same work as its previous two iterations in Bristol and Rotterdam, is nevertheless subtly tailor-made for its Swiss presence, with the title being one hint. Another is in MAMCo’s short exhibition catalog containing two texts, one of them a brief continuation of a fictional conversation between von Bonin and Daffy Duck, composed with the artist’s long time collaborator, Berlin-based musician and critic Dirk von Lowtzow. In the zany, nonsensical (and rather funny) dialogue, the fictional von Bonin is of two minds about this country, asserting to Daffy Duck early on that “Switzerland would be just the right place—Switzerland, and only Switzerland,” while by the end proclaiming, “’Tis my downfall—Switzerland’s my downfall! This is the lowest of the low. Just send me back to the desert.” The ambivalent opinion that von Bonin holds towards Switzerland feels, to this author, only too appropriate for such a historically neutral landlocked Alpine tax haven as this. While other installments of the conversation between von Bonin and Daffy have ended on a tired note (in no. 2 von Bonin closes the dialogue saying, “Siesta time”), here the curtain falls with the artist slamming a “bottle of cola,” exclaiming, “At last—sugar-sugar-sugar! Glug-glug-glug!” It is in the context of this caffeinated sugar-high that I prefer to place the intended “fatigue” of The Lazy Susan.

Entering one of the exhibition’s primary galleries at MAMCo in Geneva, the aforementioned Sloth Bunny spins slowly on a large circular platform surrounded by traffic mirrors and neon caricatures of smoking cigarettes. Mellow, ambient electronic music quietly fills the room, its rhythm in accord with the spinning of the platform. Along with the oversized stuffed animal, who is half covered by a beach umbrella and has its ears pinned down by vinyl records, the surface of the spinning disk is populated with shiny pastel colored dog bones, record sleeves, white seahorses and silver lobsters. Even with sloth a capital sin and hangovers (somehow, the stuffed animal is hung over) a cursed plague that moves even the most avid partiers (however briefly) to swear off the drink, one feels an odd envy towards that bunny. The hypnotic crawl of the rotating disk, the cool murmur of techno music, the scintillating irony and humor of the tableau, all of it creates a raucousaesthetic, along with which comes a desire in the viewer to have been a part of the party, no matter the next-day consequences. At the same time, while the tableau is seductive, it never lets go of its silliness, bestowing upon the spectator the not unfamiliar realization that their desire is as palpable as it is laughable. It is the double pull of Z…ermattet!, at once sprightly and passed out.

In the adjoining room, the other aforementioned stuffed animal, this time the “vomiting white chick” (every party’s got to have one), sits saddled and hunched over on a large cruise missile covered in a shiny resin of pastel pink and green. The missile, running the entire length of the large room, is robbed of its murderous capabilities. Rendered in pink with a stuffed animal throwing up all over it, how could it be otherwise? Von Bonin’s installations, at once deeply resonant and inexplicably light, mix real world troubles with an imagined empire of party-going characters, shiny marine creatures and club music that defies the fatigue it promotes. In the end, Zermatt! Zermatt! Z…ermattet! is a riotous yet cool environment of spectacle that can keep you up for days while sparing you the pain of an early morning that so often accompanies such a good time.

Cosima von Bonin: Zermatt ! Zermatt ! Z…ermattet !
8 June—18 September 2011
10 rue des Vieux-Grenadiers, Genève